How I Got My Art Job: How David Kratz Went From Wall Street Dropout to President of the New York Academy of Art

After 20 years as an executive of his own PR company, David Kratz dropped out and found his calling in the art world.

David Kratz in his studio. Photo courtesy of Piotr Redlinski.

From fabricators to mummy conservators to private collection managers, the art world is full of fascinating jobs you may not have realized even existed. In artnet News’s column “My Art Job,” we delve into these enviable art-world occupations, asking insiders to share their career path and advice for others who wish to follow in their footsteps.

This week, we spoke with David Kratz, artist and president of the New York Academy of Art, which holds its star-studded Tribeca Ball, honoring Mickalene Thomas, on Monday, April 9, 2018. 

Education: I studied English literature and studio art at Dartmouth in New Hampshire. I am embarrassed to admit it, but I also got a law degree at Boston University. Much later, I got a masters at the New York Academy of Art.

How I got my professional start: In college, I studied abroad in London. I enjoyed it so much that I went straight back to London after graduation to work for a Hollywood PR firm. I was their staff writer during the day and at night I got to escort actors around the city. For a young man let loose in a big city, it was really interesting. I remember taking out Jane Seymour and Zsa Zsa Gabor!

Brooke Shields and David Kratz. Photo courtesy of BFA.

Brooke Shields and David Kratz at the New York Academy of Arts Tribeca Ball. Photo courtesy of BFA.

From law school to entrepreneurship: My family thought law school would be a great thing for me to do. When my working visa in London ran out, I didn’t have a better idea. I acquiesced and went to law school. After graduation, I got a job at a Wall Street firm. It was probably the worst career option I could have taken. Without a definite plan, I quit.

Advertising and PR married my interests in writing and visual art—plus, my only professional experience was in public relations. I began freelancing. Eventually, I had four or five people coming to work every day at my studio apartment. I had a Xerox copier and a fax machine on either side of my bed. I realized I had started a business, Kratz and Company.

David Kratz and Naomi Watts at the New York Academy of Arts Take Home a Nude. Photo courtesy of BFA.

David Kratz and Naomi Watts at the New York Academy of Arts Take Home a Nude. Photo courtesy of BFA.

On finding my true calling: When I sold my company after 20 years, I started taking art classes. Visual art has always been so important to me, and I had always been a painter. If at the end of my life, I could say I made a couple of good pieces, that would be validating. Eventually, I decided to drop out of life and devote myself to the graduate school program at the New York Acadamy of Art.

How I got the job I have now: When I graduated in 2008, I set up a studio and I was painting quite happily. Within the next year, the school came to me and said “we happen to be looking for a new president and we know about your business background. Would you be interested?”

I thought to myself, this is the one job in New York I would take right now. I believed in the institution so passionately. It’s nine years later, and it seems like five days. It feels like more of a calling than a job. I’m innately inspired by it.

David Kratz, Sister (2009). Courtesy of David Kratz.

David Kratz, Sister (2009). Courtesy of David Kratz.

My top priority: The biggest challenge was that the perception of the school was outdated. People thought of it as a bastion of academic, very traditional figurative art. We believe it is important to get this training and to have the skills to articulate your own creative vision. It’s important to know what went before, so you can build upon it, even if you break the rules. I wanted everyone to know that we are part of the contemporary dialogue—figurative art was having a big resurgence.

On transferable skills: When you’re an entrepreneur, you’re used to high/low. You’re making sure the bathrooms are stocked while also trying to pitch big business—you do it all. Similarly, the academy is a small nonprofit, but we’re teaching, we’re curating, we’re publishing, we’re hosting panels. It’s both an educational institution and a cultural institution. That kind of jack-of-all-trades thing was familiar to me!

Misha Nonoo, David Kratz, and Princess Beatrice of York at the New York Academy of Arts Take Home a Nude. Photo courtesy of BFA.

Misha Nonoo, David Kratz, and Princess Beatrice of York at the New York Academy of Arts Take Home a Nude. Photo courtesy of BFA.

What my typical day looks like: My day is so varied. We’re always promoting our shows, to try and entice people to come see the work going on here. I am always trying to find people who will be excited by the school’s mission with the aim of involving them. There’s also event planning. Our parties are pretty well-known in the art world: Take Home a Nude and Tribeca Ball, which is held throughout all 100 of our students’ studios. Producing events like that takes up a lot of time.

I spend the time doing studio visits with the students each week. I’m going to start teaching a writing class as well. The aim is to help them write artist statements and be able to cogently describe their work.

Also, I try to maintain an active studio practice as well, although that can be difficult!

My favorite part of my job: My favorite part is walking around the studios. And then at the middle and end of each semester, there are public critiques. To take three days twice a year and just be evaluating art and talking about art and visual issues with a group of people whose work I respect so much—what a gift! It’s so stimulating and gratifying.

David Kratz critiquing student Atalanta Xanthe. Photo courtesy of the New York Academy of Art.

David Kratz critiquing student Atalanta Xanthe. Photo courtesy of the New York Academy of Art.

Advice for those who want my job: I honestly never had a grand plan. You just show up every day make the best decisions you can, and follow where it leads. Be open to things evolving in unexpected ways, and don’t waste time being negative, because nothing’s perfect.

One thing I wish I could tell my 22-year-old self: Don’t worry, it’s going to be okay. I was so lost at that stage, and so unsure of what to do. So I’d say just get going and relax.

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