Meet Four Young People Diversifying the Fine Art World

Growing up in Houston, 20 year-old Jalen Turner often heard from his parents, “Get used to being the only person in the room who looks like you.” Jalen shares this from a conference room at Christie’s in Manhattan, where the young Black man and rising junior at Morehouse College is interning in the public relations department. As recently as two years ago, it’s almost certain that Jalen would have been the lone minority in the program, and that’s if he was able to get in at all. Prior to 2021, the only way to land an internship at the renowned auction house was through referral from someone who worked there. Amid 2020’s racial reckoning, that’s one of several company practices Christie’s changed.

Jalen Turner, part of the Christie’s intern class.Courtesy of Christie’s.

“Revamping the internship was probably one of the very first things that we looked at,” says Sayuri Ganepola, global managing director for art finance at Christie’s and the company’s co-chairman of equity, diversity and inclusion in the Americas. “We wanted a complete overhaul, so we changed this into a program that’s a meritocracy [and] and also focused on bringing diverse talent into our pipeline.”

Last year, for the first time, Christie’s opened the application process for their summer internship program to any rising junior or senior enrolled in a U.S. college. Previously for school credit only, the eight-week internship is now paid, with additional money allocated towards travel and housing expenses for students who need financial assistance getting to New York and paying for a place to stay. “Somebody who is a candidate that we absolutely want to be here will have the opportunity to do so,” Ganepola says. Last summer, Christie’s received close to 1,000 applications for 20 spots. Previously, it was common for interns to be just “marginally interested in the arts” but granted the opportunity through their parents’ art world connections, Ganepola says. “Now we have a really engaged group of students who are continually blowing us away with their questions, their interests, and the work that they’re able to do.”

Jalen who discovered the internship through an Indeed search, is among those students. As is Talisa Mohammed, a rising senior at Texas A&M University who interned in the public relations department last summer and returned this year to work alongside the social media team.

Talisa Mohammed, part of the Christie’s intern class.Courtesy of Christie’s.

“By the second day we went right to work,” says Jalen, who is majoring in business administration with a concentration in marketing. “We had a few auctions that just closed, so I’ve been working on drafting press releases for those and getting acquainted with the [workplace] systems.” Meanwhile, Talisa is learning the ins and outs of running Christie’s Instagram and TikTok accounts. “I’m part of a first-gen college student program at school [and] the advisors are always sending us opportunities,” she says. “I saw the Christie’s one and I was like, oh, that seems interesting. I’m studying business and art; I feel like that’s the perfect fit.”

While both Jalen and Talisa have found Christie’s to be a welcoming environment thus far, that wasn’t their initial perception. “It felt exclusive,” Talisa says, “like just a certain type of person could get into it. It wasn’t very accessible.” It’s a sentiment shared by Jack Nelson and Avani Shastry, two members of Christie’s 18-month Graduate Training Program based in New York.

Avani Sastry, member of Christie’s 18-month Graduate Training Program.Courtesy of Christie’s.

“I went to a small college in South Texas that wasn’t really known for art history,” says Avani, who studied at Trinity University. “I didn’t know anybody who worked in the art world; it seemed so foreign.” Despite feeling like acceptance was a long shot, Avani applied to the program and “was pretty shocked” when she got the offer. “I rolled into Rockefeller Center and I was like, ‘this isn’t real life.’” While the application process for the graduate training program has always been open to all who want to apply, priority has historically been given to former interns — interns who got their foot in the door via an internal referral. Neither Jack, who attended Brown, or Avani interned at Christie’s during college, though Jack tried to.

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