Sonya Stubblebine on Creative Entrepreneurship
Sonya Stubblebine is a creative entrepreneur and manager of cultural projects. She is an amazing young woman inspiring people around her with her openness, sincere love for art, professionalism, and depth of reasoning. In an interview with the Global Women Media news agency, she spoke about the projects she is involved in today and her studies in the Netherlands and Italy. Ms. Stubblebine also shared her vision of the development of the art market in Russia.
creative entrepreneur, co-founder of the AN Art Club international project
Sonya Stubblebine was born into an international family. Her mother is Russian and her father is American. She spent her childhood in Ukraine and her conscious school and college years took place in Russia. Later she lived abroad for several years and received her education in Holland and Italy.
Culture and art are a big part of Sonya Stubblebine’s life. They are not only the focus of her profession but also that of her main personal values. Today, Ms. Stubblebine is an art manager and creative entrepreneur. She publishes expert materials in Russian and international magazines and develops the AN Art Club project together with Aleksandra Sokolova. The project is aimed at popularising art and attracting society’s interest to culture.
– You are an innovator striving to contribute to the development of culture. Why did you choose this particular area among all other fields?
– For me, art is a big part of my life. I like to think that I inherited my father’s practicality and pragmatism. My father is an entrepreneur and his family is also engaged in business. However, it is my mother who fostered my love of art in me. From a young age, she made me realize that culture is an integral part of life. I couldn’t even imagine another picture of things.
Dancing gave me the first strong expression of art in my life. I went in for contemporary choreography for over 10 years. For me, that activity was an amazing fusion of sport, emotions, and creativity.
We performed at the Moscow Moon Theatre and went to festivals in Poland, Germany, and Belarus regularly.
I must say that dancing can give a lot to a person if he or she approaches it seriously and systematically. Dancing brings up character, willpower, and discipline, liberates people emotionally, and helps them understand their bodies, feelings, and even thoughts.
Later I took additional courses at the Academy of Fine Arts. We were taught by Olga Kholmogorova who really fascinated us with art history. We even travelled around the world with her. That’s when I went to Italy and saw Rome and Florence for the first time. The teacher delivered tours for us and told us about culture through the stories of real people.
I always felt that art was my proper area of activity. Fortunately, my parents never insisted that I must do anything I wasn’t passionate about.
They believed that, if I did what I loved, I would find a way to fulfil myself in the chosen field in the future.
– You studied not only in Russia but also abroad. What kind of education did you receive? What memories of studying in different countries do you have?
– I entered the Faculty of Art History at the Higher School of Economics. In my third year of studies, I was the first from my faculty to go to Holland, the University of Groningen, to study as an exchange student. That university is one of the top 100 universities in the world.
It was a very interesting experience, because the educational programme was very different from the habitual Russian one. We had no strict schedule that presupposes attending lectures from 9 am to 6 pm. A large part of our education was self-education: doing assignments, studying literature, and looking for information. This format helped me memorize things better. Besides, we had freedom in the choice of subjects. We chose what we considered important and useful for us.
I liked that we had an opportunity to take courses in presentation creation, self-positioning, and soft skills development in addition to the classical disciplines.
I saw how the relationship between students and teachers was built there. Communication was based on absolute respect and interest in each other. The students included people of different ages and interests, representatives from different countries. However, their groupmates and professors treated each of them equally. For example, one day a professor invited me for a cup of coffee because he was very interested in the personality of my great-uncle, a famous art historian.
After Holland, I came back to Moscow and defended my graduation project in Art History. Then I decided to take a break to think through my plans for the future. At that time, I began to work as a simultaneous and consecutive interpreter in museums and theatres.
One of the most interesting jobs in my life was at the Stanislavski and Nemirovich-Danchenko Theatre. I worked with dancers helping them build communication with Western choreographers who came to stage productions.
Soon after that, I was enrolled in the Contemporary Art Markets programme (NABA, Milan) and specialized in Art & Finance.
I would say that the Italian education was something in between the Russian and the Dutch ones. We had a clear daily schedule with a lot of classes at the university. However, most of the time we did not listen to lectures but created our own projects and gained practical experience. That was an intensive year-long programme that changed my view of the art market in many ways.
Cultural Entrepreneurship was one of my favourite subjects. In many ways, the experience I gained in Italy provided the basis and inspiration for the projects that I am carrying out now.
I studied in Italy for 9 months. After that, I did a pre-graduation internship. I worked in an American-Italian startup focused on investing in art. Art & Finance is a very interesting topic for me. I want to carry out projects in this direction both today and in the future.
– Could you tell us about your great-uncle, a famous art historian? Were such family roots a factor in your choice of the field of your activity as well?
– He was an amazing man. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to meet him in person. However, he does play a very important role in my life.
I’m talking about my great-uncle on my dad’s side named James Stubblebine. He was the only one of my American family who connected his life not with business but with art. He wrote many books and articles about the early Renaissance. Most of them were dedicated to the works and life of Giotto di Bondone.
James Stubblebine taught at Rutgers University (USA), in which he created a separate department devoted to art history. He published books that are still kept in the world’s most famous libraries.
In addition to his exceptional research activities, he was also a collector. After his death, he bequeathed his artworks to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I learned about that by chance. When I came to New York with my friend, I immediately went to the museum. I was fascinated by the thought of seeing the artwork my grandfather collected at one of the most famous museums in the world. Most importantly, it was an opportunity for me to feel a connection with a man whom I had never known personally through something precious to him.
Of course, it is very important for me to know that there are people in my family who felt and thought as I did. I’m very proud to have ancestors who were involved in the study and support of the arts at such a high level.
– You are a creative entrepreneur. This is a popular but not yet well-defined concept. What meanings do you personally put into this notion?
– For me, an entrepreneur is a person who has noticed a social need, understood why it is important and why the world needs it today, created a concrete idea, and put it into effect.
When we created the AN Art Club, the whole world was going through a pandemic. We saw that people lacked communication and a way to spend their time online in a different way. Then we offered them a platform for online meetings. It gave them the opportunity to listen to lectures by experts from different countries, communicate, and share their thoughts. We based it on topics related to culture and self-development.
We live in an amazing world, in which we are surrounded by many opportunities to implement any ideas, even the most global and incredible ones. Everything depends only on ourselves: on the breadth of our thinking, our confidence, and the desire to not only think but also put these ideas into practice.
– Is cultural entrepreneurship more about business or values?
– It is impossible to talk about entrepreneurship without considering financial issues. In the first turn, money is needed to maintain the project, develop it, and scale it up. Moreover, the enterprise’s profitability is a good indicator that the entrepreneur is moving in the right direction and creating a product that society really needs.
Cultural entrepreneurial projects are based on values and importance to society, which does not exclude the financial side of things.
Today, people believe that it is impossible or extremely difficult to build a successful career and achieve serious income in the field of culture. Unfortunately, this is partly true. In Russia, culture is a sphere, in which it is not always clear how an idea can be monetized. However, we live in an open world where we can always find examples of how similar systems have already been developed in other countries.
Artsy and Artnet are examples of successful companies in the field of art that have grown from small but confident start-ups into huge firms employing highly-qualified professionals.
In the USA, there are top mega-galleries (Gagosian, Pace, Zwirner) that have amazing sales volumes and collector lists. Of course, it is important to understand that the economy is organized differently in these countries. That is why it would be difficult for Russian galleries to copy their experience. However, we can develop similar projects here by starting small initiatives and adapting them to our reality.
I find it very important today to support all those who work in the field of culture including artists, art historians, and museum staff. They are all people who invest much time, energy, and effort in the development of culture, which is important to the whole world.
– To prevent the devaluation of culture, it is important to start with the upbringing and education of the rising generations. What subjects should we introduce in schools to generate interest and respect for art in children?
– I would very much like schools to have more practice-oriented subjects. It is very important to develop creativity and the ability to generate ideas and put them into practice. That will be useful for everyone irrespective of their professions in the future.
We live in a multinational large country. Probably, the study of the history of religions or the basics of religious studies at school would help people in Russia understand and accept one another better. It would be a good basis for mutual respect in society.
Speaking specifically about art, I would suggest making all of the theoretical disciplines related to this topic as reality-oriented as possible.
To do that, people need to visit galleries and museums more often and consider not only the pieces of well-known classics but also contemporary artworks. Then all people will certainly find something that echo in their hearts.
– What would you wish women of the world?
– Broaden your horizons and believe in your biggest ideas and dreams. I believe that a lot depends on how we think. If our thinking is broad and global, it helps us live broadly and globally even with closed borders in a pandemic-affected world.
Viktoria Yezhova, Global Women Media news agency
Translated by Nikolay Gavrilov