I’ve known Ian Gerard of Gen Art from the beginning. Gen Art parties are must-attend events that combine an eclectic mix of the film, art, and an amazing social scene in clubs around town. Ian was originally very hands-on with the details at every event, and he did everything short of popping the popcorn. He booked the films, did the invites, arranged for the after-party venue, got the liquor sponsor, invited the crowds, did the door, then went inside and schmoozed with everyone — and at the end of the night, he swept out the place. Gen Art has gotten too big for that much control, and Ian has delegated to a creative crew, but the upcoming Gen Art Film Festival has gotten better and better and more significant over the years. I stole Ian away from his furious preparations for this years’ festival to ask him a few questions about Gen Art.
What is your title at Gen Art? I am the CEO and co-founder.
Tell me what Gen Art is. We are a national arts entertainment company that showcases the best emerging talent in fashion, film, music and art. We’re based in New York but we have offices in LA, San Francisco, Miami, and Chicago. We produce fashion shows for young designers, film festivals, and screenings for independent filmmakers, live music events, art fairs, etc.
How long has it been going on? We started in 1994, so this is unfortunately a bad year, but it’s our 15th anniversary.
Right from the start you had a relationship with nightclubs, and you still do a lot of events at nightclubs. Why is that? The big thing is that we’ve always had a huge social element to all our events. It’s never been just a fashion show where you walk in, watch the show, and you walk out. It’s about bringing together the people that enjoy these art forms. We want them to see the shows, but we also want them to interact with each other. Obviously nightclubs are a place for social activities to occur, so whether we’re doing an event that’s actually taking place in a nightclub, or we’re doing an after-party for an event taking place somewhere else, there’s always that social element where people that have similar backgrounds can mingle and talk about what they’ve seen.
The Gen Art Film Festival is coming up; what are the dates? It’s April 1-7, and the tagline is “Seven Premieres and Seven Parties,” so we’re very upfront about the social aspect. There is a red carpet premiere each night followed by an after-party at one of the many hot spots in New York — for instance, this year we have events at Hudson Terrace, 1Oak, Antik, and then some that have been around a little longer like Home and BLVD. We do the big opening at The Park because we need a place that can hold 1,000 people.
So it’s not the Sundance Film Festival, it’s not the New York film festival — what is the criteria for this? What’s the difference between a Gen Art film and a Sundance film? There’s more of a difference in the format and the fact that we do only seven premieres — which mean’s it’s one short film and one feature, so we’re really highlighting a very small number of filmmakers. That means that you don’t have to be an industry insider to know what to see. If you go to Sundance, which is 150 different films, by the time you figure out what’s the buzzed-about film, it’s completely sold out. Here, because we’re doing only seven nights, any night is going to be a good film. So you don’t have to have the inside track; you can just pick whatever night you want to go, and it’s going to be an awesome film.
I see you promoting on Facebook, which is something I do also; it’s become an important part of getting my word out there, and it seems effective. Yeah, we just sold out two shows on Friday. I put the word out to my friends on Facebook because I wanted them to actually go out and buy tickets for the nights that I knew they were going to be more interested in. I got that out there before I even got the official invites out to our regular supporters.
I think it’s important to have this social aspect because I know that if I was going to a film that interests me, chances are that the people in the audience share some kind of creative interest with me. We have had weddings come out of Gen Art, and a lot of other stuff that doesn’t go anywhere near weddings, but yeah, it’s very social … it’s probably about 75 to 80 percent single people and people with similar interests, so it’s a great way to meet somebody. It gives you something to automatically talk about when you’ve just seen a great movie or a cool fashion show — it’s better than a pick-up line.
The Gen Art Film Festival is in New York; does it travel to the other cities you’re in? It doesn’t travel, but with Acura, who’s our title sponsor, we launched a secondary festival in Chicago three years ago that happens in June. It follows a similar format, but it’s a little smaller … it’s only four nights of premiers and parties. It’s the same basic concept, but there are different films.
And you plan expanding to other cities? What does Gen Art do in the other cities? We do the whole range of programming in other cities, but we don’t do the festivals — doing two is complex enough, so I don’t think we’re going to travel with it, and generally it really takes a lot of dollars, so Acura really made that possible. In the other markets we do our “Fresh Faces in Fashion,” which is our anchor fashion program that we do in all of our markets, in addition to special-event screenings and parties for independent films one night before they get released to the public. We do behind-the-scenes art collector tours of galleries and auction houses, dealers’ homes in all the markets, shopping events where we take the young designers’ items off the runway and you can buy then directly — 50 designers in one place on one night instead of having to travel all over the city to find them.
In the beginning it was all Ian Gerard — you did everything. How have you found delegation to be? How difficult has it been as the company grows to delegate responsibility to others? It definitely was a learning experience, and it took awhile to figure it out. But I quickly realized that the first thing I definitely had to delegate as the company grew was to people with expertise. I had a cursory knowledge of the art and fashion worlds, but once we actually started getting into that programming, I needed to bring on people that knew those worlds. So once I had a fashion director and a film director, it was easy to delegate to them. But in terms of the events, it’s a little bit harder for me to totally step out; I’m a little bit of a micro-manager, making sure we have a good list of people showing up, etc.
Blackbook is now available on iPhones and Blackberries; are you making those sort of moves? Will Gen Art be on a phone soon? We just finally got around to re-launching our website after about seven years, so that was our newest initiative; we’re trying to get a lot of our content out via the website, in terms of video contact from our events and things like that. We haven’t really gotten to the mobile scene yet. I know that’s the next frontier, but I think we need to conquer the internet first.
So you mentioned that it’s not exactly the best year to celebrate your anniversary; how is the economy treating you? It’s obviously a harsh economic climate out there, so one of the few nice things has been that consumer interest has not gone down at all. In all of our markets, we’re selling out tickets faster; I think people realize that our events are actually a great deal. Instead of going out to 1Oak and spending $18 on a drink just to go there for the night, you can come to one of our events that has the open bar built in, and it’s a whole packaged evening that’s not that expensive. For the film festivals, the regular night is only $30, and that gets you a premier and a two-hour open bar at these clubs — that’s a steal, because when I go out, I spend god knows how much money each night. So I think that the good thing about the economy is that people are focused on things that they enjoy and that are cost-effective. And one other really fun thing about the “Seven Premieres and Seven Parties” is that since we use a non-commercial theater — we use the SVA theater — we’re actually able to serve cocktails and drinks before the movies, so we get in the social aspect even before the films start, which is cool. You really have to give people something worth their money.