Carving Out A Niche - Black Enterprise

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Black Enterprise Magazine July/August 2018 Issue

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Art has always been Jason Wertz’s passion. As a child, he was exposed to a variety of artistic styles while traveling through Europe with his mother. Years later, as a social studies teacher, his lessons were steeped in art history, and he used the art of each period to explain what political and social events inspired the pieces. So it’s not surprising that when Wertz decided to become an entrepreneur, he opened a gallery.

Kubatana Moderne (Kubatana means a call to come together in the Shona language of Zimbabwe) sells sculptures and crafted furniture from Zimbabwean artists as well artists from other African countries. Launched in 1997, Kubatana is proving to be a lucrative venture. Revenues for 2001 totaled $280,000. Wertz’s clients include the Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport, which acquired 20 life-size stone sculptures that remain on display, as well as famous names such as former heavyweight boxing champion, Evander Holyfield, President and CEO of Arista Records, Antonio “L.A.” Reid, and former Atlanta Falcons free safety, Eugene Robinson.

Wertz, 33, decided to set up shop in Atlanta because of the city’s multicultural flavor. He believed the city’s racial diversity would allow him to carve out a niche within the art world. So in 1997, he uprooted from San Francisco in what he calls a “leap of faith.” Wertz scraped together $25,000 for the construction and designs that would give his studio stylistic flair. “I didn’t know a single soul in Atlanta, not a curator, director, or art critic,” he says. “And trying to establish a client base is probably the most important aspect of running a gallery because it’s not about selling works to the person who just walks in from the street. It’s about establishing a client base who’s enthusiastic about your product and wants to support your product.”

While preparing to open his gallery, Wertz’s wife, Tamisa, attended law school at Duke University, leaving Wertz the sole provider for the family, which included a son, Tinashe, now 10. Fortunately, the gallery gained plenty of initial exposure in the local media. “I never took a loan out and never took any money out to run the business. I just relied solely on sales that the gallery was able to generate.” This was fortunate since the gallery’s overhead exceeded $6,000 a month — mostly due to rent.

The gallery’s art is procured on consignment. Wertz selects the pieces he wishes to present, promotes the artists by sending mailers and catalogs, as well as develops a press packet of each artist’s work. The art generally ranges in price from $1,500 to $20,000, and if the pieces sell, the proceeds are split 50—50 or 60—40.

Looking ahead, Wertz is looking to expand the scope of his gallery by offering interior design services featuring contemporary furniture from Africa, Asia, and Europe. He is also trying to build relationships with museums and galleries outside of the Atlanta area. Nevertheless, Wertz remains optimistic about the future of his venture. “This year the art world was affected by the economy,” he

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