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The Art World Entrepreneur: #inmyMM With Vani Krishnamurthy

August 31, 2016

We love taking a peek into the lives (and closets) of our favorite customers. This week, we celebrate Vani Krishnamurthy, who began her career as a management consultant with vague artistic aspirations. After a Fulbright scholarship and an MBA from Harvard, she started her own arts consulting business. Now, she’s on to the next project: CoCo Gallery, a new platform that helps connect artists with customers looking to commission original pieces. We recently paid a visit to Vani’s home in Hoboken, NJ, to talk art, business, Indian classical dance, and what wakes her up in the middle of the night.

I GOT THE IDEA for CoCo Gallery after years of working in the business of visual and performing arts. I noticed that there was this hole in the market: People were willing to spend money on art for their homes, but they didn’t like the environment that came with with the process, and couldn’t find anything that they connected to. On the flip side, there were all these talented artists who didn’t want to market themselves, and would rather just focus on their work. So the idea was to join those two groups—bring the market to the artists who could create something that was meaningful for the person who would own it. It’s a way to commission artists that feels personal, and allows them to make something that will be cherished.

I’VE ALWAYS BEEN ARTISTICALLY INCLINED. I started doing Indian classical dance at age 5; I saw this famous Indian movie about a dancer who loses her leg, and I begged my mom to let me take lessons. We lived in Georgia, and there was only one Indian classical dance teacher in the whole state at the time. I loved it, and my parents really encouraged it once they saw how passionate I was.

Vani Krishnamurthy in the Emma // MM.LaFleur

Vani wears the Emma dress in deep indigo.

MY FIRST JOB out of college was for the Boston Consulting Group, and my first project there was for the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. It opened my eyes to this whole world of arts management that really spoke to me. After that, every consulting project I worked on seemed so boring—I’d gotten this taste of what I actually wanted to do, and then I didn’t want to do anything else.

AS A CHILD, besides dancing, my dream was to be a National Geographic explorer. I used to go out into our backyard and pick up random rocks and pretend that they were clues to some ancient historical mystery. I got to fulfill that dream when I got a Fulbright scholarship to study temples and dance history in India, which I did after BCG. I gathered a body of research and then spent about a year doing combined lectures and dance performances at museums and universities around the U.S. I loved it so much that I considered getting a Ph.D.—but I really wasn’t ready to be locked in somewhere for 8-10 years. Instead, I went to Harvard Business School with the idea that I would go into arts management.

Vani Krishnamurthy in the Pauline dress // MM.LaFleur

Vani in the Pauline dress.

AFTER BUSINESS SCHOOL, I was a little bit lost. I found that my ideal job didn’t exist—most arts institutions don’t actually have the kind of management roles that I was looking for. So I wound up going back to consulting, this time at Bain. I felt conflicted about returning to the corporate world, but Bain gave me more training and confidence, and after two years, I left and started my own arts consulting firm—I discovered that it was much better to work independently for multiple arts organizations than to look for a full-time role at one of them. I had clients like Lincoln Center and the World Music Institute, as well as  individual visual artists—anyone who needed help with administration management. It kept me busy, because many artists just don’t think in that way.

I STARTED COCO GALLERY after I had my children, who are now two and three. I’d run my consulting firm from 2009 to 2014, and ultimately, I didn’t want to grow it further—I wanted to get more in touch with the arts, not removed. Some of the projects I’d been working on involved commissions, and I realized that providing a channel for artists to be commissioned by regular people would make a lot of sense. 

Vani Krishnamurthy in the Shirley dress // MM.LaFleur

Vani in the Shirley dress.

WE’RE AT A BUSY PHASE right now—CoCo Gallery officially launched in October 2015, but we’re still getting off the ground. It’s thrilling—I often wake up in the middle of the night and can’t sleep because I’ve just thought of some solution and I’m so excited to execute it.

MY STYLE is simple and understated. I tend to prefer updated classics with just a hint of ethnic flair, usually with jewelry or another accessory.

MY GO-TO MM PIECE is the Sarah dress. I’ve had it for years now, and it fits perfectly.

Vani's Daily Routine Vani's Daily Routine

Photos by Frances F. Denny.

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Charlotte Cowles is a New York-based writer​ ​and editor.​ ​Her work has been published in New York Magazine,​ Harper's Bazaar,​ and Art in America. She'd always rather be at book club. Read more of Charlotte's posts.

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