Charlotte Diwan is an arts administrator from Geneva, Switzerland. After six years of working for artgenève—an internationally renown contemporary and modern art fair and subsidiary of Palexpo—she became director of the fair in August. Charlotte was a member of the third MMIAM cohort, completing the program in 2016.
Let’s start with the question I ask everyone: How did you become interested in the arts? Are you an artist?
I’ve been interested in art, in particular visual art, since middle school. I had a basic art history class at that time and began visiting museums and traveling exhibitions frequently. I didn’t see it as a career, it was just something I enjoyed and was curious about.
So, at what point did you decide to begin a career in the arts?
It was quite a bit later actually. In undergrad, I studied politics at Queen Mary University of London. I wanted to work in an NGO. However, when I returned to Geneva, I started working for an acquaintance at an art advisory firm. You know how it is when you first finish school, you’re looking everywhere, in all different fields, to find a job. So, working for this firm, which also had an exhibition space, happened a bit by chance. But I soon made a connection where it didn’t seem like there might naturally be one. In school, I was always most interested in theory and ideology. I realized I could link many of these theories and ideas to movements and practices in visual art. This confirmed my interest in working in the field.
Tell me about the company you work for now.
I have been working for Palexpo for the last six years. Palexpo is a congress center that organizes exhibitions, sports competitions, fairs, and other events. When I began working there in 2012, I was in charge of Public Relations for two fairs, artgenève in Geneva and artmonte-carlo in Monaco. In the following years, my responsibilities grew and changed. As an example, I also became responsible for managing relationships with galleries and partners of the event.
And you’ve just recently had a promotion.
Yes. The company decided to change management. As I was very familiar with the event, they approached me about the role and I accepted in August.
Congratulations! How’s it been so far?
Very intense! It all happened very fast. I had actually quit my role, my last day was August 31. I had been there for six years and was ready for a change, but then this position became available and it was offered to me. I had to decide what to do very quickly.
It’s the same company but it’s a new role and a new team, I’ve had to hire quite a few people. There are four of us now taking care of the art fairs. It’s quite a small team but we have a lot of support staff as we belong to a larger company.
With you stepping into this role, are you thinking about doing things differently or are you still just getting used to being the director?
Well, yes, but not immediately. I’d like to continue the work done by my predecessors. It was important to reassure people about the future of the event and build trust with the new team.
There are, however, some new initiatives. We have a new section for the installation of large-format works, for digital works…galleries can now apply to show works that wouldn’t fit in a booth. We also now have spaces for solo exhibitions. These spaces are smaller and focused on one artist only. It’s an option that works well for younger galleries who are curious about whether the fair is right for them.
And how does the fair differ between Geneva and Monaco?
It’s much larger in Geneva. We have roughly 115 exhibitors and in Monaco, there are about 40; less than half the size. In Monte Carlo, there are a lot of really big-name international galleries, and the price ranges are what you might expect from a big-name gallery. In Geneva, it’s larger and there is a more diverse offering. But we try to meet the needs of clients in both places.
What do you think prepared you for your current role?
The experience of the past six years. I was on a very small team, and when you’re on a small team everyone does a bit of everything. With these kinds of annual events, there is also a sort of repetition. Even though you constantly strive to improve and be innovative, it’s still basically the same event in terms of format and organization. You get into a groove. Between Monte Carlo and Geneva—but also considering the pause thanks to Covid—I’ve done 11 fairs in total.
Can you share one of your favorite things about the work you’re doing?
I like interacting with external partners—galleries, who are your clients, partners and sponsors, art buyers, the press, and institutions, which we work closely with—it’s a very political role. There is so much negotiation.
So, you get to use your undergraduate degree after all.
What’s been one of the most challenging things so far?
Maybe it’s not so unusual, but the workload. When I first started I was working by myself for a few weeks—I needed to hire a team—so I was learning while also doing and training new hires. I’m sure in the future, I’ll be much more comfortable.
Can you share one thing personally or professionally that you’re proud of having done this year?
I’m really proud of having the courage to accept the promotion. It took me a while to feel capable. My first reaction was ‘No, this isn’t for me.’ The person I replaced also had such a large personality. I didn’t think I could fill in their shoes. But I’m proud of saying ‘Well, yes, maybe, it is for me.’
*Charlotte Diwan’s headshot credit: Marc Ninghetto.