Is it possible to be a new mum and still follow your dreams? Jennifer Smith, founder of Little Carousel Gallery, tells us what it was like to leave a well-paid job in the City and go back to college with a young baby so as to fulfil her dream to own her own children’s art gallery.
In early 2011 I was at a cross-road. I was on maternity leave from a City job and needed to make a decision about going back to work. I had long been dreaming about an alternative career in the art world and I decided this could be my opportunity. I hoped it would lead to a more family-friendly career, balancing time with my daughter, while having a job I was passionate about.
I have always been really interested in modern and contemporary art; my dad instilled that in me from a young age with gallery visits and interesting art on the walls at home, so I think I’ve developed a good eye over the years. I started collecting Modern British prints when I was in my twenties and used to go to art fairs and galleries whenever I could.
I knew I needed to formally retrain to get onto the art world career ladder and was lucky enough to be accepted to study History of Art at the Courtauld Institute of Art in 2011. It was a huge change and sometimes difficult balancing study and a one-year old, but I loved every minute of it. My daughter went to nursery three days per week and I found myself becoming almost nocturnal, doing most of my college work at night. Luckily she was usually asleep by 7pm, although I could always count on her to become ill when I had a major essay deadline looming!
After I graduated I offered to work for free as an intern at numerous galleries, and I got my big break when a busy London gallery saw my potential to be its Business Development Manager on a three day week contract. It worked really well. There were often times I needed to work extra days or evenings for Private Views and weekends at art fairs but it was an invaluable experience and gave me the confidence I could go a bit further.
I wanted to share my love of art with my daughter and to buy some great pieces to hang in her bedroom as the beginning of a collection for her to enjoy as a child and into the future. I was looking for original work by talented artists, full of colour and detail to keep her coming back. I searched high and low but nothing quite fit the bill, everything for children seemed either gender stereotyped or mass produced. Not being one to compromise, the idea for Little Carousel Gallery seeded itself in my mind in Spring 2013. What if there was a go-to online gallery where busy parents could find a wide range of high quality, original, affordable artwork made specifically for children?
I decided to research the idea and within eight months I had launched my own online gallery. It was incredibly hard work involving late nights to get everything ready but working on my own plan and with my own money gave me a huge amount of energy and enthusiasm.
The hardest part was managing everything by myself from market research and seeking out artists, through finance and IT, to branding and marketing. Some things I had experience with, others I was learning from scratch. Luckily becoming a mum had prepared me for doing 10 things at once! I was fortunate to have friends with relevant experience and great contacts and I’d advise anyone setting up a new business to seek help from trusted friends wherever possible.
I’ve been trading nearly a year now and I have no regrets. I achieved what I set out to do. I spend lots of time with my family, I have control over my company and operate in an industry I adore. I work personally with clients sometimes producing bespoke commissions, and advise interior designers and nursery consultants looking for perfect pieces. I also work and collaborate with exceptionally talented artists whose works genuinely capture children’s imaginations.
I write this, waiting for baby number two to make his appearance. I know I’ll be juggling even more. But one thing is certain, I made the right decision to take the plunge. There really is nothing quite like the feeling of sending off a final piece to its happy new home. I won’t be changing a thing.
Written by Jennifer Smith, Little Carousel Gallery www.littlecarouselgallery.com