A picture-perfect career
As art history students gaze at famous paintings like Monet’s ‘Haystacks’ or Turner’s The Grand Canal Venice, the birthplaces of those artists and the scenes they’ve painted may seem so far away. But to those who pursue a career in art history, they’re really just a hop, skip, and a jump as Hughene Acheson, Artsci’00, has discovered.
Hughene, who fell in love with the study of art history at Queen’s and who has traveled the world with her job since, says, “If you study art history and get a degree in it, the most important thing you can do is expand your horizons and have international experiences. Those opportunities aren’t there for a lot of other careers, but because art is so international, it’s important to do those things.”
Hughene originally planned a medical career, but after spending a term at the Bader International Study Centre, she changed her mind. She explains, “The great thing about art history is that you have something tangible to look at and study.” So avidly did she take to her new calling that she won two student prizes: the Janet Braide Book Prize in Art History and Alfred Bader Scholarship.
It was after graduation that Hughene really learned how much her degree was going to open the door to the world. After picking up a Master’s degree in Venetian Renaissance Art from the U of St. Andrews in Scotland, she interned at Christie’s in New York City and the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice.
Hughene also worked as an intern in the Cultural Affairs Department of the Canadian Embassy in Washington, then got hired by the National Film Board of Canada to work on a documentary.
Interning, which led Acheson to Europe and then the United States, also provided her with a chance to figure out what direction she wanted to take. “There are galleries, museums and auction houses. You have to try a few different things before you figure out where you want to be,” she says.
Four years ago, she returned to Canada, where she worked until recently for the Toronto office of Heffel Auction House employed as director of client services. “In that role, I did everything. I loved the art and working with clients to help them buy and sell art. I worked with collectors and consignors to help them develop an eye for art, explaining why an artist was important, explaining the historical context of a painting, helping them understand their collection and where they might want to take it.”
Twice a year, Hughene was involved in major auctions that involved developing long-term relationships with prospective consignors and doing appraisals.
She loves being involved in the arts community in Toronto on a grassroots level and sits on the Executive for the Friends of Canadian Art, formerly the Friends of the AGO. Hughene was also the Art curator for the CANFAR fundraiser called Bloor Street Entertains, and sits on the organizing committee for AGO Massive Party, an annual fundraising party for the Art Gallery of Ontario.
Hughene recently started her own art management firm and now helps people manage their private art collections. “It means paring down a collection sometimes and doing long-term planning for the collector. Should they buy new works or upgrade? Should some be given to a public institution?”
She says the reason she’s chosen to start her own company is simple. “You always want to keep growing and developing and this is the next step. It’s nice to be master of your own destiny. The sky’s the limit when you run your own show.”