Hoos for Art: Nick Acquavella (College '00)
Nick Acquavella shares more on his family, life journey, and connection to UVA...
Talk a little bit about your background and what led to your choosing a career in the arts…
As far as my background is concerned, I definitely had a head start in choosing a career in the arts. My family has been a part of the art world since my grandfather immigrated to New York from Italy in the early 1920s and started Acquavella Galleries. After my father graduated from college he started working at the gallery in the 1960s. Over the next fifty plus years, my father built the reputation of the business to be one of the best in the art world. Today we deal in work ranging from as early as the Impressionists through today’s leading contemporary artists. My father never pushed the family business on me or my two siblings and I think that is part of the reason we all ended up working at the gallery. People are always surprised to hear how well we all get along and I think my brother, my sister and I realize it is a really special situation that we have.
How did your Art History major at UVA benefit you?
Majoring in art history gave me a great foundation for my career in the art world. When you start in the art business, you are expected to know the basic timeline of the history of western art. Even though you might never sell a painting from the Renaissance, it is very likely that an artist working today might have been referencing work by a Renaissance master in their own current paintings. I always felt that the best art history teachers were the ones who tied it all together. Matthew Affron, who is currently the curator of modern art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, was one of my favorite professors and he was great at making students understand the creative genius of artists like Pablo Picasso and Joan Miró and how they were still so relevant today.
Talk about how you see the arts at UVA today?
It is a really crucial time for the arts at UVA. The arts are finally getting the recognition they deserve. It is not that the arts have not been a strength at the University, but more that they have been, until now, an underutilized strength. Now the focus is rightfully being put on the arts, and I think the University is realizing very quickly that they can be a great source of pride and a beacon of success in this field. The interest is there, the desire is there, and once they have the resources, they will excel even beyond what they already achieved.
What inspired you to stay connected to the arts at UVA after your graduation?
I joined the Arts Council almost as soon as I graduated and shortly after that I joined the board of The Fralin Museum of Art. George Sampson, a current professor at the college, is really responsible for my early involvement. At the time, he was working in development and we made a great connection early on. He felt it was important to have young graduates involved because our experiences at UVA were still so current. George and I have become great friends over the past seventeen years and even now that he is back teaching in Charlottesville we still are very close because my family and I are supporters of his Arts Administration curriculum. Our interest in this curriculum was in part related to an initiative my family had created at Wake Forest (my brother is class of 2003 at Wake) built around the idea of attracting people to the arts from many different disciplines. The idea is that there are too many people who graduate in the arts without any knowledge of the financial side of things, and too many finance people who graduate without opportunities to develop an appreciation of the arts. George has also become instrumental in providing us with highly qualified interns at the gallery; we have had easily ten UVA interns over the years.
What about your UVA interns have impressed you most?
I typically find that they have a real eagerness to learn about the business, and because of the unique bond and pride that UVA alumni share, I get the sense that they want to show that they are deserving of the position that they have, almost as if they are saying, “I know my connection to UVA helped me get this position, but now I am going to prove to you that it is worthwhile to give it to me.”