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Roads Taken and Not Taken: Allison G. (Cohen) Marvin ’93

As a comparative literature major at Haverford, my favorite assignments allowed me to juxtapose art and language, like looking at an early cubist painting by Picasso through the lens of a two-line poem by Ezra Pound.  I considered graduate school in comparative literature or art history (which I minored in), but the hefty foreign language requirements and the notion of more academia without a clear professional goal had no appeal.

I knew I loved art.  I just didn’t know how to channel the interest.

So I headed to the University of Virginia law school to become an “art lawyer.”  Rather than study art for art’s sake, I would learn how to advise artists, galleries and museums.  I landed a job at a major D.C. law firm, where I was fortunate to work with clients like the Smithsonian Institution.  But after several years, I realized that no matter who my clients were, it wasn’t enough to advise art world players; I wanted to be an art world player.

As a young lawyer, I’d started a modest art collection and informally advised friends on what to buy.  I’d also befriended leading galleries and dealers in D.C. and learned how the market worked.  A high school friend who owns a successful gallery in New York City encouraged me to turn passion into career.  It was the boost of confidence I needed.  I left the law firm to start [art consulting firm] Sightline, four years ago this June.

I recently married a fellow contemporary art fan, moved to San Francisco and then, within the same year, we moved back to D.C. Now, I’m working to build Sightline on both coasts.  I offer city-wide art tours, participate on art collecting panels, and collaborate with well-known designers and architects.  Through these activities, I’ve generated some good press in both D.C. and San Francisco.

But it’s hard to operate as a small business owner.  Some days I’m tempted to give up the art consulting gig, which requires an endless supply of self-motivation, and instead work for a boss who hands me duties, art-related or not.  Certainly that would be easier in some respects, but probably not as satisfying.  Really, there’s nothing I enjoy more in a professional sense than finding just the right work of art for a client.  When the click happens, it’s a powerful moment.

Other days I wonder why I got a law degree instead of a master’s in museum or curatorial studies.  However, practicing law did train me to parse through a lot of options and to understand client aspirations and needs, important skills for an art consultant.

I figure if I stick to what I love, then my path will be enjoyable, no matter the mix.  I’d like to curate gallery exhibitions, write reviews and offer more art tours in San Francisco, D.C. and New York City.  Or even Miami during the Art Basel mega fair, where around every corner, I can revisit a favorite work or discover a new artist, for a client or myself.

The Strawbridge Observatory at Haverford College houses 12-inch and 16-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain telescopes which are actively used by students in Haverford astronomy classes.

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