New York’s many art galleries and museums can be overwhelming to absorb. Looking at works you have no connection with or know nothing about, by artists who may be long dead, makes a trip to any particular exhibition less compelling or meaningful.
Now imagine that you walk into a gallery and see the works of an artist that you have met, works that you learned about with an expert. Suddenly, the experience is unlike any other as you enjoy new levels of understanding and connection.
Scarsdale resident Ronnit Wasserman creates similar experiences through Art Connect Group, which offers activities ranging from art neighborhood tours and art fair tours to visits to studios, museums, auction houses and galleries, often with the opportunity to meet the artist behind the work.
Wasserman, who lives in Quaker Ridge, started Art Connect Group about eight years ago after collecting several art programs as a hobby. “When I saw that people really liked the programs I was putting out, I kept doing it more regularly until it turned into a full-on gig,” she said.
Now, her programs usually sell out in less than 24 hours. Also, “because people really liked my art program, they trusted me to help them buy art [which] became very serious, as it turned into a real profitable business,” she said, highlighting another component of Art Connect Group – art consulting.
Wasserman recently helped Princeton’s Center for Jewish Life acquire inclusive arts with the goal of making “any student, regardless of background, feel welcome [in the space] and at the same time, I wanted either Jewish or Israeli artists to be part of this collection because I’m mainly about grassroots people and students learning about these great artists,” she said.
According to Wasserman, with her tours that have taken place in various boroughs of Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Hamptons and even Miami, she is “freeing up space for arts education outside of academia.” She explained that those who regularly attend her programs have become extremely educated in the realm of art, particularly contemporary art, which is Wasserman’s primary focus. “We’re mostly in the trenches … we go to art fairs, we go to museums, we go to galleries, professors and artists don’t have time for that,” she continued.
By helping people find art to buy at her events, she keeps them from buying just because it would be a worthwhile investment, Wasserman said. Instead, she encourages them to buy the piece because they relate to it.
“I just love bringing people to all these hip art districts where young artists are working in DUMBO, Greenpoint, Crown Heights and Williamsburg, and I just want my customers to fall in love,” she said. “There’s just something about art, like when you meet someone and you fall in love… It’s just a connection, and I’m so happy when that happens because you bring it into your home and you end up living with that thing, that you like,” Wasserman said.
An important concept painted on Wasserman’s agenda is to focus on the art of living artists. It gives her groups a chance to meet the artists and hear their stories, which Wasserman says she really appreciates. “It’s always about learning about different cultures and the problems that people have in the countries they come from… I like to bring that to the surface,” she said.
There’s also the financial aspect of working with living artists, which Wasserman appreciates. “There are so many artists who are hustling. Why would I support a dead artist and buy his work when I can help so many artists who have bills to pay?” she told.
Wasserman said financial instability made her hesitant to enter the art industry, despite having degrees in fine arts and art history. “At first I just wanted to make a living, I wanted to be independent and I didn’t believe I could do that through art… I wasn’t really ready for that hustle,” she said.
But years later, after a career in investment banking, Wasserman took the leap: “I’m going to try this, and I’m only going to take a few steps,” she told herself early on. “Every journey begins with a few steps. This idea that you always end up doing what you originally wanted to do,” she said.
In his tours, Wasserman emphasizes identity and current issues. She focuses on art created by marginalized groups or individuals whose work “has not been included in museums and galleries for centuries.”
“I want to help in that process of getting their work and their stories out there,” she said.
Wasserman is also interested in art that explores climate change or immigration. Recently, she conducted a tour of the Ukrainian artist’s gallery. “I don’t think people would have listened a year ago… But now we’re intrigued, we want to hear their stories through art,” she said.
Focusing on the intersection of art and current events has brought her success, she says, because “I really see [art] as therapy I feel like it’s just another way for us to absorb the world we live in… a way to process everything we’re going through other than art.”
Wasserman also attributes her success in part to satisfying “this great need to process things in a very cultural way,” she said.
Although the pandemic affected Art Connect Group, it did not break the business. During the height of the COVID-19 outbreak, Wasserman, like many others, was forced to cancel events. “I was like ‘crazy,’ I didn’t realize how social my business was, that it was all about interacting with people,” she said.
Wasserman was going to hold about five art lectures on Zoom every week, which has led to a positive outcome of the pandemic. She predicted that one in 10 women in the tri-state area has had some exposure to her arts programs, largely due to the accessibility of Zoom. She said her goal was to expand her reach with Art Connect Group, “and that’s definitely what COVID did for me with Zoom. People who know me have crossed borders and continents,” she said.
In fact, there have been several times when politicians have emailed her saying they attended one of her Zooms and really enjoyed it, she said.
The pandemic has also made the return to in-person programs that much more special for Wasserman and her fellow art lovers. “When I first resumed my personal tours after COVID, I was like a broken record. I would just tell everyone at the start of every tour that it doesn’t even matter what we see, you’re all so happy to be with each other and do something in person,” she said.
In addition to educating people and bringing them to the hottest art spots, “I want to heal people through art,” Wasserman said. “I want them to feel good on so many levels. I always joke that an art tour is better than a spa day. It’s better than a therapy session. Something happens in viewing art. Walking around, learning people’s history, and also, especially today, it gives people a chance to come together.”
Wasserman painted a picture of what she hopes for the future of Art Connect Group. “I think I’m going to push the agenda for more ambitious events like [visiting] Marfa, Texas or day trips to Boston, Philadelphia or other states. … Even in Israel, I also wanted to do it for a while,” she said.
Having turned a hobby into a serious occupation, Wasserman is a firm believer that “if you’re passionate about something, it will work because you don’t even feel like you’re working… because you love what you’re doing so much.” . But really, it all comes down to persistence, consistency and passion, and everything will work out,” she said.
Although she has done many group events over the past eight years, Wasserman said she has a hard time choosing her masterpiece. “I don’t have favorite kids … I really think all the programs are so special in their own way,” she said.