The art of the perfect fit

Working in the Arts: Sarah Arnett Ordaz

Posted by Emma Restall in Featured, News · March 2024

Continuing our focus on the US, for this week’s Working in the Arts segment we spoke with Sarah Arnett Ordaz who is the Gallery Manager at Lisson, New York.

So, where do you work?

I work at Lisson Gallery, in our New York office.

What is your job title?

Gallery Manager – though this title has a very wide range within the industry! My role shifts and evolves with the needs of the gallery year by year.

What time did you wake up? What are you usual working hours?

I wake up at 6am for my commute from Putnam on Tuesdays-Fridays. My partner works overnight so in the mornings I am running solo with my 4 and 5-year-old kids and 2 giant pit bulls to get functional and out of the house. This is then followed by a drive into the city that can range from an hour with no traffic to 2.5 hours on a very busy day. I work from home on Mondays when the gallery is closed to the public.  I aim to leave around 4:30/5pm when I’m in the office and pick up the last hour from home to avoid traffic.

What are your key tasks?

My key tasks are ever changing with the needs of the gallery.  At the moment, I am primarily focused on our HR management of the US team, including all benefits administration, payroll processing, hiring, onboarding coordination, oversight of the annual review process, disciplinary procedures, etc. In general – I have always been a creative problem solver so I take on any variety of tasks to find the quickest and most cost-efficient solutions to keep the team up and running at our best!

What skills/ attributes/ values do you believe are avital for roles like this?

Solution oriented, flexible, open to conversation, personable, positive

What was your career path to this role?

A bit wonky – as these things tend to be! I double majored in History and Art History with a minor in European Studies. Though I was born and raised in New York City, Chelsea was a bit of a foreign country for Upper East Siders in the 90s. I visited many museums as a child, particularly with my grandmother, but contemporary art was a bit of an unknown: I once laughed at an Oldenburg giant molar in the Detroit Museum when I was 5 years old. Following graduation, I was lucky enough to receive a temp position in the HR department at The Guggenheim. I thought I might stay in HR, when an Art History professor told me about a front desk position at an Art Gallery nearby that was similar in collection to the Frick. Salander O’Reilly exposed me to gallery life, a small but dedicated workforce, and varied positions, including Registrar, Archivist, and Larry Salander’s Executive Assistant. Immediately after Salander, I went on to spend five years with Barbara Gladstone, and the last decade with Lisson.

What are the best and worst things about your job?

Best – Every day is a different challenge so I’m always ready to quickly douse any “fires” that arise. Nearly as rewarding, I get to work with every individual on the team, from their first interview onwards, to ensure the best possible lifecycle of a Lisson employee. Worst – “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; Courage to change the things I can; And wisdom to know the difference”.

What careers advice would you give to your 18-year-old self with the benefit of hindsight?

Find yourself a mentor, or two or three…early on! Look for colleagues who are working on things that excite you and offer to help. Gain as much varied experience as you can, don’t assume you know what achievements will be truly rewarding. Unfortunately, luck does have something to do with success, so open yourself up to take some risks. Also, know that every successful person has had some failures. Don’t ever say no to something you want out of fear – try everything!

Have you had a secret job that is not on your CV?

I volunteered at the Natural History Museum in the education department in High School. I was given a cart with objects kids could interact with in the Hall of Ocean Life with the Giant Whale. Unfortunately, I was not given much training on what was on the cart so I had a blast coming up with stories for families touring the exhibition.

Finally, what career advice would you give to your younger self?

Only after leaving the art world for 1.5 years, did I understand the importance (for me at least) of working in the field I love! Don’t try to force yourself to be anything you’re not, it’s OK to be the work horse and not arm candy in heels. It took nearly 11 years for me to realize a general administrative management role in a gallery is where I thrive. If I can make their administration as straightforward and easy as possible, they can focus on the art and do their jobs most effectively.

Thank you to Sarah for taking the time to talk to us and look out for future insights into the art world.

Notes from DRAW · 06.03.2024

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