For our next installment of the ‘Women Working in the Arts’ series, we’re pleased to present an interview with communications specialist Hannah Gottlieb-Graham. Gottlieb-Graham is the Founder and Director of ALMA Communications, a boutique, Brooklyn-based PR agency operating at the intersection of art, fashion, beauty, and social justice, facilitating press, partnerships and publishing deals for international artists, creatives, galleries, and organizations.
She previously held positions at the Aperture Foundation, Howard Greenberg Gallery, Luhring Augustine Gallery, Sutton, Nadine Johnson, and Third Eye. Gottlieb-Graham has worked closely with renowned international artists and facilitated partnerships and events with leading brands and cultural institutions, such as Adobe, Art Basel Miami, BAM, CUUP, Farfetch, Google Pixel, Gucci, JCrew, NeueHouse, NYU, Pioneer Works, Refinery29 Unbothered, Soho House, Spotify, Squarespace, The Armory, The Standard, The RealReal and The Schomburg Center. Her press placements include Artforum, Artnet, ARTnews, Bookforum, CBS News, CNN Style, Document Journal, i-D, PAPER, Refinery29, The British Journal of Photography, The Cut, The Financial Times, The Guardian, The New York Times, The New Yorker, Vogue, WSJ, and W, among others. She studied photography and art criticism at the University of Oxford and Sarah Lawrence College.
Read on to discover what she deems most important in client relationships, her insider advice for emerging artists seeking media features, and the biggest lesson she’s learned from launching her own business.
What was the catalyst for launching your own firm, ALMA Communications?
Before starting ALMA I was the in-house publicist at The Aperture Foundation, where I had the opportunity to work closely with a number of incredible photographers. That position inspired me to really take control of my communication skills, and I identified an interest in leading events and coordinating partnerships with other organizations, institutions, and brands. As those interests developed I realized I wanted more autonomy, so I set out to create a company where I could continue working closely with artists and facilitating press and partnerships on their behalves.
What do you see as your particular niche and in what ways are you "the antithesis of a PR agency"?
In terms of my niche, I have a background in photography, so when I initially started ALMA I thought I might exclusively work with photographers. That quickly changed when I was introduced to a number of talented creatives and organizations, but I definitely do have a soft spot for photo and book projects.
I have trouble with the word ‘activism’ these days, but I will say that for me to take on a new client or project, I have to feel like I’m promoting something that’s making a difference in the world. This year I’ve worked almost exclusively on projects centered around race and identity. I’m interested in exploring a number of different socially-conscious topics, from climate advocacy to gender equality to prison reform to many things in between. I want the work that I do to reflect the world we’re living in, and my clients tend to think very similarly.
In terms of creating a new model and set of standards for PR, the relationships I’ve built with my clients far surpass a traditional working relationship. They’re built on real trust and support, and in many cases friendship. That mode of understanding and communicating is integral to the way I run my business.
You have an impressive and accomplished list of clients. What is most important to you about your relationships with them?
Thank you! My clients are remarkable and it’s important to me that I protect them. I’m extremely selective about who I align myself with, so when I decide to begin a working relationship with someone it has to feel like a real partnership. I always ask myself: What can I bring to the table for this person? How can I make this person feel seen and supported? How can I help tell this person’s story? How can I make sure their projects are being communicated appropriately and beautifully? Those questions fall under the umbrella of care and protection in my book.
Can you share one thing you've learned in the first year of running your business?
A big part of my job is being reachable at all times, but working from home amidst the pandemic has had a way of obliterating the work-life boundaries I set out to enforce. I’m slowly learning to take time for myself and communicate to my clients that there are certain pockets of the day that I need to be reserved for me, whether I’m working out or eating a meal or seeing art. I think we all need to do a better job of standing up for ourselves when we’re overworked. I’m very envious of the European four-day work week.
Any quick tips for emerging artists looking to gain exposure via media features? What's one piece of advice for pitching or partnering with an agency?
If you’re an emerging artist who doesn’t have the budget for external PR, you likely have a friend or two who writes freelance or is on staff with a publication. Connect with them directly and get a sense of what their editors are interested in spotlighting. A publicist is essentially a liaison between an artist and a writer, so if you can form your own connections you’ll be able to learn how stories get placed pretty quickly. In time you might make a decision to hire a publicist or work with an agency, and by that time you’ll have your own little arsenal of press contacts and preferred publications, so you’re not going into an artist-publicist relationship blindly. A big part of my process is asking the artists I work with what their favorite publications are or which writers they really admire, then I craft a plan based on their interests and feedback. I take an extremely collaborative approach to press because I think it’s important for artists to feel in control of their own narratives, even when they’ve hired someone else to help facilitate that.
We'd love to hear about any exciting projects you're currently working on. What else does ALMA have planned for 2021?
I’m excited about a ton of upcoming projects in the next few months!
My client Alteronce Gumby just unveiled a stunning dual-site solo exhibition in New York, and his first monograph will be out in April, coinciding with the shows.
This spring my nonprofit client, worthless studios, is launching The Plywood Protection Project, an incredible initiative redistributing plywood collected from the many boarded-up windows that emerged amidst the pandemic to five local artists who’ve been working towards transforming the wood into sculptures, which will be installed in each borough of New York and unveiled to the public this May. We partnered with The Noguchi Museum, Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, NYCxDESIGN, and Makers’ Space in Staten Island, so it’s been a real collaborative effort and labor of love.
I’m also tackling my first children’s book project, Many Shapes of Clay, which is a modern-day story of grief, diversity, family connections, and the creative process, by author and illustrator Kenesha Sneed. It’ll be released by Prestel in May.
And I’m working with my first New York museum client, Fotografiska!
All photos c/o Hannah Gottlieb-Graham, ALMA Communications.