More often associated with the public sector due to its greater dependence on fundraising, development is equally key to many commercial arts businesses as they seek to attract specific clients, audiences and patrons. For smaller companies, development is often part of the remit of sales or marketing teams (or both), but roles that are specifically focussed on development do exist in the commercial world, and mostly centre on identifying, engaging with, and securing the business of VIP clients.


In order to maintain and promote their standing as major events in the cultural calendar, art fairs and biennials employ development teams to target a VIP contingent consisting of high-profile collectors, artists, critics and curators. Guest lists are revised and perfected year on year and these are the people who will receive personalised invitations, as well as benefiting from a programme of private previews, events and tours. While international events can attract a wider audience than most art world openings, it is a well-documented fact that the majority of sales at art fairs take place during VIP previews (or even, pre- previews!); as such, the success of the fair and its exhibiting galleries depends to a large extent on the attendance of a highly-curated guest list, created and nurtured by a specialist development team.


Within commercial galleries, a different form of development is required – one that focuses on expanding the client base in alignment with the artist programme, often by targeting very specific geographies, demographics or collecting patterns. Many top sales directors within galleries are supported by a dedicated Client Developer, who monitors the international market closely to pinpoint potential buyers, and then in many cases will initiate a relationship with them on behalf of the gallery. To cultivate a salesperson’s existing network of loyal clients, a Client Developer is responsible for documenting their buying patterns, tastes and ambitions as a collector, and matching these to the most appropriate works available on the market – exclusively through the gallery, of course! Often seen as a crucial precursor to a successful career in independent sales, Client Developers orchestrate the finely-tuned relationship between buyer and gallery that in many cases lays the groundwork for high-value sales.

Client development or “client strategy” is also an important area within major auction houses as they seek to expand their market and attract both new buyers and consigners. Often assigned to one particular department or market, these client developers/strategists will closely monitor sales patterns, trends and market conditions to identify areas and individuals to target, in accordance with the house’s marketing and business development strategy. Once identified, such prospects are approached through strategic event programming and carefully compiled guest lists that aim to connect them with specialists and foster a preferential relationship with patrons above their competitors.

Whereas within the public sector, development refers primarily to the cultivation of relationships with grant-giving trusts, corporate partners or individual patrons in order to raise funds, in the private sector it denotes strategic efforts to develop relationships with VIP clients and collectors. Despite this key divergence there is notable overlap, particularly in regard to the elite circle that comprises both important patrons and collectors of the arts. Mostly consisting of high-net-worth individuals who are often both benefactors and buyers, identifying and then building relationships with these individuals usually requires a personalised, strategic approach bolstered by exclusive treatment and benefits.


Wang Xi