Tammy Catalano seems like an unlikely entrepreneur and founder. By most accounts, you’d imagine that beneath the layers of business plans, market research, and development you would meet an experienced MBA. Yet as I walk into the Irvine offices of the National Art Gallery, I’m met with both confusion and curiosity. As I’m led into the conference room, I see Tammy Catalano. She’s dressed in a tailored pantsuit with her long blonde hair pulled back. Looking very professional, she extends her hand and greets me with an infectious smile. We begin discussing the local startup community, as well as the incubator and mentors she works with at FastStart.studio.
I first met Tammy Catalano at a CoFoundersLab MatchUp event at the ROC Airport co-working offices in Irvine. She was there seeking to meet people to further advance her dream to market emerging artists to the art collector community nationwide. Encouraged by her passion I invited her to attend an upcoming TCVN (Tech Coast Venture Network) event to further enhance her opportunities to network with local entrepreneurs, mentors and investors.
We met at a TCVN 30-Second Pitch Competition the next month. She stood quietly in line behind a dozen other founders as they eagerly delivered their company’s pitches. When it was her turn, she glided carefully to the microphone and raised her hand. “How many people here have heard of the National Art Gallery?” more than half the audience shot up their hands before she continued, “You THINK you have, but you haven’t. I created it!” She then enthusiastically spoke about the company’s 90,000 social media followers as well as the 450 artists registered with the company. Her pitch won her that night’s cash prize, but not without a bit of frustration on her part. “I shouldn’t open with a statement that alienates the crowd. I need to rework the introduction,” she laments. It’s that “never satisfied” attitude that pushes her forward. Sitting across from her at the conference table, I can easily tell her passion for business and art are undeniable.
Tammy Catalano started her journey as an experienced UX designer and artist, she was frustrated with the lack of community and what she felt were “political” roadblocks in the art world. She decided to “invent the things she wish existed” and started the National Art Society. She soon gained a huge following of art enthusiasts and developed the National Art Gallery as a way to broker pieces for artists.
“I basically let the artists tell me what they wanted. It just makes sense for artists to create art galleries. I want to keep politics out, and the talent in.” She tells me. Her business model gives emerging artists exposure nationwide. I find the irony in an anti-political art organization from a CEO with a strong Political Science background curious, and ask her about it. She responds, “I was actually preparing for the LSATs (to prepare for law school), when I had an epiphany: The more I learned about politics, the more I hated it. I found the opposite to be true about art. The more I saw, the more I craved it! I knew I had to follow my heart and become an artist. Once I made that decision, I never looked back!”
She pulls out her laptop adorned with her company’s logo and pulls up the website, http://nationalartgallery.org “This is our beta launch. We’re testing out different features to see what artists and collectors like. So far, we’ve gotten a lot of great response from the customizable galleries. Collectors love to know about the artists they buy from: where they’re from, their inspiration, their vision. It’s important to me that we really bring the ‘gallery’ experience to the collector, even on a desktop. I believe online galleries are the future of art. You have access to unlimited pieces, it’s convenient, the premiums are lower, and you have access to artists you would otherwise never see.”
The website features an online gallery, along with printing and framing services. “When I started, I gave artists free portfolios. I don’t want to deviate too much from the initial model. I feel that as long as we’re providing value to artists and collectors, we’re on the right track.” I ask her what her goals are and with a huge grin she replies, “I want to curate the most successful art gallery in the world.”
I leave the interview energized and excited. I’ve met many startup founders, but when I see one with such strong convictions, I can really feel it. Although Tammy Catalano seems like an unlikely founder, I feel like I just witnessed the beginning of history.
To learn more about her venture, visit the National Art Gallery website.