The Madgician S01E03 | Legacy Over Exit: Entrepreneurship in the Art World with Marine Tanguy, CEO at MTArt Agency & Author of The Visual Detox

In today’s episode of The Madgician, we’ve had the pleasure of speaking with Marine Tanguy,  CEO at MTArt Agency & Author of The Visual Detox. Marine shared her beautiful story with us; a story about entrepreneurship in the art world, the power of practice & consistency in business, how building trust is the key to building a strong brand, and so much more.

About Marine 

Marine launched Certified B Corporation, MTArt Agency in 2015, following a career in visual arts in London and LA. MTArt agency is worth £35 million and is the art sector's leading talent agency representing some of the most talented, forward-thinking artists in the world. 

For us, art is not a luxury but an essential, and that is why we are passionate about democratizing art. We want to live in a world that is inclusive, diverse and fair, which is why we support our artists financially and personally and dedicate ourselves to promoting and supporting meaningful art. It is through these actions that we became the first UK company in the art sector to have B Corp status – one of our proudest accolades. MTArt Agency is now worth £35 million and was recently featured on the Sunday Times as one of the fastest-growing business in the United Kingdom.

What you’ll learn by listening: 

  • The entrepreneurial factor in the art world 
  • Built for legacy not exit: the different dynamics of entrepreneurship in art vs tech 
  • An overview of “Artivism”: activism through art 
  • How can we consume media without letting is consume us 
  • Learning from mistakes: the power of practice in entrepreneurship & beyond 
  • How storytelling shapes your marketing strategy 
  • Consistency & trust, the key to building a strong brand 

Podcast transcription

Georgiana: Hello, this is a new episode of The Madgician, a podcast meant for women, entrepreneurs, not just in fashion, but actually in all areas, women who have something to share, women who are very experienced in their area of activity.

And today I'm speaking to someone who's absolutely mesmerizing in all possible ways. Her name is Marine Tanguy. Marine, am I pronouncing correctly your name? 

Marine Tanguy: Actually, perfection, which is a very rare thing. 

Georgiana: Thank you so much. Thank you for accepting the invitation today. So you launched your agency, MTArt , in 2015, following an impressive career in visual arts in London and Los Angeles, and you're currently based in London, right? The reason why I reached out to you is because I haven't seen this business model before. I haven't seen agencies whose primary purpose is to promote artists and to promote artists that maybe not everyone knows about.

I will let you tell us a little bit more about what you do and then we can, dive into the rest of the podcast. 

Marine Tanguy: Well, it's a delight to speak today. And yes, I've been in the art world for 15 years now. I was a 21-years old managing the gallery of the guy who discovered Banksy, Steve Lazaridis, which is an incredible opportunity. Street artists are not just people who exhibit their works on walls, but they also start a conversation on the streets. I think that really was something that I took away. Two years on from running that gallery, I was approached by an investor who was based in Los Angeles called Steph Sebbag.

And he very much came to me to open my own gallery. So he will put the money in and I will build the company then. in Los Angeles, I had never been to LA before. In fact, I had, I don't think I had ever thought of LA. It was not on the map, but then they set up a left London for LA set up the gallery named after this one item that came.

It's called Ile de Ré, so it's called the De Ré Gallery. And this is where I got exposed to all the top talent agencies who basically build reputations for your top talents in music, women's sports. And I thought that's really interesting because it doesn't exist for the arts. 

You would need this agency. You also need, and especially as visual artists now, not just people who make works, they make public artworks for the cities or sculptures or installations. They have to collaborations or brand partnerships. They have following on social media. They do articles as well. So their breadth and what they ultimately stand for has gone so much wider for the past 10 years.

so we saw that trend and we decided we can lead with that trend and build the first high end agency in the art world, nine years ago. I feel really the odds were small and I don't think I fully understood the risk I was taking then, which were very high.

I feel very grateful because I care enormously about the company I've built. I care enormously about the art world and the sector I want to change and I care enormously about the artists. So for me, it's a joy to be able to do that daily. 

Georgiana: I think that's absolutely amazing. And I think you just, took a leap of faith. You did whatever you loved doing most and I find that really inspiring. I was wondering, it's been a while since you started, right? It's been more than 10 years, I think, would you change anything if you were to start over now? 

Marine Tanguy: No, I, so I'm really the opposite to someone who ever has any regrets. I don't have regrets. because I'm very happy in the place I am in life. Of course, like everyone, I have days when I'm grumpy or frustrated, but realistically, I have a beautiful family. I have two kids I absolutely adore. I have friends I adore.

I do what I love and something that I still find fascinating and I still learn plenty on a day to day basis. I have scored very high on what I wanted in life, I feel. it's a very special place in life. so I would, it's like a Lego for me where I would not try to move a single Lego block because I will be scared that it could unravel, what I landed with.

And what I land with is a life that I'm, I feel very lucky to have. So there's no regrets. There's also, there's plenty of mistakes to learn from, however. 

Marine Tanguy: Exactly. Well, I think gratitude is an important part of life and once you understand it and interiorize it, I think it makes things in those days where you're frustrated much easier to accept.

for me, this whole new concept of gratitude. Art or not the concept of art, but the art world is rather new. You know, I come from tech most of my adult life. I spent it working for tech companies doing digital marketing and employer branding, and now with my shoe brand, I'm at this intersection between, tech on the one hand.

Slightly because we run our own online store. And then art and fashion, because we work with artists to create small, accessories for the shoes that we produce by hand, by the way. And it's all new to me. It's a, very interesting world seeing how much artists struggle with promoting what they do, how much they are now involved in.

All areas, just like you were saying, they have regular jobs where they give interviews, they do their work, some of them for, personal purposes, some of them for cities, for art galleries, et cetera. What is this art world like? Because fashion is so different from tech.

Georgiana: I'm absolutely shocked. But what is the art world like? How have you experienced it so far? 

Marine Tanguy: You could be in the art world because you love the party side.

You could be in the art world because you're more academic and the historical side, is really important to you. The institutional side is really important to you. you could be in the art world because You like the collaborative aspects it has with these sectors, you could be in there purely for the market side, in the sense that you are engaging in auctions, engaging in market results.

And this is again, your way in. So I feel like it's first to kind of. For anyone who's not from the art world to open up the many different ways you can be in the art world more than thinking I must be X, and this is how I get to enter it. I feel very lucky because I get to be in many different parts of the art world on a constant basis.

And as a personality, this will be very important to me because I don't do very well if I get stuck in just the same community of people. I love. going from one community to another on the regularity. obviously, I built relationships and those are people that I see regularly, but I don't like to be with people who think the same way all day long.

So I think that the company we've built has several divisions. You have the public art division, digital divisions, brand partnerships, entertainment and art sales, which ultimately means back to your question. These are all different ways to engage with the arts. If you engage with public art and put an artwork in the center of a city.

The civic aspect, the impact it has on people and how people kind of engage with it on the everyday is the most important part. if you are in. Sales then your investment and the market value of this artist is going to be much more relevant and you will know the digital side much more, but if you are inside, then how innovative you are with AI.

Or how innovative you are with NFTs or the medium that you're using is very relevant if you are doing digital collaborations, So I think what's really nice to me is I get, and of course this is all run by different directors, but I get personally as a founder, to understand different relationship with the arts.

I also feel I have those different relationships like, you know, you're in my house right now with, is filled with art, I have someone that loves walking on the streets and being inspired. But what I see in the same way that I love seeing, you know, just released yesterday, a new body of work by our AI artists as [00:08:00] a crew, and I found it really interesting.

So it's my relationship with the arts is also multiple. I'm very lucky that I got to kind of see that through the company I've built as well. 

Georgiana: You are asking me about the differences between fashion and tech and there are multiple, but I think the most notable that I've discovered in the very short time in which I've kind of switched worlds is the value of the network, which is very constructive, I would say, and positive in tech, where you need to know a lot of people.

If you're working on a product, which can be successful for multiple people, then you'll get a lot of support and you'll get a lot of, let's say likes and shares, you know, on LinkedIn to put it bluntly, or as in fashion, it's still about being connected and About who you know, but people are not going to support you.

I mean, it's the most individualistic area in which I've ever been. And it's shocking for me to see artists, designers, fashion designers who have been struggling for  years and who have missed amazing opportunities just because they didn't want to do, I would put it bluntly, ass kissing in the end.

 Marine Tanguy: I think it's explained with two things. One, the power dynamics are very different. what I mean by this is in tech, you're always aware that your neighbor could be a 16 years old kid, but he or she could come out with an innovation that could disrupt your entire space.

So you're having to speak to people on a constant basis. Because you could be overthrown in literally five seconds. your innovation that was innovative two seconds ago, just be totally irrelevant in two seconds later. So the collaboration element is very important. and I think that's why.

Those networks work that way because they're aware of that element in terms of the power dynamics. Realistically, when it comes to reputations in both the arts and fashion, you can't just be overthrown in two seconds. That is, [00:10:00] the power dynamics are much more sat, the gatekeepers are much more sat in. most people who build tech companies wish to exit after a few years, most people who build companies in the arts and fashion don't have to exit anytime soon.

Yhey will want to build it for legacy. So your relationship with time, with who you are as a person, with what you value, but also With why you're building it for is almost completely opposite. which means that I feel like this is also why the dynamics will be quite opposite in terms of, because we disrupted the sector, the startup world, and it is very different, but I also feel this because the objectives are very different.

Like most of my peers, we started companies when I started companies, no more are running companies, in the startup world. It was in the arts and fashion, like really for the posterity. Like it's, it's why it's, it's a reason why you want to build it. 

Georgiana: It's extremely interesting to see how the dynamics are. And in the end, yeah, it's a different, finality to it. So maybe that's why. [00:11:00] It's so complicated sometimes, but anyway, I found a very interesting concept as I was browsing your website and this concept is called artivism and I found it's so creative and I've worked with content for so many years and I thought it's genius.

I love it. It must be a form of activism, right? But how exactly, how is it different from traditional activism? 

Marine Tanguy: I feel it's interesting because. I feel I'm only taking on the idea of it and wearing in bodily like much more bold way for the past couple of years. Take a step back when I built the company in 2015.

We published a manifesto saying that's all the changes we want to see in the art world. 90 percent of the art world is from super privileged backgrounds. Who gets to succeed in it, like you mentioned earlier, depends upon background more than talents. Very few people get to access it. That's all the things we're going to change.

And we became also one of the first B Corp in our sector. So we were very socially committed. It was bold. I think it did help that I was 25. You just are bolder in your statements. and you're more idealistic in a good way. but I felt I was always very cautious about. kind of calling it activism or artivism now, because I think for me, like, I just always felt the arts is probably not the core priority.

Like if right now I was asked, how do you solve the world's problem? I will go much more refugee crisis. homelessness, you know, access to resources before I go to art. and that's why I was always quite shy to ever use this word. because I felt a degree of respect, to the many charities that I support and, and to the many other side on the ground, which for me is much more essential to what we're doing.

I think what's interesting is, especially as I've just recently published a book is as I grew older, I realized that actually. us being behind the first sculpture park dedicated to readdressing how do you depict slavery in the U. S. [00:13:00] or a lot of the projects of our artists that actually are in content incredibly challenging, is actually something that I would now qualify a necessity because that visual narrative shapes your brain, shapes how you approach a word.

And ultimately goes on feed either further disparities or, goes on and look for a world that is fairer and, and more respectful. So it's, it's quite recent. There's a TED talk that is coming out this week that you will see is the boldest I've ever given because the first two were a bit less bold. 

Higher and aiming higher in terms of the value system I want to see in terms of the changes I want to see. It also comes again back to a form of privilege. I've now got a company that's running. I can afford to punch higher. But I must say it's a joy and I think what's kind of filled me extra with joy and I've seen it with the book too, is that it's being supported at large with Gen Z and below and I think probably me being exposed to that younger [00:14:00] generation supporting what we're doing and supporting all the projects that we're doing has fueled again a lot more of the energy I had at the beginning.

And that kind of enabled me to think, well, they want that change, they're supporting it, we need to support it stronger. So it is activism through arts, but it took me a long time to, own up to the word. 

Georgiana: And you were speaking about Penguin and I know you've published a book recently, the visual detox, how to consume media without letting it consume you.

I find this title fascinating. but would you be able to boil it down? Not the whole book, I mean, but just give us three small insights into what we can do to consume media without letting it consume us. 

Marine Tanguy: Yeah, so just to clarify, we're talking about visual media, first of all. So on a day to day basis, you are looking at 10, 000 images, which very few people are aware on how many images we get exposed to daily.

And the idea is to say, Pictures are not just superficial and cute, they shape your brain and in fact, words shape your brain a lot less than visuals and we remember a lot more visuals than we do of work. And so you're constantly shaped by it, desires, insecurities, products you go by, like you're a product of it.

Which is why engaging with the arts is so important, engaging with the visual world. Developing your visual literacy, which is literally your understanding of that impact of the visuals is essential. the book is divided in three parts, awareness, which is what I said. Pictures are not just cute. They shape you be aware of the impact it has on your brain.

Number two is visual literacy. Exactly to your point, we drilled onto a method that is accessible from all walks of life. Also, the good news is that 65 percent of people are visual learners. So actually, the majority of people is thinking already through pictures. 

You're not about to be learning, a new alphabet. You actually have it in you. You just haven't exercised it. So we really give you the many ways in which you can take control back.

From the images you click on to the prompts, you'll put on open AI and me journey up to the public arts, up to, the brands you consume from and the visual narrative they endorse. So it's for you to really feel that decision making can be mine. and that engagement with visual culture at large can be mine too.

Georgiana: I think that is really healthy as we are, living in these times where it does consume us. And I'm talking now about content that you see on Instagram. I have a young daughter myself and I look around me and I'm absolutely scared of what the future holds. And I think whatever teaches us how to be more careful, As to what we consume in terms of, images in general.

 I'm wondering, coming a little bit into the entrepreneurship angle, has there any been a mistake that you feel in the end was a valuable lesson learned? in your career so far? 

Marine Tanguy: I need to say that I do ballet and tennis. I'm the daughter of a sport teacher and I'm having so much fun in my life back big time into sports. the reason I'm saying this is because it is just, Practice like it's, you know, there are days you turn up to the court or you turn up at your ballet class and your pirouette or your jeté is really nice.

or your forehand is like lovely at tennis, right? And there are days you're just not that great. I think this can be applied to every parts of life. whether it's parenting, whether it's relationships, there's days you nail it, there's days you do not.

I'm actually, I think if you look at myself and me from the outside and without company, you see a lot of milestones, but I'm very attached to process. The reason I mentioned tennis and ballet is because I'm a process person. I don't rule my life through. I must achieve X milestone.

I generally enjoy the process of learning. And that's the reason I get up on the morning and go back in every room, whether it's a business room, whether it's the writing room, whether it's the ballet class, I enjoy the idea that I'm going to learn more. I think that's the way to see it, see it as a process.

You've learned that it's perfect. Well, then tomorrow you're not going to do it. and then you will further exercise and I think also if you approach everything that this it's, you're less attached to milestones, you're less attached when you didn't have them, when you don't obtain things that you felt you were due to obtain or not, everything feels like a process, but that's why I mentioned sports because I feel there's so much we can learn.

I'm trying to pass that on to my two kids because I feel whether it's how to build teams, or whether it's like the idea, literally that as a body, you cannot be the same or day to day basis. You're not machine. there are days you're better than others. And that is to totally acceptable facts.

I think when I go to ballet, my teachers, that's just so okay with days are great and days are done. They're just so at ease with it. I think people who work more with the body understand that there's not such thing as a regular machine on a day to day basis. if we could bring that to the business world and just think I nailed that pitch on that day.

And that was so good when I talked to my team and I was really inspiring, but actually two hours later, That was not that great, but that's okay because I'm going to make sure that I correct that. I think it's the same thing. 

Georgiana: And, sport does play an important role in our lives, not just for the, health benefits it brings, but also because it brings you more in contact with life, I find. And, you know, since I started, working on this shoe brand and when I have these actual. Objects, the shoes in my hands, it's like, it's a totally different thing from working in tech, working in services.

I took up sports very late in my life, a little earlier than starting my shoe business. It's been a journey where, like you said, some days are very frustrating and, they just feel they were for nothing. And other days I'm like, Oh, I didn't know I could do that.

That's actually quite, reinforcing. So, yeah, I definitely second that. I've seen so far that marketing might be, if not the most important part, one of the most important parts in any business. And I've seen it with a lot of failed, fashion brands, with a lot of failed art projects around me all over Europe.

Why not? And you work a lot in marketing, Marine. So I was wondering, is there any strategy? you would advise us to use at some point, a strategy that you feel would be super beneficial to us. 

Marine Tanguy: I think it's less a strategy is more tips I will give. I don't see things as marketing or PR. I see it as storytelling.

I think first of all, before you go live on truly marketing. it's important to understand what am I trying to say? Because I think what you see a lot with me is, and obviously same with that interview, it's been 15 years of us reflecting about the ideas we want to push up to the world.

So you could send me 40 questions on that topic. I'm excited. In fact, like a tennis game, I can't wait because I'm in those ideas and I'm shaping them and I care deeply about them. But therefore, I feel this is a way to think of it where just think first. What is what is the research? What is the expertise?

What is the story? What is the content? before you think reach people tend to think I want to press article before they think, well, actually, What is really the story? That will be quite shaping. I feel the second thing that goes, going back to support is consistency.

ultimately marketing is trust, in a sense that you're building a relationship of trust with your customers, your partners, everyone ultimately involved. That will be connecting with the company, things that are, that is a problem that creates problems or breach of trust is usually around lack of consistency.

There are times being consistent is hard because you might actually feel that you're a bit low or that, the company has highs and lows or that you're personally quite sensitive 

But that is where again, what can really matter because people trust and buy into brands that are consistent, whose vision is very clear, who is on boarded people over the years and who has really looked at to their community. therefore consistency is to be thought of that even when it's not the peak time.

To be consistent that specifically when you have to be consistent. I always, when I give tips around networking, I always think in terms of friendship, like just go into your room and try to make one friend. 

Keeping this relationships where, you know, you wouldn't trust that person. if they sometimes communicated to you, sometimes disappeared for months. Right. you'll probably not feel that great either for that person doing that to you. and we all have friends would do that, but I'm just saying that's not what makes us feel the best.

Right. Whereas someone that is their system basis is usually a relationship we would associate to be a healthy relationship. so I think marketing is exactly the same. Networking is exactly the same. 

Georgiana: Right. I love that. Storytelling and consistency. Very hard things to do. Both of them. Especially when not all days are going great.

When you're a new business starting out. we are approaching the end of this discussion. And because I speak on this podcast and not only, I speak to a lot of people, a lot of women actually recently who juggle a lot. Most of the time it's family, multiple businesses, some of them are even teaching. there's sports, there's, you know, life, life happens.

I'm eager to know what helps you. You mentioned ballet, you mentioned tennis. Are there other strategies that have helped you focus more on the being part of life and on juggling everything that you're doing? Because you are obviously doing a lot. 

Marine Tanguy: I think I've always known my priorities. Quite, strongly in a sense that, I've been with my husband for 10 years now.

in fact, I built the business and met the guy on the same month. So it was obviously a big month for me that June 2000. I feel that our priorities were always very clear to each other.

We wanted to have kids. We wanted to build something that we loved. that was a core priority. You see, we still haven't organized our wedding. Like the idea of organizing a large event, frankly, when you are running a company is your worst nightmare. Like it's the multiple events ongoing, everything that you're doing.

Right. So the first thing you think of when you're on your day off is not to organize the wedding. I'm sure at some point we'll do a beautiful party celebrating our community that we love.

But that was never the priority. Now, having kids was a total priority. We care deeply about the idea of being parents. So I think it's just again, choosing what is most important. is it the financial safety? Because if it's the case, as we all know, starting a business might not be the right route to get there.

for a little while, at least if it's getting on the property ladder, is it, getting, married? is it having kids? However, this is the thing is you can't have it all. And, you will have to put different energies [00:25:00] and sacrifice at different times. For me, because the kids were such a priority.

I spent my whole 20s working immensely hard, buying everything. and I really had absolutely no financial safety. Now I work hard, but I have a really nice cocoon to kind of be surrounded by. So it's much easier. I did that because I wanted to build a business. I was in capacity for me to afford to be a mom.

And to afford to have the balance I wanted when I was becoming a mom . but it meant that you would have never seen me going out with peers of my age in my twenties, that whole part of my life was establishing the business, and establishing a career to allow me to be now in my early thirties and have peers in the business I wanted.

So I feel this it's always to kind of, now that obviously I'm more visible with that balance is to kind of think, okay, well, actually there's, you know, The tall twenties were very different than your average 20 years old. There's always sacrifices that would be in the background of it. I'm also very lucky that it's worked out.

I think also the behind the scenes for everyone are not as glossy as they look. I think it's always worth reminded in a culture of image that, you know, this morning my husband is away. Like I still had to like drop the first one to nursery. The second one to school somehow turn up at my eight 30 meeting.

We are all trying and it's never perfect. I think in being present, it's just because again, as I know my priorities, like for me, if a meeting is not crucial, then I want to spend time with my kids. or I would be in a crucial meeting, but I don't do in betweens. 

I just waste loads of times. Either this is business, either this is my family. there's little room for the in between because I also want to spend time with my friends. so you have to choose and I think you have to learn to say no. You have to learn to prioritize, and you have to be okay with what your priorities means in terms of the compromises that you've made.

and I think I felt I still feel immensely lucky to be in a relationship where our prices are the same. We have the same priorities on a day to day basis. So it's very easy for us, therefore, to make joint decisions on where we should spend time because we align on that.

Georgiana: I think it's important in the end. It's up to the decisions you've made, right? You've made your own path and you've chosen some people rather than others and some career choice, you've made some career choices rather than others. And, yeah, I feel that work life balance really is important. especially when you have kids.

It's absolutely vital. But, yeah, this has been super nice, Marine. Thank you so much for accepting to talk to us. I'm learning a lot. I find your story immensely inspirational and I'm sure our audience will too. I enjoyed reading that interview I was telling you about and, I wish you the best of luck in pursuing your mission.

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