Alex Acquavella (’03) grew up immersed in the New York art scene. His family has operated Acquavella Galleries, which specializes in impressionist, modern and contemporary art, since his Italian immigrant grandfather opened the gallery in the 1920s.
When Acquavella came to Wake Forest, he assumed, correctly, that one day he’d join his father, sister and brother in the family art gallery on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, a short walk from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Even with his family background, it was his Wake Forest experience as an art history major and studio art minor that’s allowed him to be successful running an art gallery.
“I’ve found it pretty amazing how much I pull from my time at Wake Forest,” he said. “From the studio art side, I deal with paintings and drawings and sculpture on a daily basis, and to have had the experience at Wake Forest of trying to do those things myself gave me a lot of confidence. From the art history standpoint, at times I take that background knowledge for granted, but a lot of that also came from studying here.”
Acquavella, 39, is a strong advocate of the University’s Wake The Arts initiative, which seeks to infuse the arts across campus and ensure that every student has an arts experience, regardless of major. He’s hosted students and faculty in his New York gallery and was on campus in late October to talk with students about the business side of the art world.
He has made a major gift to endow several programs in the arts, most prominently a course on art and business, the Acquavella Course in Management in the Visual Arts. His father, William Acquavella (P ’03), originally funded the course in 2004 when he created the Acquavella Fund for Art and Business.
The interdisciplinary class between the School of Business and the art department, taught every other year, introduces students to the business side of the arts world. A highlight of the course is a trip to New York during spring break to visit art galleries, artist studios and auction houses.
The trip allows students to see firsthand how the business world and the arts are connected, said Morna O’Neill, Rubin Faculty Fellow and associate professor of art, who is teaching the class this spring. “Works of art do not exist in a vacuum that separates them from ‘the real world.’ The best business practices can be aligned with, and perhaps even improved by, a knowledge of art making and art history.”
Acquavella is also funding the Acquavella Distinguished Lecturer in Arts Management to bring a leading arts management professional to campus in alternating years when the class is not taught, beginning in 2021.
His gift is also supporting the Acquavella Curator of Collections to expand visibility of the University’s art collections. Jennifer Finkel, previously curator of Cleveland Clinic’s contemporary art collection, was named curator in August. Wake Forest’s art collections include more than 1,700 paintings, prints, photographs, sculpture and drawings in nine collections, including the Simmons Collection, the Hanes Collection, the Student Union Collection of Contemporary Art and the John P. Anderson Collection of Student Art.
“I would like to bring the arts more to the forefront at Wake Forest,” Acquavella said. “Providing students an arts experience can be a real gift and be beneficial for the rest of their lives, no matter what they do.”
Leading the Way
The following donors have also supported the Wake The Arts initiative:
- Jeff Dishner (P ’21) and Cathy Dishner (P ’21), Old Greenwich, Connecticut
- John Metz (P ’21) and Jennifer Metz (P ’21), San Francisco
- Martha & Wilton Looney Foundation, in honor of Andrew Blaisdell (’03) and Ali Dick Blaisdell (’06), Atlanta
- David and Geri Epstein Private Foundation, Karen Connell Hess (’94), president, Westport, Connecticut
- J.D. Wilson (’69, P ’01) and Janie Wilson (P ’01), Winston-Salem