Canadian media entrepreneur Louise T. Blouin makes her mark in the worlds of art, both real and virtual.
Louise T. Blouin MacBain brings art – once the remit of age-old institutions – into the 21st century, merging highbrow with hi-tech.
The Louise T. Blouin Institute, which opened last October, marked the arrival of London's most significant new arts venue and the latest impressive feather in the cap of multi-millionaire publisher and philanthropist Louise T. Blouin MacBain. In 2001 she founded global publishing company LTB Holding Ltd, which produces an impressive portfolio of titles dedicated to the visual and performing arts. Four years later she launched the Louise T. Blouin Foundation, a charity organization dedicated to research through arts and science that brings together many noble names from those fields. Today the Global Creative Leadership Summit (www.creativeleadershipsummit.org) seeks creative solutions to 21st-century problems, forging links through forward thinking.
Last year the media mogul went virtual with the launch of online arts portal www.artinfo.com. Fusing commerce with culture, the comprehensive site has become a one-stop hub for dealers and collectors from around the world. With future plans, including up-to-the-minute auction results that create a virtual stock exchange for the arts, Louise T. Blouin MacBain has become a modern model of cerebral chic.
The new Louise T. Blouin Institute is located in West London. What attracted you to the building?
It is just such a beautiful space. We were looking for something flexible that would provide artists with as many options as possible. It was also the right area. This part of West London is buzzing with new developments and creativity. Simply, the right space at the right time.
Do you have plans to open institutes in any other countries, such as the US?
We do. We have had interest from all over the world and the US, as well as the Middle East, are both places where we are exploring possibilities.
You and your foundation have been described as "active philanthropy": do you see philanthropists taking a more active role? If so, what do you think has instigated the proactive approach?
Certainly there has been a move by some away from 'chequebook' philanthropy. For me, certainly, our philanthropic work matters too much to just be a thing to think about at the end of the month. My Foundation and its works matter to me as much as the business and we seek some similar things: return on investment, efficiency, excellence. In an age of personal computers, I think the personalizing of philanthropy reflects the times we are in – and can also engage people to a great degree.
Philanthropy has become the buzzword of the new century. What, in your opinion, has inspired the wave of interest?
Philanthropy may be a buzzword, but it has always been a part of so many societies. What is interesting – and it is something we looked at our major summit last year – is that levels of happiness in the West are decreasing. We are richer, but less satisfied. There is certainly scientific evidence that points to the 'reward' mechanism of philanthropy. We feel better when we give. This isn't the only explanation, but I think it is an interesting element.
The foundation is also active within the sciences. What innovations and research are you involved in?
We are taking on some interesting projects around the value of culture with the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, including looking at the impact of music on the brain. We are also working on a lot of new research in the build-up to our summit in September. Reseach is key.
You saw the potential of the internet at its early stages, when was this and when did you start looking into the possibilities and developing the idea? Was your art portal Art Info the original idea?
I remember being told – in no uncertain terms – by everyone from bankers to 'experts' that there was no money to be made on the internet. Even within my business, there was quite a lot of scepticism around what the internet might offer. So I started quietly, with a small team hidden away until we got our plans together. www.artinfo.com was certainly around as an idea then. I think this taught me the most important lesson, which is always to believe in your dreams – no matter who tells you not to.
Art Info is still less than a year old. What challenges have you faced, and what changes and developments do you foresee?
The challenge – and opportunity – for everyone online is the speed of change. You can move quickly, but so can your competition. I think our strength is investing in content and on a global scale. Knowledge is the most valuable asset. We also need to look to ways to allow people to contribute more: to upload, rather than download. This is our next step.
Historically art has been classed as elite. With the advancement of the internet and portals, such as Art Info, do you feel that art is becoming democratized?
I don't think art has always been classed as elite. It certainly isn't elite for kids, who draw and create instinctively, although in certain societies I think the relationship between art and money has made a big difference. But all people, no matter who, when or with how much, have enjoyed art. It is what makes us human. I do feel the web offers a great opportunity to share creativity, to learn and to break down barriers. Certainly this is our hope with Art Info.
Do you feel that culture can be achieved through commerce?
The relationship between art and money is essential. Of course there needs to be a healthy balance, but the right commercial input can have huge impact. The Medici bank is an obvious example. However, it is interesting now that artists can share their work a great deal more easily now – and at less cost – thanks to the internet. While at the top end of the pyramid prices have never been higher, the base is broadening. It will be interesting to see what happens next here. Culture can be a tool to enhance understanding of our neighbor, to create greater understanding.
Where is the most exciting place right now in terms of art? Do you see any new trends or exciting media emerging within the art world?
The influence of online art is the next-step change I believe. Geographically, China, India, Russia, Africa and the Middle East are so dynamic and alive in contemporary art right now.
Who are the 21st-century art stars in your opinion?
This would be such a long list! We are so lucky to live in a time of such creativity and talent – and such higher levels of exposure for international artists. If you wanted one of my personal favorites, then I'd have to go for James Turrell whose exhibition launched our Institute in London. His vision and ambition is extraordinary.
There seem to be widers parameters in art, how do distinguish between what is art and what some consider bad taste?
Art is in the eye of the beholder.
Do you feel that technique and talent has given way to shock value and the art of celebrity?
In any time, art has shocked. That is a part of its remit in a way. Artists are great visionaries, always ahead of their time, so it is no surprise that they push boundaries.
My definition of luxury:
If luxury were:
An extra hour each day.