“To empower female and non-binary groups in art, I decided to make the shift from venture capital to venture philanthropy,” Irene Ailin Wang says about her non-profit Waave Foundation. We are sitting together amidst her inaugural exhibition “D’Est” on the ground floor of an appointed townhouse on 17 East 63rd Street, one block from Central Park, which serves as the foundation’s headquarters. “Venture philanthropy adopts practices from venture capital, encouraging non-profits to apply methods such as due diligence, risk and performance measurement, and strategic support to enhance the growth and social impact of the projects they fund,” Wang explains. “I am using business strategies to innovate philanthropy in the arts,” she says. The interior is sleekly renovated. The main room with a fireplace has French doors that open to a small outside space—inside everything is white, except for the black stone floor. It is fully dedicated to the works of Traci Johnson, claudie yeejae kim, Zahra Nazari, Megan Nugroho, Jingyi Wang—the six female artists on view. Wang receives me wearing a chic all-white outfit with wide-legged pants. After we tour the exhibition, I am certain that she is an excellent conduit and this luxurious but serene and welcoming space is formidable to celebrate women in the arts.
In the garden, an intricate sculpture by claudie yeejae kim is installed. It is comprised of a steel structure with long springs that have concrete ball-shaped pieces attached at the bottom. “Its aesthetic mimics Asian archeological findings,” she muses as she grabs a ball and pulls it to create movement in the installation. Inside, in a niche in the wall, another sculpture by the same artist sits. She is a Columbia MFA student. Bianca Chiarini who has organized a panel discussion associated with the exhibition and also works more broadly with the foundation’s development and Qingyuan Deng who serves as the exhibition’s assistant curator are also Columbia University alumni.
The name Waave is a spin-off of the waves of feminism. In an interview Marxist Feminist theorist, Silvia Federici says: “A new feminism has been created, a feminism that I think is very powerful…And it’s not just opposition, it is a movement that builds.” In addition to intersectionality, decolonization, and reproduction fourth-wave feminism, where we are now since around 2012, started with the Me Too movement and includes the fight against sexual violence and harassment. Federici’s most poetic observation is that feminists today, based on the work of waves past, can focus more on building than opposing.
Wang’s motivation to found Waave stems both from her tribulations and her desire to build bonds within the academic community and support those she has met there. After giving birth to her first child she suffered postpartum depression. Living in Singapore, the healthcare system did not offer much help other than psycho-pharmaca. ”Normally I use work to help myself,” she explains but in this case throwing herself into work mode did not help. Finally, a female childhood friend sat her down to speak about her condition and she felt seen. She decided to step down from the venture capital investment firm she had co-founded to focus on her mental health. “I started painting full-time during that period,” she explains, and realized that “if art could heal me, then it can also heal many others.” After returning to a better emotional state she wanted to further explore the potentials of art. She attended undergraduate classes at Yale and then Columbia in Art History and Fine Art and it was together with her newfound friends and mentors that she came up with the idea to found Waave to support female and non-binary individuals in the arts sector overall.
Even before her postpartum depression, she worked hard to be seen, despite being a woman. Throughout her career, in high-profile finance positions in Beijing, Singapore, and New York she navigated the male-dominated field, and beyond it, many had a hard time comprehending that she was established within it. Now she combines this extensive hands-on experience in venture capital with her genuine passion for art, energizing the field of venture philanthropy. Importantly, Waave aims to offer grants with easy and short application processes to artists on a rolling basis. “By implementing the traditional venture capital firms’ due diligence, risk, and performance management Waave Foundation’s grants can more effectively accelerate an artist’s career,” Wang said. In New York, one of the art markets’ largest centers, rolling grants for artists are few and far between—the Foundation for Contemporary Arts Emergency Grant is a staple and the Awesome Foundation is another. Making funds available to artists will certainly put Waave on the map quickly.
“D’Est” marks the organization’s first exhibition. In February, Waave will host a seminary-style think-tank. At Columbia, Wang attended classes with Rirkrit Tiravanija who is known for his collaborative social practice-based work. Many of his current and former students served food as part of his recent solo show at PS1. Similarly, Wang is interested in letting programming grow rhizomatically based on who is participating and aspires Waave to be a place for dialog, growth, and support. Wand will certainly make waves in New York’s art world.
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Anna Mikaela Ekstrand is editor-in-chief and founder of Cultbytes. She mediates art through writing, curating, and lecturing. Her latest books are Assuming Asymmetries: Conversations on Curating Public Art Projects of the 1980s and 1990s and Curating Beyond the Mainstream. Send your inquiries, tips, and pitches to firstname.lastname@example.org.