Meet Boris Garbe, of Mills Art Gallery Gallerist
Meet Boris Garbe, of Mills Art Gallery Gallerist. We’re excited to introduce you to the always interesting and insightful Boris Garbe. We hope you’ll enjoy our conversation with Boris below.
Boris, thanks for taking the time to share your stories with us today We’d love to hear from you about what you think Corporate America gets wrong in your industry and why it matters.
Technically, Corporate America knows exactly what the Art World is all about. However, the issue I have with Corporate is that they choose not to try and fix the rampant wrongs that drive our industry.
Lets start with the most basic issue: Art School are the starting point of all problems. To me, it seems the current full time faculty that teaches young people about art have no idea about what the actual job market or the economy are like. It appears that most the of the information taught is useless and has no basis in reality. Young people entering the art world are simply not prepared.
It is an unregulated business (although many will disagree with this statement).
It is a sexist business, and unfortunately women are not on an equal basis with white male artists. Bring in Gender-queer artists, people of color, people with disabilities, people of advanced age, and the situation gets even uglier.
Creativity is simply not universally profitable. if you look back at history, during the renaissance, artists had patrons that supported them. There existed a salary for them that allowed them to both survive and to create. Today, that is not a reality.
There are issues about Transparency about how art is priced and sold. This is a huge problem.
In my personal opinion, the Art World is poised for a revolution.
The sooner these and other issues are addressed, the better our artists will flourish. Without the artists there is no art. It is that simple. Unless you are craving Computer Generated Art. Oh yes, that IS a thing. Gallery’s are giving more and more space to AI-ART (Artificial Intelligence Art). Trust me, this is not the future you want.
Awesome – so before we get into the rest of our questions, can you briefly introduce yourself to our readers.
My story in a nutshell: I was born in Germany in 1965. In 1970 my parents to Nicaragua, which is why I speak Spanish fluently. However, due to political unrest and violence we moved to the United States in 1979. We have lived in Winter Park, Florida since then.
After attending school in Lakeland (Florida Southern College) and Vermont (Middlebury Language School), I began a 15 year career as a Spanish and Sign-Language teacher at a private school in Maitland. And even though I was hired to teach Spanish solely, I ended up introducing both Sign Language as well as Environmental Studies. My students and I worked with Koko, the world famous signing gorilla in California. in 2000, through a series of exchanged videos, we were the first school in Florida to carry on an Interspecies Communications exchange between Koko and hearing children in the state of Florida.
After teaching I tried other professions. I was not a good Realtor (although this was the time I I learned about blogging, and I became good at that, at least), I tried Property Managing and other fields in which I did not excel. For a brief moment, in my late 30’s I was truly lost. And there was that issue of my alcoholism. I entered AA and became sober in 2002.
The Universe, however, had interesting plans for me.
in 2015 I was given the opportunity to start a small, boutique like gallery in the lobby of a luxury apartment building. No one, and that probably included me, thought that this was going to be profitable or even logical. Not only did I lack an education in art, I had never shown any interest in the subject itself. The beginning years were, to use a cliche, All-Singing All-Dancing No-Money. I tried everything to bring attention to my little establishment. I met the well known European designer Daniel Chimowitz while visiting Art Basel in Miami in 2017, and we became fast friends. He dressed me for three years, and for those three years most of my FACEBOOK posts ended with “Jacket By Chimowitz.” My friend the artist Marla E and I appeared on a radio segment called KISS MY ART for 2 years, discussing Art and whatever was going on in our Central Florida Art Bubble (we later turned the segment into a web series). I allowed a version of myself to appear in a series of Adult Erotic Novels. Those were just some of the stunts I pulled. Literally, I tried everything.
What I found out in the process, is that I was a born Showman. Barnum had nothing on me. I was fearless, but not reckless.
And then I began paying attention to the plight of the artist. I saw the many, many issues that plague our creatives. Mental Illness, Homelessness, Food Insecurities, Violence, Money-Mismanagement, Alcoholism and Drug Addiction. But nothing hurt my heart more then seeing the desperation that artists endured on a daily basis.
My focus on personal success changed completely. I now saw an opportunity to help others, and myself.
My life and Mills’s changed at this point. Through a series of happy coincidences, Marla and I met a young man called Chris Fioravantti Patterson and we both recognized his brilliance immediately. Marla and I had started a production company called BORMA (BORis & MArla), and we had just produced our first hit web series KISS MY ART UNCENSORED AND UNFILTERED. Helping us with this project was our filmmaker and dear friend of ours Marvin Welch. Marla and I decided to make a podcast for Chris (whom we renamed Chris Fio): THE EXPERIENCE WITH CHRIS FIO. I give Marla the credit for discovering Fio.
Working with Chris was one of the most amazing things that have happened to Marla and me. We were able to help this troubled and insecure young man and turn him into a local celebrity. His podcast received rave reviews and was nominated twice for 2nd best podcast in Orlando. Unfortunately, Chris was killed in a traffic accident a year into his great success. I was devastated and almost quit the gallery.
Things turned around for me when Marla and I interviewed the legendary artist Harold Garde for our web series KISS MY ART. Garde was 96 when we met him and he gave us an outrageous interview in which we fell in love with him. This led to Marla, our cinematographer Marvin Welch and I creating an interview-style show for Harold called HAROLD GARDE UNFILTERED. At his current age of 99, Harold Garde is the oldest living interviewer in the United States, and we are excited to announce we have 12 finished episodes that are ready to be released. We are now in the process of striking the best distributing deal for this amazing program.
It is at this point that I realized I could not run Mills by myself anymore. After having met artist Harold Garde, he introduced me to a wonderful lady named Jennifer McInnes Coolidge. Jennifer had been an arts and non-profit consultant, fundraiser, art educator and curator. We hit it off immediately and we set out to change Mills Gallery and turn it into a legit art venue. Within a year, we had achieved the impossible. Mills Gallery was recognized as the number 1 gallery in Orlando in 2021(voted by the reader of ORLANDO MAGAZINE), as well as being nominated for many other categories by other periodicals in town. Our success was so evident that we were asked to appear on a TED talk to discuss the miracle we had produced. In the process, Jennifer and I came up with a theory called SHARING STRATEGY, which we are now adapting into book form.
Soon other amazing people tricked into my life.
The moment I met the amazing, unique, one of a kind Maxine Earhart I knew this was a relationship I had to cultivate. We soon became fast friends and due to her acute business savviness I ended up with one of the best mentors I had have ever.
The artist Kristy Lee began visiting Mills on a daily basis. I admired her kind personality and strong works immediately. Jennifer and I decided to make her our Artist in Residence. In reality, her new position involved more than just showing her art here, it carried out into being an official member of Mills. She began curating exhibitions and giving lessons to beginning artists about how to enter a gallery (more difficult than most people realize). Kristy’s career took off like wildfire, and I have to say that one of my greatest joys is to see this brilliant woman reach the levels of recognition that she so richly deserves. Oh yeah, and she has a new podcast coming out in 2023. S#!% I NEED TO K NOW. In this new conceptual idea podcast, Kristy will talk with highly influential people in the Art Scene and ask them straight up how their power can help her career.
Next came Melissa Winston. Winston and I had a bit of history. She was one of my students from way back. We had not seen each other in over 22 years when she came to visit Mills inquiring if she could get married here. Of course she could (and she did). I always liked Melissa and I felt she would be a good fit for Mills. She already had a career as a Special Education Teacher, but she began volunteering at the gallery, then she became an intern, and now she is our Administrate Director. As she began sharing her experiences as a teacher with us, I realized that she had a podcast on her hands. And so WHAT A DAY KIDS began. Her show became an immediate success. So successful that Melissa was nominated to be one of Orlando’s Women of The Year. And she won. Melissa’s show is unique in that at the end of each episode she briefly talks with one of her actual students. Winston has become one of the clearest and most important voices for students with disabilities in Orlando. I respect and admire this tremendous young lady.
Next came Peruvian Tenor Rafael Cavero. He had a concert here at Mills and he and I began friends for life. I admired his Joie De Vie, his talent and best I liked his sense of humor. He was the first to laugh at himself. And like me, he is fluent in German (having lived and performed in my home country for several years). Rafael invited me to co-host his popular radio program THE WORLD OF MUSIC, and it was like a dream come true. We interviewed musicians from all over the world, and I got to sharpen my craft as an interviewer. Unfortunately (or fortunately) I was let go by management because of the controversial nature of my questions. Rafael and I enjoyed working together so much we decided to create a podcast called TENOR AND TONELESS, where in the tradition of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, he was the handsome singer and I was the bomb throwing monkey. Another gigantic success.
And now my life has been enriched again with the appearance of a young man called Juan Pablo Santa Luna. Juan is an artist and Community Unifier from Colombia. He is now a US citizen and has taken on several ambitious projects upon himself. He wants to bring together the Hispanic Art Community both in Orlando and the entire country. In the process, he has also committed himself to creating Orlando’s first Hispanic Cultural Center. Juan’s main intention is to offer a sense of community and security to artists of all cultures. If Juan chooses to enter the political arena later on, that would be a blessing for all of us.
I have tackled my first serious semi political program ART AF (guess what the AF stands for?). In this 20 minute show Ted Bogert (one of Orlando’s most powerful Influencers) and I talk with the Orlando Art movers and shakers and make them tell us how they are helping our artistic community. And since I wanted this program to be more than just talk, I enlisted my good friend Cindy Bowman Lafronz (Editor of Orlando Arts) to come in at the end of each episode to share with the viewers all the available resources that Orlando has to offer for its artist community. From food banks, to shelters, to free vet visits for people who have animals but are in need of financial assonance. It is a show designed to help Orlando artists in need. I am beyond proud of this project.
And I will end with this:
Melissas Winston and I have been richly rewarded for our podcasting efforts. She and I have been voted the top podcasters here in Orlando by the readers of Orlando Magazine, and our Podcasts TENNOR & TONELESS and WHAT A DAY KIDS have been placed at #2 and #3 respectively.
Life is good, and helping others is what its all about.
Let’s talk about resilience next – do you have a story you can share with us?
Resilience should be my middle name. As I was growing Mills Gallery, and as I was struggling to learn the business and all the unwritten rules that come with it, I had to face the facts that financially I was on a precipice. If it had not been for my father, my gallery and my personal life would have fallen apart. Because of my dad’s generosity and kind heart I was able to at least breathe. I took on another job, and then eventually I took on a third. At the same time I knew I had to bring in more streams of income to keep the gallery alive.
This is where I took one of my first detours in the art world. After meeting Chris Fio, and realizing what a sensational personality he was, I decided to create a podcast for him. THE EXPERIENCE WITH CHRIS FIO became a hit and placed as the second biggest podcast in Orlando for 2020 (and then again in 2021). That success prompted me to continue creating podcasts and by 2022 I had two other hits shows on the air: TENOR AND TONELESS with Tenor Rafael Cavero, and WHAT A DAY KIDS with special education teacher Melissa Winston. The success of these ventures kept the gallery afloat and showed me that I had survival skills previously not detected.
Any stories or insights that might help us understand how you’ve built such a strong reputation?
Even though there were plenty of nay-sayers who advised me against being honest about my plight, I decided to lead publicly with the truth: not only did I not know how to run a gallery, I could care less about art. All I ever really cared about was helping the artist. It started with Mills Gallery becoming the first Gender Equal gallery in Orlando (to fight the sexism that I had started to read about and experience), as well as turning Mills into a hub for learning and getting advice and tools for young artists.
As you can imagine, both my reputation and the gallery’s suffered at first. Not only did the press not know how to deal with me, artists themselves were not happy. To many it seemed I was holding up a psychological middle finger to the town.
Eventually I broke though. Appearing in the award winning documentary SPIT, GLITTER AND GLUE allowed people to both understand me and my situation better. In this film I was allowed to speak my personal truth, and I was able to demonstrate my love and respect for the artists. Around the same time frame, I had started my professional and personal relationship with the brilliant, legendary artist Harold Garde. Garde, who was both amused and worried for me, became my most important mentor. I credit him personally for helping me change the way people view Mills Gallery.
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