We had the good fortune of connecting with Leah Hansen and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Leah, can you walk us through the thought-process of starting your business?
For over a decade post-graduate school, I worked as a full-time freelancer in a range of roles. Friends frequently suggested I should start a business, and I longed to command my own ship instead of being subject to the whims of different bosses from day to day. But I was working in a variety of industries (editorial, the arts, design—and, somewhat randomly, IT and real estate), and there simply wasn’t enough demand for one of those to support a dedicated company.
At one point, my IT work fatefully brought me to a curatorial firm that focused on art in real estate. This was the turning point. The creative director (Jia Jia) and I got to chatting and really hit it off. Once she discovered my background, she invited me for an interview and the company ended up hiring me as a communications and operations consultant.
Jia and I soon realized that we not only shared a passion for bridging the fields of art, architecture, and real estate, but that we also had incredibly complementary skills. Over several years, we took on more and more responsibility within the company, gaining a thorough understanding of finances, sales, networking, marketing, and general day-to-day aspects of running a business.
Then one day, the business owner announced she’d be closing the 26-year-old firm to focus on other pursuits. At first, we were devastated—but it soon proved to be a blessing in disguise.
Jia and I had developed such a profound professional partnership, we were determined to continue working together. We were also eager to take our passion for this industry and spin it into something bigger.
With all that we had learned from our professional journeys up to that point, it was a surprisingly smooth transition from employees to business owners. We were also lucky enough to have friends and family to lean on for advice, mentorship, and financial investment. And with the previous firm closing up shop, we knew we could take over some of the clients being left behind, giving us an immediate leg up.
When we opened Standard Arts in September 2018, we had two substantial projects already in place…and knew we had made the right decision!
Can you give our readers an introduction to your business? Maybe you can share a bit about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
Standard Arts curates art and design in real estate and public spaces, providing a public voice for artists while enhancing communities and adding value to real estate. We collaborate with real estate developers and architects to create dynamic conversations between art & design, the built environment, and their shared audience.
We curate the everyday spaces people frequent. Our projects allow people of all stripes to connect with art just by going about their daily lives in office buildings, residences, hotels, and outdoor spaces. To ensure that each art installation engages with the local community, we research the property’s history, community, and location, while considering the audience, architecture, and overall aesthetic.
To best respond to the particulars of each space, we draw from an always-growing global network of artists and designers to lease preexisting artworks or commission site-specific pieces. We aren’t limited to a select list of creators, but rather are constantly building relationships with artists and galleries so we can partner with local artists or select art catered to each client’s needs.
Further, our business plan provides artists with an innovative revenue stream. Many of our projects are yearly rotations, for which we pay artists fair fees to lease their artwork. This also has the potential to introduce their work to hundreds, if not thousands, of new people every day depending on the location. Additionally, we work with many artists who might otherwise remain overlooked by the conventional art establishment, such as women, minorities, and young up-and-comers.
Standard Arts was co-founded in September 2018 by Jia Jia and Leah Hansen. After several years as colleagues, we took the leap to become business owners and partnered to open our own curatorial firm. We are a woman- and minority-owned business with backgrounds in art, architecture, real estate, and journalism. We are extremely passionate about bridging the worlds of art, architecture, and real estate.
To that end, we also host a mentorship program for young professionals who are interested in learning to bridge these industries. We typically work with current university students or recent graduates, and ask them to complete a hypothetical curatorial project for a real property, then walk them through each stage of the project and provide instruction and feedback.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I actually love playing tour guide in NYC! Friends and family often reach out to me to ask for activities and dining ideas. In general, I try to suggest a mix of local haunts and more “touristy” things.
My top must-see is always the Highline elevated park. As well, you can’t come to New York without at least one museum trip, but the Met and MoMA can be a little overwhelming and exhausting, so for art I would suggest the Whitney, the Museum of Art & Design, and the NY Historical Society. As long as you’re at the Historical Society, you also have to stop at the Natural History Museum right across the street—the gems and minerals section has finally reopened after a multi-year renovation, and it is mesmerizing. Then cross the street in the other direction and explore Central Park. Take a walk around the reservoir or perhaps rent a bike and ride the whole loop. The North Woods at the northwest corner are a hidden gem—it’s 40 acres of forest right in Manhattan!
If you end your day in the North Woods, you can exit the park in Harlem and enjoy an incredible dinner. If you want to go the soul food route, Sylvia’s is classic (though better with a big group so you can order lots of dishes and get to taste everything). There’s upscale modern fare in a romantic setting at Clay, or for something truly unique, head to Archer & Goat, which fuses Ecuadorian, Puerto Rican, and Bangladeshi cuisine in a creative yet approachable way. But leave room for dessert, because the amazing ice cream shop Sugar Hill Creamery is right across the road and open late.
As for other parts of Manhattan: The East Village, Lower East Side, and Chinatown are some of my frequent haunts. East Village is great for shopping—it’s loaded with vintage clothing stores and some of my favorite shops, including Toy Tokyo (for collectibles), Enz’s (for pinup and rockabilly fashion), and Village mainstay Trash & Vaudeville (for punk rock duds). There are also tons of amazing dining and drinking options on pretty much every block. Check out Emmy Squared for incredible Detroit-style pizza and one of the best burgers in the city. If you plan ahead and get a reservation, you can hit up PDT (Please Don’t Tell), a speakeasy whose entrance is a phone booth located inside Crif Dogs hot dog joint (also worth eating at).
On the Lower East Side, the Tenement Museum is incredibly interesting. It’s not a conventional museum, but rather an actual tenement that has been preserved so you can see how real New Yorkers lived during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. While in the neighborhood, hit up Katz’s Deli for the best pastrami or corned beef on rye that the city has to offer. Some additional excellent restaurants are Sweet Chick (fried chicken), Ivan Ramen (which you may recognize from the third season of Netflix’s “Chef’s Table”), and Clinton Street Baking Company (for perfect pancakes and huge biscuits at brunch).
Alright, this is getting really long, so I’m going to finish the rest as a list!
– 106 Mosco Street – the best dumplings in the city, from a hole-in-the-wall spot
– Tasty Hand-Pulled Noodles – simply, the best traditional pulled noodles
– Canal Street – it’s always a crush of people, but it’s the heart of the neighborhood so you’ve gotta walk it
– The hipster mecca of the universe; great shopping and even better people-watching
– Mesa Coyoacan – authentic Mexican food and the best fresh margaritas in the city
– Zenkichi – beautiful and modern Japanese food served omakase (currently closed for covid, but hopefully will reopen soon)
Red Hook, Brooklyn:
– Louis Valentino Park – the only spot in all of NYC where you can view the Statue of Liberty face-on
– Hometown Barbecue – literally the best bbq I’ve ever had—and I’ve had a lot of bbq!
– Widow Jane Distillery – go for a distillery tour and a bourbon tasting
Flushing, Queens (the Chinatown of Queens):
– New World Mall – a little slice of Shanghai in NYC, with cute little stores, plus a huge Asian supermarket and food court
– Flushing Meadows-Corona Park – soak up some sun and visit the Unisphere from the 1964 World’s Fair
– Guanfu NY – absolutely unreal, authentic Sichuan cuisine in an elegant space
– The Bronx Zoo
– The NY Botanical Garden
– (You could spend a whole day at either of these)
Gee, if this art thing doesn’t work out, I can be a tour guide instead!
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
One of our first (and continuing) professional supporters has been Paul Amrich, a Vice Chairman for leading commercial real estate firm CBRE. Paul believed in our capabilities early on, and was a head decision maker for the team that hired Standard Arts for our very first art installation contract in New York City. Having someone we respect and admire so much, such as Paul, continuously supporting our work, means the world to us and inspires us to keep going and keep growing.
Paula Abreu Pita