Alright – so today we’ve got the honor of introducing you to Sherri Nienass Littlefield. We think you’ll enjoy our conversation, we’ve shared it below.
Sherri , thanks for joining us, excited to have you contributing your stories and insights. We’d love to hear about a project that you’ve worked on that’s meant a lot to you.
From a young age, my parents instilled and demonstrated the importance of giving back to those in need through word and action. I was born and raised in a middle class setting, but my family always found ways to help others.
After I graduated with my MFA in 2012, I entered the contemporary art field and witnessed a field of dishonesty and mistrust. For a career based in luxury sales, I felt there was too great a gap between the have and have-nots. I thought to myself – “there has to be a way to bridge the gap in a way that helps others.”
treat gallery is my project where I literally “treat” charities and nonprofits in need through contemporary art sales. Every move we make is transparent in hope that we inspire and encourage others to use their skills to help others. treat gallery offers free programming and portfolio reviews – and we participate in a few art fairs and exhibitions a year. Every project we’re part of helps a nonprofit by donating a percentage of sales to a nearby cause. In 2021, we raised $15,000 for New York City based charities through sales alone.
The charitable aspect follows the fair treatment of our artists and clients. Artists receive the typical 50% split (sometimes more) when their work sells, and we donate 20 – 50% to a charity. If a discount is offered, we absorb that. When treat gallery sells a piece of art, we immediately pay the artist once we receive payment and ship work out to the client as soon as we’re able to. We don’t hide the customer name from the artists like most galleries do – I find a relationship based in trust and transparency will grow in a powerful way. A couple nonprofits we’ve helped were brought to our attention from our artists – and a couple of our artists have dedicated more time toward causes important to them since working with us.
I often find that people want to help others but don’t know where to begin.
The concept of treat gallery is simple – donate time or money to those in need.
As always, we appreciate you sharing your insights and we’ve got a few more questions for you, but before we get to all of that can you take a minute to introduce yourself and give our readers some of your back background and context?
treat gallery has a proven track record of helping others through contemporary art. We partner with like-minded professionals and businesses with a shared goal of making the contemporary art field more honest and tangible. We participate in major art fairs, provide scholarships, portfolio reviews, and have a couple pop-up exhibitions a year. treat gallery is not a non-profit organization, and we do not accept direct donations, but with every project or pop-up show, we donate a percentage of proceeds to a various cause or non-profit.
treat gallery is a passion project by Sherri Nienass Littlefield. Sherri is a New York City based photographer and curator interested in data, collaborative projects and using contemporary art toward social good. Sherri was the director of Foley Gallery from 2016-2019, and was briefly the Interim Director of ClampArt in 2020. Projects curated by Littlefield have been featured at PULSE Art Fair, AIPAD, the Huffington Post, Affordable Art Fair, artnet, The Center For Book Arts, dnainfo new york and Whitewall Magazine. She has served as a juror and reviewer for many competitions, including Photo Lucida Critical Mass (2020), PDN’S The Curator (2019), Photoville, Palm Springs Photo Festival and PDN’s Photo Plus. She will be a portfolio reviewer for Photolucida in 2022.
As an artist, Sherri has exhibited her art internationally, including the Brighton Photo Biennial, the Orlando Museum of Art, the Aperture Foundation and the Museum of Contemporary Art – Georgia. She currently serves on the Board of the New York Chapter of the American Society of Media Photographers. Littlefield has previously been on faculty at the Savannah College of Art and Design (2012-2015) Parsons School of Design (2015-2018) and the International Center of Photography (2020-2021.) She is currently on faculty at the Fashion Institute of Technology and Maine Media Workshops and College where she lectures on social media, photography and professional practices. In addition to her many projects, Sherri is a Content Creator and Relations Coordinator for Nordstrom.
Any insights you can share with us about how you built up your social media presence?
Many artists have two social media accounts, especially with Instagram – one for their art and another for personal use. I briefly toyed with this idea but ultimately decided to keep everything under one account. Having separate accounts works for some, but for me it felt very forced. This strategy worked out to my advantage and I was recruited by the Fashion Institute of Technology to teach a Social Media course in 2022.
My advice is to take notes on companies and brands that you gravitate toward and enjoy viewing content from. What are they doing that stands out? Have you purchased something you’ve seen off of a social media advertisement from said company? Social media can be the most powerful tool when initially finding your audience. I recommend posting stories, polls and questions to encourage users to engage with your content and brand. A common oversight from many brands is they’re not familiar with the various demographics across social media platforms. The content posted on TikTok should vary from what’s posted on Facebook.
I built my audience for treat gallery slowly, but have a following that is loyal and engaged. We consistently make sales from our Instagram and Facebook accounts and identify new talent through these platforms. My personal instagram account (which includes my non treat gallery related curatorial projects) is a mix of personal and professional stories and accomplishments. I share funny stories and observations through reels and Instagram stories and I believe this makes me more “human” and approachable than if I was solely business focused.
How about pivoting – can you share the story of a time you’ve had to pivot?
In 2019 I left my “dream job” as the Director of Foley Gallery.
When I was in college, I learned about Michael Foley and his innovative gallery. I moved to New York City in 2015 and in summer of 2016, a job listing appeared for Foley Gallery and I immediately applied. I have two degrees in photography and had recently left a gallery that didn’t show photographic work. I had just begun treat gallery as a side project and was working at Parsons School of Design. I surrendered to my life to likely being a full time academic career.
My life changed in a tremendous way during the years I was director of Foley Gallery. Michael Foley is an incredible person and art dealer, and I model 80% of how I work from the way he did things. He’s honest, funny and cares deeply for others. We made an incredible team and came up with some great community projects and exhibitions.
I shocked many when I announced that I was leaving for a role at Nordstrom, who had announced plans to open their first store in New York City in October 2019.
I loved Foley Gallery, but it was time for me to move into another role. So many things shifted and changed with the COVID-19 Pandemic, but Nordstrom proved to be a creative role where I could introduce new things to the company. I’m currently a relations coordinator and content creator. Many of my photographs have been used on social media accounts, websites and more. Nordstrom has community events and partnerships that I have the opportunity to plan and be part of. Many of the skills I gained through Foley Gallery transferred over to Nordstrom.
The shift from working from a team of 2 to a team of 45 was a challenge that I welcomed, but it was the hardest decision I’ve ever made. I cried on the train during my last week commuting to the gallery. I wondered if I was making a huge mistake. I reached out to a friend in my field (also a young female gallery director) who eased my worries by saying “It’s okay, it should feel scary, it means you’re growing.” I continue to do freelance work with Foley Gallery and consider Michael a great friend.
Sometimes you have to move into a new direction and it’s scary – but it’s necessary to grow.