Art World Professionals: Michaeline Sander

This summer, Studio Gallery is interviewing the movers and shakers of the art world. We’re getting to know these talented professionals through their own words. In our Art World Professionals series, curators, consultants, directors, designers, and more come together to share their insights into the wild, wonderful world of the arts. We’re launching the series by sitting down with Michaeline Sander, a consultant and designer whose passion for the arts led her to found her own company in Virginia.

Michaeline Sander, founder of Sander Design & Art Consulting.

Michaeline Sander, founder of Sander Design & Art Consulting.

Tell us a little about your background and what got you interested in the arts.

I have studied the arts in many different forms since I was a child, starting with dance and ceramics classes, and then theatre, film and fine arts. My parents definitely got me started in the arts and then I wanted to learn everything I could!

You founded your own design and art consulting company. That's amazing! Can you tell us about why you founded it, and what the company's primary mission is? What sets it apart?

I started Sander Design & Art Consulting back in 2017 when my husband and I relocated from NYC to Richmond, VA! Our move was definitely the catalyst to breaking out on my own. My goal with SDAC was to 1. Bring beauty into workspaces/ corporate spaces since everyone spends so much time at work and 2. Create site-specific pieces myself for these spaces and work with local and emerging artists to give their works a platform and voice. I think what sets SDAC apart is my relationship with how I work with artists and how I respect their work and processes- I treat them as I would want to be treated as a fellow artist.

Is there a favorite exhibition or design you've done for a client?

With a lot of my personal designs I’ve completed, they end up all being pretty special since they are site specific. I love working with smaller businesses where the work really represents their company and becomes a focal point in their space. I did a plant wall here in Richmond about a year and a half ago for a non-toxic nail salon called Holy Chic + Co. The owner is Hawaiian so we sourced unique flower and plant species to evoke memories of her of her home. This work turned out really special just knowing the history behind it as I built it and she was so supportive and lovely to work with. Hard to pick one, but this project had a lot of meaning to me.

What's something you wished clients knew about the world of design and art consulting?

The time it takes to put everything together- I’m sure every business feels like this about their work, but for someone outside of the design + art world they sometimes don’t understand the amount of effort that goes into a design proposal or an art proposal.

The biggest challenge was setting it all up at the beginning and just the fear of the unforeseeable future of building a clientele outside of NYC - since I had just moved to a new market and was really still learning how things worked in Richmond. The most rewarding part of building this company and letting it grow naturally and evolve to where it is now- is the relationships that I have built along the way not only with artists but with clients as well. It was a lot to move to a new city and start a business from scratch in my 30s- but the arts community here has really welcomed me with open arms.

How do you get to know a client, and develop an understanding of what they need? Do you have a system, or does it change depending on the client?

That is a tough one, because I would say every single client is different. I can never be like oh I’ll just do what I did before and add this in, that’s not happening! People usually have very specific concepts in mind at the beginning of projects, and then I react to those ideas to put something together that will be a good representation of their brand and a good collection of local artists. I primarily work with custom or 1-off works for spaces, so there are no duplications from project to project.

You do art consulting for The Yard, a coworking organization that has a serious art program. Do you think it's important for businesses to invest in the arts? If so, why?

The Yard: Eastern Market, with artwork by Thierry Guillemin. The Yard is a client of Sander Design & Art Consulting. Image from DC.

Yes! The Yard is a very special client of mine. I previously worked for them as their Director of Aesthetics and Maintenance across their locations in NYC and Philadelphia. When my husband and I decided to move, I went to the founders and said, "please let me keep running this Art Program for you," and they became my first client. I helped build up the Art Program to where it is today, and I am really passionate about being surrounded by beautiful and inspiring artwork in the workplace - art is an escape, it is an adventure, it is invigorating and relaxing all at once. This country has a culture that promotes working tirelessly, and I honestly think that art and decor (let’s not forget plants) in a space makes it feel like a home away from home, where it’s not just work, but a place you enjoy spending your time.

How has it been working with gallerists, curators and artists from multiple different states during your consulting for The Yard?

I can’t say enough about all of the wonderful contributors I have worked with over the years on The Yard’s Art Program. I personally choose curators or gallerists that I click with, feel that they are "on brand", and those who have a pool of artists I can see working well with the members and neighborhood that each particular location is in. Every person is carefully chosen to be a unique voice in the program and represent their city or neighborhood. I feel very lucky to have met every single artist, curator, and gallerists throughout the program. I have learned so much and feel like the program only evolves and deepens with each new exhibition. It’s really powerful to be a part of.

Any tips for artists trying to catch the eye of a consultant?

I would say be professional, reach out to the consultant, curator or gallery that you are interested in working with (people do this to me all the time and I love it). Before you reach out make sure you have a good representation of your works viewable somewhere - preferably on a website that is easy to navigate, but if you aren’t ready to create a website- Instagram would also be a great place to share your art!

What's a misconception about art consulting you'd like to clear up?

Personally I have clients that reach out to me for one piece of art or to help with getting together works for a whole building. The one thing I would say is don’t be afraid to reach out- there is such a range of artwork to be acquired and you shouldn’t feel like you can’t start your own collection and enjoy beautiful artwork in your home at any budget!

A favorite design by Sander Design & Art Consulting for  Holy Chic + Co .

A favorite design by Sander Design & Art Consulting for Holy Chic + Co.

Rotating exhibitions are not necessarily appropriate for every space — I really think it depends on the business’s needs, both logistically and brand wise. Some spaces are better suited for permanent acquisitions or custom installations. With that in mind- I would say there is nothing that makes a bigger impact on a space than art, so if a company is wanting to make a change in their office or business new art might be the thing they are looking for!

I would say read design blogs (Domino and Emily Hendersen are some of my favorites) and magazines and searching through hashtags on Instagram and Pinterest is great for research as well. For any design project- I always say start with one inspirational touchpoint and build from there. So if you wanted to re-do your living room for example, find a piece of artwork that will be your focal point for the room and go from there. If it is art that you are specifically interested in learning about I would suggest going to a museum or a gallery, find what speaks to you, there is no objective right or wrong, just be confident in your decisions.

What's next for you?

I like being open to possibilities and projects and I am learning so much. I haven’t had time to sit down and think what is next, what happens in 5 years- I am just working as hard as I can right now, making as many connections as possible and making sure my clients are happy with my work along the way. I suppose I’ll find out what is next when I get there.

Where can people find more information about your business?

You can always find out more on my website or my Instagram and I am always happy to speak with people via email at