This time we are meeting with Tim Heckscher, a male entrepreneur and founder of the first online catalog of exhibitions at destination museums around the world, culturaliv.com.
Let’s embark on a thrilling narrative!
The museum as a social as much as a cultural experience
Culture in its broadest sense has always played an important role in my family. I am French by my mother, American by my father, with both sides sharing a strong attachment to the arts. My maternal grandfather was a French politician and an academician. He ended his career as President of the College of Curators of Chantilly, well-known as part of France’s cultural heritage and where I would spend vacations. As for my American grandfather, he was cultural advisor to Kennedy and a collector in his own right.
My first four years were in Paris, the next ten were in London and the next 20 years in the US. Museums have from a young age been a place to spend time with friends and family, and over the past few years they’ve also become a place for me to recharge, whether alone or in the company of friends. There is always something new happening: an emotion, a different way of looking at things, a new way of learning. Beauty is omnipresent not only in the exhibitions, but in the setting itself and in the atmosphere that emerges. It adds a social dimension to the intellectual one. A visit for me is more than walking the galleries, but a chance to spend time with friends in front of the art but also over coffee or a meal in the museum’s restaurant.
After my studies in international relations and economics, I went to work for the Financial Times Group in New York. In 2010 I received the fateful offer to join the Board of Directors at the Heckscher Museum, an institution founded in 1920 by my great-great-grandfather. This gave me the opportunity to see museums from behind the scenes. We decided to revisit the mission, the aim up until that point having been to become an internationally-recognized institution. It seemed more appropriate to recenter our mission on the community of Long Island, where the museum is located, and offer relevant programming to local families.
This experience triggered a broader effort: making museums more relevant to audiences of all ages, particularly Millennials. Couple that with a personal need and an idea emerged! Having traveled a great deal I realized that there existed no platform centralizing the temporary exhibitions at the big museums around the world. For all those leisure and business travelers there was no easy way to see what was showing where.
This is where culturaliv.com got started, as a centralized platform serving the needs of local and international audiences.
The name culturaliv came to me totally by chance. I was at a party in New York when a young woman talking about visiting 5 museums in one day, referring to it as her “cultural ‘i.v.’”, literally her cultural infusion. I loved this edgy way of thinking about museums so the next day I bought the name! By the end of 2013 I created a very rudimentary version of a website which I managed as a hobby.
June 2014, change of scenery. I leave New York for a hedge fund based in Paris. But it wasn’t long before I realized I had to make a decision. culturaliv had been with me all that time, and as a friend made clear, “if you don’t do it someone else will”.
So off I went. I left the hedge fund job and in 2016 I threw myself in this project full-time. With a graphic designer and a web developer, we redesigned the site with three core features: an ongoing and upcoming exhibitions calendar at destination museums around the world, a shareability among users to highlight the social dynamic of museums, including links to their restaurants, cafés and boutiques, and the ability to write and share exhibition reviews. And to bridge the gap with museums, there is also a direct link to purchasing tickets online.
After 5 months of design back and forth and site construction, culturaliv.com is reborn with 600 exhibitions at 120 museums in the US and Western Europe.
What are your first impressions of being an entrepreneur?
Making that leap was a huge source of relief. I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit, so having found a viable project that kept me excited for all that time was exhilarating. The problem now is not getting up in the morning but rather getting to bed at a reasonable hour.
But needless to say it’s stressful. The lifestyle isn’t suitable for those looking for a good night’s sleep or a month’s vacation; there are sacrifices and you have to fight for everything. I have to fight for media presence, for museum participation, for a constantly fresh and dynamic website and for awareness among the final users. Building a global community and encouraging engagement through exhibition reviews and social media is an ambitious goal.
Had I stayed in the corporate world there’s not doubt I would still feel stress. The difference is that this type of stress comes from doing something I love, where failure is not an option.