Marlies Verhoeven and her little army from the Cultivist march through the same art museum every week until the flash of their silver membership cards works its magic for at least 10 spotless runs. No lines. No fees. No hesitation. “With the type of members we have, we really only have one shot,” Verhoeven explains.
The Cultivist is a global arts club launched by Verhoeven and Daisy Peat this past June, offering front-of-line complimentary admissions to 100 museums; early access to art fairs, including FIAC (Foire Internationale d’Art Contemporain) in Paris, Expo Chicago, and Art Basel (Miami, Basel, and Hong Kong); invitations to private events led by exhibition curators and artists; and other exclusive and personalized benefits generally reserved for the upper crust. Membership is primarily based on referrals, but is open to any art enthusiast willing to part with $2,500 (U.S.).
Some may write off the Cultivist as an elitist club, but Verhoeven points out its philanthropic goals. “I think some people have forgotten that we support the museums,” she says. “We give a lot of donations, $650,000, to museums on an annual basis and it will only grow over the years.”
Given that the club is capped at 1,000 members for its inaugural year and there are no additional fees or commissions associated with membership, the portion of the revenues not given directly to museums is spent on commissioned art delivered to members upon joining, hosting members-only events featuring commissioned artist performances, hiring PhD art students to lead private museum tours, and maintaining a small but efficient staff of 10 to run everything.
Verhoeven’s staff comprises two identical teams, led by herself in New York and Peat in London, to ensure that all North American and European members have dedicated staff available during daylight hours to answer questions, arrange tours, provide recommendations, and make connections—like an arts concierge for international galleries, museums, and fairs.
Each member is introduced to the team and the club’s benefits during a brief phone interview as part of the application process—which “sounds more intimidating than it really is,” says Verhoeven. “It’s more like a chat for 15 minutes. Questions we ask are things like what, if anything, they have been collecting, what museum exhibitions they have loved or have been inspired by. What art they are excited by.” The conversation is intended to develop a picture of each member, so that “if they ask us for something, we know their tastes,” she says.
Verhoeven and Peat have extensive experience catering to similar long-term client lists. For six years they ran a VIP program at Sotheby’s together and it was there they recognized a far greater demand for these services outside of art auction houses. “At one point,” recalls Verhoeven, “we said why not?” And so the Cultivist was created.