Instagram gets it right when it suggests Citizen Parlor as someone I should get to know. After scrolling through the varied and beautiful images, I realize I’ve stumbled into a virtual gallery of carefully curated fine art photographs. I click over to the Citizen Parlor website and realize that I’d met Olivia Mulvey Morawiecki, the […]
Instagram gets it right when it suggests Citizen Parlor as someone I should get to know. After scrolling through the varied and beautiful images, I realize I’ve stumbled into a virtual gallery of carefully curated fine art photographs.
I click over to the Citizen Parlor website and realize that I’d met Olivia Mulvey Morawiecki, the woman behind the business, at a wedding over a decade ago. And, more interestingly I figure out that she’d launched Citizen Parlor while pregnant with her now 3-year-old daughter. I make a mental note of a stunning photograph my boat-obsessed husband would love and hit the “follow” button right away. A few weeks later, both our children in bed, Morawiecki and I get the chance to chat about motherhood, building a business, and art.
A Minnesota native, Morawiecki earned degrees in community art and photography before landing jobs at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA, the Institute of Contemporary Arts in Boston and the Hespe and Fraenkel Galleries in San Francisco. When she moved back to Minnesota, she took on the role of Director of Sales for Vivian Maier Minneapolis and began working as an art consultant. It was out of these experiences that Citizen Parlor was born.
Morawiecki wanted to remove some of the barriers between good art and curious people.
“Originally, my concept for Citizen Parlor was in response to my own experience working in galleries. I loved interacting with artists and spending time with the artwork. I adored the history. Connecting people with artwork for their home or office was a thrill,” says Morawiecki. However, too often she found that “gallery [culture] could suck the life out of the room” and alienate prospective clients—in addition to being prohibitively expensive. She tells me that buying art is often a really big, expensive decision, fraught with emotion. Just like having a baby, I almost say.
Morawiecki wanted to remove some of the barriers between good art and curious people. In addition to making the process of buying art more approachable and creating a space where people felt comfortable asking questions, she also wanted the price points to be accessible. “I think a lot of small galleries are learning that having a physical space to display art makes it almost impossible to make a profit. It can happen…but you’ve got to have a lot of money backing you up,” she explains. So, Morawiecki decided to open up shop on the internet.
Then she found out she was pregnant.
Despite the exhaustion, nausea and other difficult aspects, Morawiecki reports that having a baby on the way inspired her to get a lot accomplished, quickly. “I wanted to get a website up and running and at least have that done before she arrived.” Since she’d always known that she eventually wanted to work for herself, and she had the expertise and experience to support her vision, all she needed was actual artists to represent.
“I work with a really great group of artists. Not only is their work alluring, but each person is sincerely kindhearted and ambitious,” she says. Though the art world is often known for drama, Morawiecki is selective about who she works with because she wants “to cultivate a positive environment for the artist and clients alike.” She usually simply approaches an artist, tells them she loves their work and then asks if she can show it.
So far, this approach has worked well for Morawiecki and resulted in her representing award-winning and highly-acclaimed photographers. “Keith [Gidlund] was the first artist whose work I sold. I had worked with him at Fraenkel Gallery and fell in love with his work years before I sold it. One day I put his work in front of a client and they loved it, and so I had a reason for him to trust and work with me,” she says, with a laugh. She approached former professors Cate Vermeland and Stephanie Hunder about representing them. She met musician and photographer Pat Sansone at a Wilco show, where they connected over their shared love of Vivian Maier. Sansone then introduced her to Heidi Ross.
When asked about finding a balance between taking care of her growing daughter and growing her business, Morawiecki reports that motherhood has taught her a lot about efficiency.
When asked about finding a balance between taking care of her growing daughter and growing her business, Morawiecki reports that motherhood has taught her a lot about efficiency. “I think that becoming a mom made me much more of a ‘thin slicer’ when it comes to getting things done. What used to take me an entire week I can sit down and get done in an hour and a half because I have to.” She farms out tasks like social media and web design so that she can focus on strategic projects, like identifying new market segments and transitioning from solely B2B to both a B2B and B2C model, and still meet her daughter’s needs. She also finds the time to sit on her neighborhood district council.
Morawiecki tells me that she also gets invaluable input from family members. “My husband is so supportive. His mom is a small business owner and he understands that I need to spend a lot of free time working on its growth. I bounce ideas off him and we’re both committed to seeing where it can go.” Their family life, she says, is full—and also intentional.
At this point, our conversation drifts towards our kids, the miseries of our pregnancies and how the isolation of being a new mom can be compounded by working for yourself, from home. We spend an easy hour talking before my son wakes up and I have to end the conversation. Later, sitting in the dark, rocking my baby back to sleep, I find myself thinking about one thing in particular that Morawiecki said. “I accomplish a lot but I really won’t let myself be too busy,” she tells me before we say goodbye. I contemplate the wisdom of this statement and decide that, in addition to the photograph of the boat, Morawiecki has pointed me to something else that should be printed, framed and hung on my wall.