News & Politics

The Fearless Artist Is Helping Creators Overcome Obstacles

The DC company wants to make the art business more accessible.

Somerville (right) with artist Julie Lehite. Photograph of Somerville courtesy of The Fearless Artist.

When Kiki Somerville was Growing up in Fort Totten, her mom would throw parties to sell work by Black artists to people in the neighborhood. Somerville didn’t anticipate that when she was an adult, she’d be doing the same thing—only on a much bigger stage. Somerville now runs the Fearless Artist, an organization that helps get creators’ work seen and sold. The company focuses on artists who face barriers—whether financial, socioeconomic, familial, or otherwise—and gives them tools to sell and promote their work.

Instead of house parties for the neighbors, Somerville brings curators and other art-world professionals together with artists at various events and pop-ups. The Fearless Artist has become a fixture at Art Basel Miami, one of the country’s biggest art fairs, attracting enthusiastic press and thousands of visitors.

After graduating from Holton-Arms, Somerville went away to college and then law school. (She also has an MFA.) She originally launched her company in New York City, helping artists and other creative people manage the business aspect of their careers. In 2018, she decided to move back to Washington, where she thinks her emphasis on social-­justice issues will resonate. “The DC art scene is intellectual,” she says. “It’s a smart city—there’s that feeling that change is possible.” Now Somerville and her team—who work out of an office in Petworth—are expanding their efforts, with an upcoming exhibit in DC this spring.

One unexpected partner has been the skin-care company Olay, which came into her orbit after Somerville discovered that it had a line of body washes also named Fearless Artist. Rather than getting mad about it, she reached out to the company, and now they’re working on an initiative—funded by Olay—that offers scholarships to aspiring artists.

Giving creative young people a hand is a core part of Somerville’s mission. Recently, she launched the Young Curators Program, which helps guide students toward jobs in the visual arts that they might not otherwise know about. “There’s a lot of gatekeeping in the art world,” she says. “I saw that challenge as an opportunity.”

This article appears in the March 2023 issue of Washingtonian.

Editorial Fellow

Keely recently graduated with her master’s in journalism from American University and has reported on local DC, national politics, and business. She has previously written for The Capitol Forum.