Brian Linden, Linden Gallery, Ellison Bay
The Linden Center (cultural retreat), Dali, China’s Yunnan Province
Where do you live?
We (with wife, Jeanee, and family) live between Ellison Bay and Dali in China's Yunnan Province. The latter is in the southeast vestiges of the Himalayas.
What attracted you to the arts business? Cultural retreat business?
We have always viewed the arts business (and our cultural retreat) as platforms for expanding our guests' knowledge about Asia. While America has been able to project its soft power via creative industries such as movies, music and sports entertainment, China is too often viewed solely through the lens of political suppression, manufacturing and pollution. While the latter represent true issues/aspects to/of China, they do not reflect the depth of this 5,000-year-old culture. It behooves the West to better understand China and the region. We hope to inspire our visitors to learn more by highlighting the aesthetics of the aforementioned areas. Learning, more than sales, truly embody the experience at our gallery.
How do you balance skills needed as a gallery owner & operators of The Linden Center?
Because of the educational mission of both businesses, it is very easy to move between the two companies. Jeanee and my responsibilities are to facilitate learning and inspire curiosity. We encourage guests to explore Asia via our hand-picked treasures or via our handheld journeys. We can guarantee that open-minded guests of either business leave with a broader understanding of cultures that are increasingly influencing the world.
What’s a typical day like?
While in Ellison Bay, a routine day is made up of interacting with guests, responding to the 50 or so emails we get daily about our China projects, developing theme areas in the gallery to help our guests better understand the different geographical traditions (i.e., China versus Japan, Burma versus Indonesia, etc.).
While in China, we daily host 25-50 guests in our historic compound, greet 100-200 outside visitors such as government officials and media, develop outreach projects to promote sustainable development in and around our hotels, and manage our team of nearly 75 local and international staff.
What makes Linden Gallery and The Linden Center unique?
The uniqueness of both sites is the focus on learning, the desire to expand our guests' understanding of one of the world's most important regions, the implied challenge presented by the beautiful pieces of artwork and antiquities to learn more about the world. We are proud to be Americans, but we feel that our country's competitive advantage is dwindling if citizens do not become more aware of the world around us. We cannot hide our heads in the sand and think that the world will not evolve. The economic and military challenges posed by China are real. This country will increasingly return to its cultural roots with renewed confidence. We should understand our potential adversary. Sometimes curiosity will be roused via respect for this region's impressive cultural heritage.
What advice do you have to others considering a career in the arts business?
The arts require passion. Sometimes this passion, if channeled into a business environment, takes the backseat to survival. This is why we focus on learning. Artistic taste is very subjective. We thus try to select pieces that have a cultural spirit, something that can be used to inspire story-telling. My father ran a gallery, and I still have a difficult time convincing someone that one artist deserves more respect than another. It is so subjective. I can speak very confidently, however, about the historical importance and/or setting of specific items. This has intrinsic value, and our customers have been able to amass some very important collections and artwork throughout the gallery's twenty years.
Why is Ellison Bay a good place to visit?
We chose Ellison Bay because it felt real. Its existence was not solely for tourism. We wanted to be in a living community, not a tourist facade that closed up at the end of the season. Ellison Bay has a thriving group of artisans who are there because the traditional spirit of Door County inspires them. We love Ellison Bay and are proud to be a part of the art scene there.
When you are not working, what do you like to do in Door County?
Jeanee and I love to hike, kayak and attend local performances. In China, we love to hike and just returned from a three-day trek across a chain of the Himalayas from the upper reaches of the Mekong River to the Salween River.
We are proud to be a part of Door County and have had over 50 of our gallery's guests spend time with us in China. We have been humbled by the amount of media attention and international accolades that our China project has garnered. We believe that this demonstrates an increasing interest in and respect for Asia.