As part of our Q&A series, Morningsider brings you exclusive interviews with neighborhood “insiders.”  This week, we interview Curtiss Jacobs, founder and president of Renaissance Fine Art (RFA).

Curtiss is a Wall Street executive with a fond appreciation for the arts. For many years he worked as a commercial photographer, specializing in fashion and beauty, and developed his craft under the expertise of legendary photographers, Richard Avedon and Annie Leibovitz. Curtiss dedicates his gallery to his father and talented painter, Joseph David Jacobs.

Questions for Curtiss Jacobs:

1.  Tell us about Renaissance Fine Art.

Renaissance Fine Art is a contemporary fine art gallery and during our first two years we have featured a mix of emerging, mid-level and master-level artists.  Art is a tough business; we officially opened our doors during the height of the recession, so it’s important to remain strategic.  We are maturing as a gallery and in the process are narrowing our focus, with an understanding that we can’t be all things to all people.  While our primary focus has been works that reflect the history and sensitivities that reflect the perspective of the African Diaspora, we have also featured the works of Latin, European and Asian artists.

2. What inspired you to open RFA?

Good question, short answer is that it wasn’t money :).

Long answer is that I’ve always viewed myself as an artist. As child I studied painting at the Jamaica Art Center in Queens and then photography at Germaine School of Photography prior to working as a studio assistant for two legendary photographers, the late Richard Avedon and Annie Leibovitz, prior to launching my career as a commercial photographer.

I also come from an artistic family; My dad moved to Harlem in the late 50’s and was a very talented painter—as a matter of fact there’s a painting that hangs in my office at the gallery of a slave meditating that my dad painted for me as a baby.  It was prominently displayed in the living room of my childhood home along with some of his other works.  My mother loved the arts – theater and poetry. It was a requirement to memorize a poem every week by the poets who emerged through the Harlem Renaissance period, likes Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen.

Harlem is a cultural mecca. It’s the documentation of African American culture, which is American culture that has been globalized.  Harlem is truly a fascinating place, especially when you understand its history from a social, cultural, spiritual and political perspective.

I believe that I have had a very unconventional, yet very gratifying career so far.  I believe that all of the aforementioned items shaped my passion, love and desire to contribute to the continuation of a proud legacy.  So in essence, Renaissance Fine Art is a tribute to my father and my gift to the Harlem community.  As a businessman and corporate executive, I believe that you should invest in things that you are passionate about and I am passionate about Art and Harlem.

3. Who are some of your favorite artists who have appeared at RFA?

We’ve held exhibitions for a number of talented artists over the past couple of years.   A couple of my favorites have been Lawrence Finney, a mid-level master; Diane Smith, a great abstractionist; and Justin West, a young, emerging artist.  Both Diane and Justin are from the Harlem community.  Two of my favorite exhibitions were “Dark Matters and Entropy,” which was our inaugural exhibition and “Girl Talk,” curated by Deb Willis and M. Liz Andrews (another Harlem resident).

4.  We know the gallery also provides a space for film screenings, book signings, and educational workshops. Are there any upcoming events or new exhibits you’re particularly excited about?

That’s true and in addition we’ve hosted a “Meet and Greet” for a dear friend of mine named Clyde Williams.  Clyde is considering a run for the 15th congressional seat and has worked for President Bill Clinton and served under President Obama at the DNC.

In February, we will be exhibiting the works of Ousmane Guyere, an internationally renowned sculptor who is based out of France.  I recently visited Ousmane and his wonderful family at their farm house in a quaint village a couple hours south of Paris; it was an exhilarating experience to watch a master at work and I’m looking forward to the exhibition.

5. Aside from RFA, what are some of your favorite Harlem hot spots?

I love Harlem and the overwhelming majority of my social activity takes place here, so I am all over the place.  Nectar is great because the wine list is expansive and the owners Jai Jai and Eric are both delightful—a trait that is reflected in the vibe of Nectar. I am a regular at Red Rooster, I love the energy—Marcus has done a phenomenal job.  Cedric’s French Bistro is wonderful; the food’s great and Cedric is an awesome host. For brunch, it’s Melba’s because she makes you feel at home; the catfish is awesome and so are the mimosas.  For dinner meetings, it’s usually the elegance of Settepani; the owners Leah and Nino are friends of mine and fantastic individuals.  Last but not least, Londel’s—classic Harlem, great food, sophisticated vibe and as a certified Yamologist, I love their candied yamsJ. The places that I frequent all have dynamic owners who understand the community and work hard to provide a good product.

6. Anything else you would like to add? 

I want to encourage people to increase their support of the businesses of Harlem, evangelize about all that they have to offer.  I find it amazing how many native New Yorkers have never come to Harlem for a meal, cocktail, entertainment or to visit one of the many cultural institutions.  My goal is to help preserve the legacy of Harlem’s heyday while strategically positioning Renaissance Fine Art for the future.

Renaissance Fine Art

2075 Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard

New York, NY 10027

212-866-1660