Sandra Walters, Director, Sandra Walters Consultancy Ltd
By Kenny Lau
Sandra Walters is an influential voice in Hong Kong’s contemporary art scene. Since forming Arts Promotion to present established French artists more than 40 years ago, she has met numerous local artists and discerned the need to create a market in which careers can be nurtured through exposure and education.
“As a gallery owner and director, I had the opportunity to help artists develop their careers and to encourage clients to better understand their preferences,” she says. “As a consultant, I have been able to participate in the creative process. It has always been exciting to take a project and see it develop from the drawing board to the final stage.”
The opportunity to explore her interests in the arts presented itself in 1973 when a dear friend – the late Josette Bertrou of France – asked for her help in staging an exhibition of French fine art graphics. It was a novel idea from which they embarked on an adventure, and it allowed Walters to eventually “turn an avocation into a vocation.”
It was at a time when “venues to stage exhibitions were few and an appreciative audience was practically non-existent. After Josette left Hong Kong, I continued to build other relationships and, with Alice King, in 1985 Arts Promotion was incorporated into Alisan Fine Arts. It became one of Hong Kong’s premier galleries and a pioneer in Chinese contemporary art.”
In 1987, it also organized an exhibition named “A State of Transition” – one of the first exhibitions in Hong Kong to feature contemporary Mainland artists. In 1990, she not only established Mandarin Oriental Fine Arts, staged exhibitions for Western and Chinese artists, but also became an advisor to hotels, corporations, professional firms and collectors on acquisitions, display and maintenance of artworks.
A native of Sanborn, Minnesota, Walters has spent little time living in the US starting from a young age because her father was a career diplomat and her family moved to new countries over the span of 14 years. They lived in Bolivia, Panama, Rome, London, Paris and Hong Kong where her father held his final posting with the US Diplomatic Service.
“I became a citizen of the world, embracing what I thought was the best of each culture, studying their history, attempting to learn the languages, thriving on the various cuisines, viewing their art and praising their architecture,” she says. “I cannot imagine a world without aesthetics and beautiful objects to view.
In fact, her life-long fascination for all things French, its language and rich culture was ignited within days of her visit to France in 1962 as a teenager. The experience changed her life, and she returned to the University of Minnesota with a focus on French Studies and graduated in 1966.
She met Dr Richard Walters during her senior year, and they got married a year after graduation. Together, they joined the US Peace Corps and served in Chad, Africa for two years in health education before coming to Hong Kong on November 10, 1969. “Gravitating around the living artists of Hong Kong, my interest in art expanded to include contemporary art, sculpture, pottery and ink paintings.”
“The arts are about celebrating and remembering the diversity of human expression. They play an important part in uniting people across the globe, as they transcend cultural differences and capture the unique qualities of being human,” Walters believes. “They can be reflections of society, providing a key to understanding history of certain periods.”
“Choosing art is a means of personal expression and reflects individual personality. Artwork can stimulate our thought process, inspire curiosity in adults and children alike, and engage us to think and learn about the subject matter. Artwork can lead to dialogues and enrich our lives.”
In 1988, Walters was awarded the Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French and the Chevalier de l’Ordre National du Mérite in 2016. She has been so supportive of the arts and artists in Hong Kong in so many ways that she is called “a true pioneer and trailblazer.” Additionally, she has been “a stellar role model” for women as the first female President of the Rotary Club of Hong Kong.
“My philosophy has always been to approach challenges with a positive attitude,” she says. “I will continue to mentor young artists and young gallery owners, stage meaningful exhibitions for artists, and help to develop their careers as well as a sense of respect and appreciation for them. Art will always be an important part of my life.”