A Publicist and D.J. Who Nurtures Underrepresented Artists
If you’re out in New York City and spot April Hunt, then congratulations, you’re probably someplace fabulous.
A stylish presence in the city’s art and social justice worlds, Ms. Hunt, 36, weaves a connecting thread among the city’s cultural institutions, media gatekeepers and gifted, if overlooked, artists.
Along with her partner, Paola Zanzo-Sahl, she owns SparkplugPR, a public relations agency that works with underrepresented artists including women, people of color and gender nonconformists.
Ms. Hunt is also a sought-after D.J. on the art and philanthropy circuit (she calls it a “side hustle”), after making her mark at the Fair Trade art parties organized by Derrick Adams and Mickalene Thomas. Gigs include benefits for the Public Art Fund and the High Line, and the house party that Kehinde Wiley hosted in his SoHo apartment in February to celebrate the unveiling of his well-received portrait of former President Barack Obama.
She also played the recent Armory Party at the Museum of Modern Art, where she wore a yellow jumpsuit by Christian Dior embroidered with mirrors. From a distance, she looked like a Gustav Klimt, a vision of golden refractive light, punctuated by a her poufy column of hair.
“My style is definitely inspired by the Baroque and Victorian periods,” said Ms. Hunt, sipping a Japanese single-malt whiskey cocktail at the bar of the Modern, the museum’s restaurant. “I’m drawn to the embellishments and the decadence of it. I’m very close friends with the artist Rashaad Newsome, and his work is filled with all of that ornamentation. And I feel that probably seeped into my subconscious and brought it out of me.”
Ms. Hunt grew up in a tightknit family in Chesapeake, Va. She began interning in New York while she was an undergraduate at the University of Virginia, landing an early position in the media relations department of Epic Records.
After a stint teaching English in Mexico City and two years doing public relations for the New-York Historical Society, Ms. Hunt joined the communications office of MoMA PS1 in 2007. There, she met Ms. Zanzo-Sahl, who at the time organized special events for MoMA; the two left PS1 and started SparkplugPR in 2011.
“Around that time is when I became close to Rashaad Newsome, and he was being courted by Marlborough Gallery,” Ms. Hunt said, referring to the venerable uptown gallery. “They wanted him to be on their roster for what would be a new program for their downtown space.”
“So, Marlborough was my first client,” she said. In the years since, SparkplugPR has worked with a spectrum of artists including Mr. Adams, Wardell Milan, Kharis Kennedy, Barbara Nessim and Rebecca Louise Law. Part of Ms. Hunt’s role is finding corporate benefactors like Absolut and Viacom to work with emerging artists, who often can’t afford to pay her more than $1,500 a month.
Recent clients include Lola Flash, a queer photographer based in New York City, who had a show at Pen & Brush, a 124-year-old downtown nonprofit dedicated to female artists and writers. The show received enthusiastic coverage in Brooklyn Rail magazine, as well as in Dazed, New York magazine and The New York Times.
“These women are such lovely people that are just not about glitz at all,” Ms. Hunt said. “They’re just literally in the trenches, doing the work. So getting those press hits meant a lot.”
At MoMA’s Armory Party, more than 1,200 people came through the door, as Ms. Hunt bathed the second-floor atrium with a mix of 1980s soul, deep house and boogie. A steady stream of well-wishers approached her D.J. podium, including Mr. Newsome, the artist David Cruz and Lewis Long, principal of Long Gallery Harlem.
“What April does is important, because she connects her personal passion and sensibilities to her projects,” said Mr. Long, who has worked with Ms. Hunt on exhibitions for artists including Elizabeth Colomba, a painter who restores power to black women subjects depicted in historical settings. “Her advocacy is part social justice activism, and somewhat ministry.”
After two hours behind the podium in heels, Ms. Hunt was looking forward to going home to the Spanish Harlem apartment she shares with her girlfriend, June Berry, a chef. Asked to describe herself in a sentence, she thought for only a second before saying: “April Hunt is still standing.”