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Museum of Modern Art's Nicholas Apps

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Title: Director of Special Programming and Events
What He Plans: His new responsibilities include overseeing 400 to 500 events a year, ranging from corporate events held inside the museum to internal events such as departmental parties, exhibition openings, and museum benefits including the big Party in the Garden in June and the David Rockefeller lunch in March.
Staff: 11
Age: 40
Favorite Venue: "Other than the Met or MoMA, it would have to be my living room. Sometimes I can't wait to go home and order in and read a good book, or watch TV and have brainless moments."
Favorite Drink: Jameson on the rocks
Favorite Magazines: "I get The Economist, Newsweek,
and GQ at home, but I love Vogue and W and magazines like that."
Favorite Book: Currently reading The Paperboy by Pete Dexter
Where He Grew Up: Toronto
Where He Lives: Upper West Side, near Columbia University
Favorite Part of Town: Riverside Park and Central Park. "I run, cycle, and kayak. I love outdoor activity, so in the city the two parks are my favorite areas."
Where He Goes For Inspiration: "To the art. The passion in the art brings out the passion in you. The opportunity of being in the museum when it's closed to the public—that is a real treat."
Best Tip: "Anticipate everything. Have many, many plans, because you never know what could happen. And have great people who work for you. That is key, because I never pretend to run any special events department on my own. It's not just one person running an entire department. Sometimes I think of special events as a battle. You have to prepare yourself, you have to get your army ready—your team ready. You have to be protected and ready for the worst, and then you just go in there."


Apps received a Bachelor of Science degree in psychology from the University of Western Ontario in 1988. "Psychology teaches you to deal with people on every level, and it teaches you to be calm, relaxed, and in turn—in this case—[to make] the client calm and relaxed, because special events can be a very difficult and stressful job at times. It is an industry filled with people who want to impress other people, so they want everything to go perfectly. That's why it's important to be calm and put things in perspective, and be focused and anticipatory at the same time." Apps planned to pursue his Ph.D., but instead decided to take time off and came to New York to study acting at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, where he attained an associate degree in 1990.


As a young actor in New York, it was only natural that Apps would take on a part-time job. As a caterwaiter for Glorious Food, he learned about the event industry and worked in the homes of people he now deals with as trustees. "I learned a lot from people like [Glorious partner] Sean Driscoll about remaining calm, and dealing with people. I was a terrible waiter—I could not French-serve—but I think people realized that I felt comfortable and didn't panic when someone [important] walked into the room. I treat them like everyone else, politely and with respect."


When Stephan Baroni, a former Glorious account executive, went to Restaurant Associates, he took Apps with him as an account executive. "When you go to a new job, you want to make sure your team is behind you and knows what you're talking about—in simple terms [that] they get it—and I guess he thought I got it, because he planted me at Lincoln Center." Within a few months, Apps was the company's director of catering at the performing arts center, where he was responsible for an operation that took in more than $5 million annually. He worked on events like NBC's upfront presentation and openings for the New York City Opera. In 1996, Apps secured Restaurant Associates as the caterer of the opening night gala for the New York Philharmonic—a major coup—and its seated dinner for 1,200 that had in previous years been catered by other firms.


When the opportunity to travel came about as the director of development for this international food-service giant, Apps jumped at the chance. "I was still doing sales, because it doesn't matter where you are sometimes—you're still doing sales. They had this position open and a lot of it involved travel between
New York and Paris; and it sounded really exciting at the time to travel and go to the French Open and woo European clients to use Tentation in New York."


Using his catering and event experience, Apps next worked as a consultant to help set up the catering operations, restaurants, and meeting spaces at the Hilton
Times Square

During this time he called Chris Giftos—an acquaintance from his days at Glorious Food and the longtime head of special events at the Metropolitan Museum of Art—for a favor that would change his career. While Apps's parents were in town visiting from Toronto, he wanted to take them into the blockbuster Jackie Kennedy exhibition. "I called Chris and asked if we could come, and when I met him he asked what I was doing. He asked
me, 'Are you interested in my job?'" Giftos was in the process of finding his successor to train as he left his full-time position with the museum. "I was elated," Apps says. "I couldn't have been more thrilled—I relate the experience to Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory." (That is, when Charlie is unexpectedly handed over the chocolate factory.) "I was floating," he says. "And then I realized I had two years of grooming."


Apps joined the ranks of the Met's office of special events as the associate director in preparation to take the reins when Giftos retired. During his time at the museum, he worked on corporate and in-house events—some 400 per year. In 2003 he became the director of the department. He got the chance to work with Restaurant Associates again, overseeing the company's catering contract at the museum, and to help produce one of the year's most influential events. "The Costume Institute parties are always so exciting, and having the pleasure of working with Anna Wintour as the chairperson—she's such a professional, you learn so much from working with her. It's so much work because you spend so many hours preparing for the event, that it does make it very emotional. And when it's over, you do go through some periods of withdrawal, or maybe it's pure exhaustion."


MoMA was looking to fill the vacancy left by the death of Ethel Shein, who worked at the museum for more than 35 years and had overseen its event department since 1996. Apps wasn't looking for a new job, but the Modern sought him out and offered him the position as head of special events. "They wooed me. It was honestly one of the toughest decisions I've ever had to make in my life, because I love the people at the Met."

Arriving at an unopened museum, Apps had to figure out how to hold events in the new building and plan a slew of events during its busy opening month. Leading up to the official opening on November 20, he and his department labored on a staff party for 2,500 guests and the black-tie dinner for more than 250 trustees,
major donors, and top-level museum staff, that marked the museum's 75th anniversary. Another party introduced the museum to hordes of artists and gallery owners. And at a massive preopening gala, a new generation of waiters from Glorious Food fed a few thousand guests.

That challenging rush of activity was one of the main reasons he took the job. "I was really taken by everything they were doing, and I didn't want to miss out on it," he says. "It was a tough decision, but I have to say that although I miss everyone at the Met, it's such a great time to be here."

—Mark Mavrigian

Posted 12.08.04

Photo: Dan Hallman for BiZBash