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Becoming an Artrepreneur

Partnership creates new e-commerce opportunity for Kentucky artists
David Neace’s drawing, “Seems Like Yesterday,” depicts downtown Versailles, circa 1950. Neace is one of the Kentucky artists whose work is being featured on the Artrepreneur website.

Although the state’s economy is slowly reopening, the past few months have not been easy ones for artists. Visual artists who relied on shows like The Kentucky Crafted Market as well as other gatherings, both in and outside Kentucky, have seen their incomes dwindle with each lost opportunity for sales.

In May, the Kentucky Arts Council began a conversation with the Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation about this topic. The Tremaine Foundation has become a valuable partner for the arts council ever since the Connecticut-based nonprofit organization decided to host the inaugural Artists Thrive Summit in Berea beginning in 2017 and for the next two years. The foundation has also been a significant supporter of the arts council’s 2018 and ’19 editions of the Kentucky Creative Industry Summit.

The Tremaine Foundation connected the arts council with a for-profit venture called Artrepreneur, an ecommerce platform for visual artists that opens them to a global marketplace. The foundation has also provided funding to Kentucky Crafted artists for 12 months of paid subscriptions to Artrepreneur’s premium platform, which does not charge a commission fee for selling artwork. The new partnership has already helped several of Kentucky Crafted artists make sales using this platform.

Artrepreneur was founded in 2015 as a virtual platform for artists to show, sell and network. The company is based in New York, but has staff across the country in Florida, Rhode Island, Connecticut and California.

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“We believe artists have power to control their own destinies, their careers. We’re here to help,” said Artrepreneur founder and CEO Grace Cho. “We saw that we had talent on one side and the market on the other. And we wanted to play matchmaker.”

The Tremaine Foundation’s role in funding the subscriptions was instrumental in starting the effort in Kentucky. Heather Pontonio, the foundation’s art program director, said they wanted to try a pilot program in the state to find out how the Artrepreneur platform could help artists who were in need of a wider market for their work in these days of diminished public opportunities to show and sell.

“The Tremaine Foundation already had a relationship with Artrepreneur, so we wanted to try a pilot program where we helped out a group of artists with subscriptions to the service,” Pontonio said. “We’ll see if this virtual opportunity provides a revenue stream they never had before as we all continue to navigate this challenging time.”

NEA distributes emergency funding to Kentucky

In April, the Kentucky Arts Council received more than $450,000 in emergency funding from the National Endowment for the Arts to distribute to arts nonprofit groups across the state for operational support. That funding was part of a massive aid package provided through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

The funds have been distributed to 80 Kentucky Arts Partnership organizations across the state. The funding support will help stabilize arts organizations and provide assistance in protecting employees from long-term unemployment.

In addition, several Kentucky organizations received $50,000 each in direct emergency funding from the NEA, also a result of the CARES Act.

The organizations include Appalshop (on behalf of Roadside Theatre), Art Center of the Bluegrass, Berea College, IDEASxLab, Lexington Children’s Theatre, Louisville Orchestra, My Nose Turns Red Youth Circus, Sarabande Books, Speed Art Museum, The Living Arts & Science Center, Western Kentucky University and Yeiser Art Center.

Chris Cathers is executive director of the Kentucky Arts Council.