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Good art can be affordable, too. Or at least, that’s one of artlead’s messages. The start-up has set up a digital market place where art galleries, museums and art lovers young and old can all find something to their liking.

 Founder Thomas Caron was a veteran in the art world long before he set up his platform. For seven years he worked as a curator in the Museum of Contemporary Art in Ghent (SMAK), nurturing his passion for art. “Sometimes the museum produced a limited edition print to accompany an exhibition, in collaboration with the exhibitor,” he points out. “I advised friends to buy these prints – as an affordable artwork for the home, or as an original gift. It struck me that friends might want to learn more about the artist whose work they had at home, and that that might encourage them to visit a gallery or buy an art book. I think it’s especially interesting to see how – generally by offering people affordable work by good artists – they become more confident in the art world. There are so many attractive, affordable works of art for sale in museums and galleries all over Europe and so many people who are interested in art, but who don’t know how the navigate their way around that world – so I felt that more could be done.”

And so it happened: Caron swapped his job at the SMAK for his own start-up business. A great leap into the unknown, but Caron and his team have a higher purpose: to democratise art and position it as affordable. “Our first aim is to bring art to a wide public, and to show that good art need not cost a fortune,” he explains. “At the same time, we offer Belgian and international museums and galleries the chance to present their artworks to a wide and enthusiastic public.”

Meeting the face behind an artwork

artlead’s idea had potential, but it was a niche service that had to be brought to the market in a well-thought-out way. Caron saw potential in a range of activities, and bundled his ideas together into a three-dimensional business model. “Our website is the main activity”, he explains. “We work with about 30 European partners – from museums and non-profit exhibition spaces to galleries. We take a strong selection of the limited editions and artworks they offer, and bring them together on our website. We don’t do that in a product-focused way, but we draw the users into a story, so that they get to know the face behind a given artwork.

Users can buy the works straight away via the site. artlead takes a cut of the price. What’s distinctive is that artlead takes care of all the communications, transport and payments. Initially, this service wasn’t completely straightforward. “It was a huge challenge”, Caron recalls. “The integration of transport, in particular, was a far from simple task. Because we have no central depot –  all the artworks are sent directly from our partners – the usual webshop systems were no use to us. So we got together with the GLUE agency and developed something ourselves, and now users can buy art just as easily from Berlin, London or Barcelona.”

A second element is an advertising-free online magazine where anyone interested can garner all the information they could want about art. Thirdly and finally, there are a number of projects promoting art in public spaces. “That’s been a long-term obsession going back to my experience at the SMAK,” says Caron. “In the beginning the museum didn’t even have its own building, so public space was the best place to present artists. Even now the SMAK has a strong emphasis on art in public spaces. I think it’s interesting because that’s how lots of people first come into contact with contemporary art. So, for two years now, our Billboard Series has been presenting work from a different artist every three months on a 50 m2 billboard.”

From organic to rapid growth

 Officially, artlead has been established for barely a year, but already Caron’s ambitions are rocketing. “We may not have been here for very long, but earlier this year we were invited to the Art Brussels art fair. That’s a sign that you’re on the right track, as a business. And we haven’t invested much in marketing yet, we’re doing very well by word of mouth. Up till now growth has been completely organic. To gain momentum, I believe that we have the right partner in Roularta Mediatech Accelerator. The workshops we attended have already taught us a lot. In addition, the accelerator is supporting us financially, which will make it easier to put artlead onto the international map.”

Text: Magali De Reu

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