It happens all the time here. One moment you are ordering a latte at a coffee shop, the next you are struck dumb with fascination by a painting hanging on the wall above the requisite saggy café couch. It is beautiful, powerful, evocative and you cannot rip your eyes away from it. This is exactly what the artist who created this masterpiece is hoping will happen when you gaze upon it. Even more so, she is praying you will purchase it and take it home.
That can be so simple or so complicated simultaneously. Some venues want buyers to contact the artist directly, after hunting around for an e-mail or phone number to hand over. Others collect payment and remit to the artist—which can range from processing a credit card and collecting sales tax to stuffing check or cash into an envelope with the artist’s name on it.
“I’m trying to eliminate the envelope,” Andrew Gray explains with a chuckle. We are at the launch party for PayforArt.com at Bourgie Nights in downtown Wilmington. PayforArt.com is a platform that allows visual artists to hang their work in coffee shops, bars, restaurants, and other alternative venues and collect payment from customers directly. Or as Gray puts it: to circumvent the crumpled envelopes shoved in a drawer where monies collected for works sold get stored until the artists can be contacted. And, face it, sometimes those envelopes don’t work so well in the real world.
Gray is a partner in Tayloe/Gray, a local digital marketing agency. His mind tends to turn to technology and digital solutions to problem solve. A few years ago he tried to buy a painting from an artist at Port City Java. The process took close to two days with Gray having to get contact information, track down the artist, arrange to meet, pay for the work, and then transport the work home. It left Gray thinking there had to be a simpler way through the transaction—like digitally. Thus, PayforArt.com was born.
At the launch party for PayforArt.com, as one would imagine, every available surface in downtown’s music venue, Bourgie Nights, and next door neighbor Coastal Cupcakes, was covered with pieces of art, large and small. My companion and I attended to test the new platform, so we started with a print from Char Oden. My friend has a phone that can direct a moon landing; I don’t. She entered the six-digit code listed on the tag in the corner of a giraffe print, added a credit card to make the purchase, and after a few moments of processing, a screen appeared confirming the transaction.
“Then you show that to the barista,” Grey says and waved the phone. “And take this with you!” He handed us the giraffe print.
“That was, like, two minutes?” he asks.
PayforArt.com certainly makes the impulse buy much easier than multiple steps of contacting (sometimes multiple times) and meeting the artist. The website works like this for artists:
They create their art work, then photograph it, and catalog it into PayforArt.com, which generates a unique serial number for each piece. They hang their work in the alternative venue they have secured, and voila! If, for example, patrons come in and find themselves in desperate need of a food pun print by Kelly Sweitzer, PayforArt.com makes it easy for them to follow the steps on their phone, show a screenshot receipt to the staff of the venue, and leave with a new purchase. Sweitzer would receive an e-mail notification of the sale and payment immediately. A small percentage goes to PayforArt.com as a commission fee. If the venue is set up to charge a percentage, then a small percentage goes to the venue. Sometimes the fees are less than normal commission fees galleries would charge. But say a venue doesn’t want the percentage, then the artist can set up to donate to a charity or cause, also handled through PayforArt.com.
To handle the credit-card processing, Gray and his team decided to use Stripe, an online company. As Gray explains, he is not in the money-changing business, and needed to work with an established company who could offer fraud protection to ensure safety of transactions.
As the owner of a venue that has hosted artist’s work in the past, this looks like a real leap forward: direct payments, accounting and paperwork that tracks the artist’s and venue’s responsibilities, and less hassle for the venue all around. Venues want to work with artists. In theory the artist promotes their work is at the venue, which brings more people in the door. Both the venue and artists benefit from the collaboration.
“The opposite of war isn’t peace, it’s creation.”
But we no longer live in the simple brick-and-mortar world of the 1980s (frankly, I miss it so much). The last decade has seen extensive progression in the tools available to artists to sell their work and reach larger audiences. The Square reader made it possible for artists to start accepting credit card payments at festivals and street fairs, and therefore sell much larger, more expensive work in these locations, by simply utilizing a small plug-in reader with a smartphone. Etsy, an online handmade marketplace, created a “plug ‘n’ play” format for artists to have an online presence reaching a global market without needing the upfront capital to build a website, open online merchant processing accounts with a bank, and market the website to Internet traffic. With Etsy a listing is $0.20 plus a commission for the sale. Sweitzer has an Etsy shop for her work (www.etsy.com/shop/ThePepperMillShop) and is also utilizing PayforArt.com.
“It’s full time now,” she notes.
PayforArt.com provides another tool for making the connection between artists and patrons more integrated and building opportunities to support artists and their works. We live in an area with a flourishing arts community, and the visual artists have made the walls of our gathering places vibrate with life and color. It is hard to put a monetary value on something that speaks to the soul, but we live in a society that equates reward with money. Therefore, if our artists are going to continue to enrich our lives, we must support them monetarily.
This tool was developed right here on the corner of Second and Princess streets. Really, it’s a lovely flip side to the coin of creation using entrepreneurial skills to enhance creative possibilities for our community. Gray hopes PayforArt.com will streamline the art-buying process and in so doing increase the market for original art. Perhaps in a couple of years more people will be able to make creation their full-time job.
Char Oden autographs the giraffe print for us and slides it back into a protective plastic sleeve. I look at it and meditate on a line from Jonathan Larson’s “Rent”: “The opposite of war isn’t peace, it’s creation.” She smiles, we thank her, and I walk into the night with a little piece of hope tucked under my arm.