Houston Art Students Produce Amazing Work. These Entrepreneurs Want You to Buy Some.

Think of ArtStartArt as Etsy, but for college artists.

By Brittanie Shey February 28, 2019

A few days ago, More or Less, the BBC radio program about statistics, aired a story on how artists could make more money from their work. The number one tip? Die.

Dead artists bring in more money than living ones by the very nature that their works are limited.

 The advice may be tongue-in-cheek, but one thing students don’t learn much about in art school is the business of being an artist. That's the problem ArtStartArt, an online marketplace founded by two Texans, hopes to remedy.

ArtStartArt was founded by Erik Culver and Alok Marwaha, two friends who first met in grade school in Kingwood, Texas. Culver got his BFA in 2008 from UT, but after graduating, he wasn’t sure where to go next.

“When you graduate from art school, you’ve made a ton of incredible work, but it’s a big transition,” he says. “I really had no idea what the trajectory of an artist’s career looked like.”

Culver eventually enrolled in his alma mater's MBA program, where he reconnected with his childhood friend, who was also a student at McCombs after a stint working in the technology sector. Culver enlisted Marwaha’s help in building a version of ArtStartArt to present at a pitch competition, and the project did well. When both men left business school with jobs in consulting, they used their signing bonuses to take ArtStartArt live. They’ve had art listed on the site since May of last year. Today, almost 600 student artists have registered.

“Whether you want to be a professional artist or not, you have all this work from art school,” Culver says. “Once an artist sells a piece, the overwhelming joy of knowing it is going to live somewhere, in someone’s home, provides a huge amount of satisfaction.”

Each month, ArtStartArt lists a new batch of works for sale. Student artists must have an .edu email address to register for the site, but the founders say it doesn’t matter if you are minoring in art, majoring, or in grad school.

Artists are asked to submit around eight pieces, and are given guidelines on how to present the art, take photos, and price it. The art then goes through a curation period where members of ASA’s team look at the submissions, make sure the quality matches the site’s standards (sorry, no stick drawings), and make sure the works are properly documented. They may also give guidelines on pricing adjustment or other advice. Once the submissions are approved, the listings go live. If an item sells, ASA sends the student artist packing material, a shipping label, and instructions on how to mail the work.

 “It really is a turnkey solution,” Culver says.

Once a work sells, the artist gets 60 percent of the sale price. ASA keep 35 percent for operating costs, and the remaining 5 percent goes back to the student artist’s school to help fund art programs. Culver says art galleries typically keep half the proceeds of a sale.

 Works on the site are priced anywhere from $100 to $2000, and any works that don’t sell may be resubmitted. During that second curation period, ASA’s team might encourage the artist to change their asking price or try something new. Culver said almost every piece of work eventually gets listed.

 “We nudge them towards experimentation. Our goal is to put as much diverse work out there as possible."

"It’s a great way for students to sell their work and a great way for buyers to find and support up and coming artists.” Culver adds.

Still, Culver and Marwaha encourage student artists to promote themselves wherever they can, whether that be an Insta profile, a portfolio, or an Etsy shop. Artist profile pages on ASA include sections for social media links. “As an artist, we want you to feel like you can develop this skill, and that people was to experience your talent and vision,” he says. 

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