United States: The Art Innovators Alliance: A Conversation

Last Updated: April 22 2019
Article by Diana Wierbicki

The Art Innovators Alliance is an alliance of forward-thinking art businesses committed to advancing the art industry through innovation and technology, created by eight founding members: ARTA, Articheck, Artlogic, Art Frankly, Art Money, Tagsmart, Vastari and Verisart. Diana Wierbicki, global head of Withers' Art team, sat down with Edie Meyer of Vastari, one of the founding members, to speak about the background of the Alliance, her insight on the art and technology industries and looking ahead.

Diana Wierbicki: Edie, thank you for taking the time to speak with me. Our team is very excited for the launch of the Art Innovators Alliance. We are looking forward to getting to know you and all of the other founders and members. To start, could you tell us some background about how the Art Innovators Alliance was established?

Edie Meyer: We realized that although each of our businesses is quite different within our community, we faced common challenges in making positive changes in the art industry and wanted to put together a group of companies that would share information and knowledge in an effort to change the way people do business and the way they think. By working together, we can all help to promote each other. The nice thing is, we are all different types of companies, so we are not competing against each other.

D.W.: That's great. Hopefully there is more that you can do as a collective. What are the hopes for the Alliance and what are some of the goals that you have?

E.M.: We would like to help promote innovation and technology in the art world. It can be a bit slow to adopt technology and new ideas into this field. We hope to support change, which is inevitable- it doesn't have to be scary. Another goal is to engage with the new generation of collectors and business owners to whom technology is second nature. To those who are creating their own cannon. That being said, many of our companies have clients of all ages who are also embracing innovation and new technology.

D.W.: You mentioned there are eight founding members. What types of additional members do you expect to join the Alliance?

E.M.: Many of the founding members have been apart of the Alliance for at least three years if not more. The additional members are primarily established companies, this way our clientell trust the companies and their innovations to be sustainable and reliable. We've had a number of companies express interest in joining and we are going to add more to our roster shortly. The priority is to try and have diversity amongst the companies.

D.W.: Very interesting, what was the importance of having companies that were established for three years?

E.M.: They, unlock the newer members, have been through the growing pains and are somewhat established and knowledgeable about the space and have made strides in developing the company.

D.W.: Are you seeing any trends among the new members joining the Alliance in terms of having issues with being innovative in an art space?

E.M.: I think the main trend really is adoption, and just getting our clients to be open to working with new technology. This is a bit of a struggle for all of us. Assuring our businesses can be successful? Profitable? And sustainable because, unlike an Airbnb or Uber which are mass markets, the art world is relatively small.

D.W.: That makes sense. In that case, do you have a general idea for this to remain sustainable? What sector of the market would you look to endorse? Is it that the galleries and the art dealers that need support? Or the collectors and museums? Is there any kind of particular sector you are looking for to endorse and support the Alliance's mission on sustainability?

E.M.: That's a very interesting question. I think this varies by company. Vastari is somewhat different in that we are working with all those people – museums, collectors, galleries, etc. Some of the other companies in the Alliance are only working with a select few, so it really depends on which company were talking about. My company, for example has had relations with the auction houses who are interested in promoting technology. Although they are not our clients per se, we have worked together on a few projects. We have programming coming up with Christie's Education in New York. We also helped co-curate a one day conference this past summer with Christie's in London and intend to host different event with Sotheby's this year.

I think we are gaining a following amongst established companies with time. These are organizations that realize the necessity for change and a demand for the use of new technology. Their support is very important. Galleries are a key part to the Alliance companies as they influence both collectors and artists. In my opinion, the support from galleries and auction houses is the most important because they are major influencers in the art market.

D.W.: I completely agree, seeing that the players in the art market are so different from other industries. Are there any unique challenges that the companies participating in the Alliance are facing in the art space compared to companies starting up in other sectors or servicing other sectors through technology?

E.M.: I think the main challenge specific to the art industry is that it is very fractured. It consists of many different sub-markets and lots of small businesses. Often times these are passions run by individuals or artists, not professionals with a background in business.

The Alliance hosted a technology panel discussion in NYC the other night. We had a few speakers from the restaurant industry realize they face many of the same challenges we do. The "artists," (i.e. chefs) who run the businesses, want to spend time creating their art, not learning about new technology.

The art world is a very bespoke and private industry. Each product (artwork) is unique, thus the use of technology for efficiencies and scaling is not a forefront of the mind. It's simply a conservative industry, slow to change, with a business model that is obsolete. That being said, it was mentioned at the panel that some older institutions, such as Christie's (est 1766), have been quick to support technology and innovation.

D.W.: I agree with you and see how Christie's, through the recently launched Art + Tech Summit, is making strides through focusing on Blockchain technologies. I think this is a buzzword we hear a lot about in the art technology space in general, along with AI. Looking at the Alliance founding members and potential companies members, how prevalent are those keywords in these types of companies? Is the attention that some buzzwords are getting, proportionate to what you are seeing in terms of where the focus is on using technology and innovation in this sector? Or are you seeing that it is a small portion of it but there would be other things you think could have easily become buzzwords?

E.M.: All of the Alliance companies are looking very closely at Blockchain and different solutions, including at Vastari. We are questioning how we would use it and does it make sense to use it. For one of the members, Verisart, the logging of provenance information on a Blockchain is a priority.

The second Christie's Art + Tech Summit this summer will be looking at AI, and this is one of the most important, immediately applicable technologies used within all of our companies. It's crucial that we set standards on how we log our data so that our companies can share information and ultimately start building up machine learning capabilities. The strength is not only the ability to replicate processes, but also to identify outliers based on trends and data science. All the tools built by members of the Alliance, supplemented by machine learning and AI, will be able to find images more effectively, make uploading and sorting processes more efficient, help collectors find what they're looking for more quickly, and also enable us to process important AML/KYC checks.

D.W.: One last question. Is there anything specific that you are hoping to see in the future with the technological advancement in the art industry?

E.M.: Many people are speaking about the need for greater transparency in the art world. There's also a lot of uncertainty in the marketplace and technology can help solve these issues. One important aspect for Vastari specifically, which is also important to many companies in the Alliance, is democratizing the art world and making it easier for people to connect.

In Vastari's case, loans to museums have always been done via research and word of mouth. There are some people who say to me, why do I need you, I'm able to make loans using word of mouth? My response is, you can't possibly be in touch with the thousands of curators who use our platform globally. Also, rather than just responding to requests, Vastari members are able to pick and choose from requests because they now know what museums are looking for art. Additionally, the museums are able to connect with the people who have art that they are actively looking to loan. We believe this kind of transparency will only improve and strengthen the art world. With all of the companies that are a part of the Alliance, we are trying to change behaviors for the better, with the goal of making participation in this market more accessible to all.

D.W.: Transparency and democratization are definitely two changes I hear a lot of people in the art industry saying they would like to see more of. I hope that as the Alliance grows and gets more active, we can see technology directing the art world to that direction more and more. Thank you so much again for your time.

This article was also published by Flash Art International.

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