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Aartzy is an e-commerce platform for paintings, photography, sculptures, and prints. Initiated in 2018, the platform has since expanded its reach to include a broad spectrum of artists.

The platform was originally launched to function as a market hub for Sri Lankan artists to showcase their skills and make sales without a daunting overhead. What has made the platform truly special is that, in addition to it being the only such dedicated space for Lankan artists to come together, the platform prioritizes those artists who lack the resources to get online themselves.

Why create Aartzy?

Aartzy Founder Janaka Perera, with his over two decades of experience in sales, marketing, and business administration, stated that regardless of not being an artist himself, he clearly understood the hardships local artists must endure.

He shared with us the inciting incident which led to him taking time off his well-established career to launch this platform.

"We were looking to buy some art for a colleague's parting gift, and we chose a rainy day with heavy overcast to go in search of this item and, of course, we made our way over to green path. There, considering the unfortunate weather, we found just one artist who was displaying his work from the back of a van due to the rain, and we got to talking, which is when he shared with us that he is a third-generation artist and his entire family relied on his earnings to survive and that it is extremely tough. This is when I got to thinking: Is there any way I could help?" he said.

Janaka said that regardless of the product, marketing is the same, adding that despite it requiring just a few interested parties, in Sri Lanka, there simply remains no independent platform for artists to promote their work. There are very limited ways to get visibility for one's work - have an exhibition, art fairs like "Kala Pola", etc. - and these are not sufficient and are not all year round.

He also said that when developing his online platform, which was a no-brainer from a marketing perspective, he had to take into consideration the fact that Sri Lanka as a market is not yet mature enough to buy art online. Art is not considered an essential product and negotiation is in a Lankan's DNA.

Janaka shared that it is frustrating to see those people who love art leave it behind because they are unable to generate a sufficient income to live on, adding that he firmly believes that artists should only have to focus on creating while a third party should focus on the marketing component.

"If the artist has to be concerned about all the other elements, then their creativity suffers, work gets commercialized, they become influenced by market conditions, etc.," he said.

How the platform works

Essentially, you appoint your Aartzy contact as your representative, a collaborative partner who takes care of all the elements necessary to get eyes on your work and make a sale. Janaka shared that initially the way they brought artists onto the platform was to painstakingly go through their personal contacts and meet with each one in person.

"We initially reached out to artists in and about our area, made appointments with them, and visited their homes, studios, etc.," he said, sharing that initially there was some resistance, only until they came to realize that the intention here is to purely benefit them. He said that once a few artists began to come on board, then they were able to create a network of interested artists by word of mouth.

Aartzy is especially suitable for artists do not have the means to go online by themselves. Janaka stated that they build the artist's profile from the ground up. They photograph the artist's work; process them; create titles; write descriptions; and upload, promote, and co-ordinate all the way until a sale is made and the work is delivered to the buyer. Aartzy will co-ordinate on behalf of the artist and all the strategies will be discussed with the owner of the work.

He said that creating an artist's profile is imperative as artists must have a clear and evident identity - it is one of the primary requirements - and they put in a lot of groundwork to create this for their artists, so that once they have created this profile, the artists themselves can promote their Aartzy profile on their personal platforms, if they wish.

In their services, in creating this artist's profile, they take great care to present the work in their best light, with their team attending to color-balancing and placing the artwork in different backgrounds for the ease of the buyer, while also advising the artists on strategy.

Janaka said that Aartzy exists primarily to create value for artists' work. If you are to consider traditional galleries, an artist must concede up to 50 % of their earnings from their sale to the gallery, and on top of that, they will pick and choose the work the artist is allowed to display. With Aartzy as a platform, artists will be given two options: They can either opt for providing a commission on sales where all administrative work will be provided free of charge, or include the commission price on top of the price of the painting, which is what many opt for, he said, adding that this way the artist is able to receive their expected price.

He said that they make it a habit to not negotiate on this expected price and try more to build a pricing strategy around this price.

"The expected price is very important. It is the inherent value appointed by the artists to their work, and it is theirs to have," he said, adding that most artists are not well to do; this is to survive and we mustn't take advantage of this vulnerability.

Aartzy during Covid-19

Janaka shared that at present, they are operating with a small team of just five individuals who work on referencing as it remains easiest to get someone on board when referred to by a known party. He said that they have adopted a transparent, trustworthy approach and their actions speak louder than words.

Things had really changed during the Covid-19 pandemic period; their concept became somewhat of a necessity during that time as many artists suffered losses and opted to go online, and since then, they have grown exponentially.

He also added that the platform has begun to function as an inspiration hub for artists looking to improve and grow in their creative pursuits, and even when they are presented with work to be featured on the platform, they make a suggestion to explore their featured works so that the artists can better themselves and present the best version of themselves when they come on board.

Aartzy, having started as a platform which was primarily focused on locals and Lankan expats, has since expanded to include international artists as well. However, Janaka stated that their focus remains on growing Sri Lankan artists and they especially promote to expats in Australia (which has Lanka's largest expat population), New Zealand, the US, Canada, and recently Europe.

He said that all Sri Lankans around the world want a little bit of home, and therefore cultural paintings especially tend to become popular among these expats.

The complete article can be found at http://www.themorning.lk/say-no-to-taking-advantage-of-our-artists/

Dimithri Wijesighe (The Sunday Morning, 2020)

09/21/2020