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A New App for Affordable Original Art

Rachel Ward | July 15, 2013 | Lifestyle Story Galleries and Performance Tech World Culture

ARTtwo50, a San Francisco-based iPad app that launches next week, is one of many attempts at joining e-commerce technology and the art world. The app allows users to snap a photo of a bare wall, project various art works into the space, and share the images with friends via social media for feedback. By making its site easily accessible, interactive, and affordable (all works are $250), the company hopes to make young professionals as enthusiastic about original art as they are about their favorite bands. “We’re lowering the barrier to entry,” says founder Ethan Appleby.

The idea came to Appleby, a design thinking consultant and former facilitator at Stanford Design School, from personal experience: He had moved into a new place and didn’t want to decorate it with the identical Ikea prints and posters that he saw in his friends’ apartments. But he found galleries intimidating and sites like Etsy overwhelming.

Inspired to make art approachable to his generation, Appleby interviewed 100 people at a start-up conference. He discovered that a lack of time and confidence, along with confusion about pricing, were holding the majority back from buying original art. He also talked to artists who said they wanted exposure, but found marketing themselves challenging. The up-and-comers who were selling to friends and family found it awkward to justify the price of their work. The ARTtwo50 model takes only a 20 percent cut of artists' sales. The mobile platform not only showcases the artists’ bios and photos, but also describes what inspired them to create each piece.

But why start with an iPad-only (for now) app? The ARTtwo50 team found that most iPad users directly overlap with their target demographic—28 to 40-year-olds who make $70,000 to $200,000. Although the quality of the artists’ bios and photos are vetted, evaluating the works is not a focus. “We’re democratizing art and making it more personal," Appleby says. So how does the quality of the art rate? “SFMOMA’s lead web designer was in our office and was really impressed with the pieces."

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