Ten years ago, we wrote our first line of code for Artwork Archive.
At the time, co-founder of Artwork Archive John Feustel’s mother, a professional oil painter, came to him with an idea. She was looking for an easy way to track and manage her artwork as she was becoming quite prolific. As she created more paintings, and they were shown in more galleries, it became more difficult for her to keep track of where everything was at any given time.
Since John was already working as a developer, she knew he was the right person for the job. What first began as a passion project for the family, has since become the leading art inventory platform in the world with users in over 130 countries and over 2.5 billion dollars of artwork managed on the site.
Artwork Archive is proud to work with artists who have artwork in the Guggenheim and the MET, have received MacArthur genius grants and are Fulbright Scholars; artists who are pushing the field forward with their innovation, creativity, and skill. We are equally as proud to work with artists who are at the start of their career, artists who are laying a strong foundation for building a business through their artwork and who are bringing new ideas to the art world. These artists are challenging our notions of what art can be, what art is capable of changing, and where art is going.
For the last ten years, we have listened to both the artists who use Artwork Archive and those who decided not to, in order to build the best possible product for artists to manage their careers.
Here’s how we built the industry-leading art inventory platform, solving real problems and providing value for artists, art collectors, and arts organizations.
Solving real-life problems for artists
Being an independent artist isn’t just about making art. There’s a lot more that goes into having a successful art career than just being highly skilled at your craft.
Not only do artists need to be a master at the skills needed to create their artwork, but they also need to understand marketing, sales, inventory management, client relations and more. Since there is only so much time in a day, it can be difficult to wear all the hats needed to build an art career.
“Artists really are entrepreneurs with a startup of one,” co-founder of Artwork Archive John Feustel said. “We wanted to build a tool that would make this side of the business as easy as possible.”
Co-founder Justin Anthony agreed, “The creative aspects of being an artist are covered in apprenticeships, workshops, and formal art education. The business of art, however, is a topic often overlooked.”
“We set out to create a company dedicated to arming artists with the tools and knowledge they need to make a living doing what they love,” he continued.
Artwork Archive does this through educational content, guides, resources and affordable tools to manage all aspects of an art career. From easy-to-use tools to manage finances, create professional inventory reports and invoices, and gain insight into growth numbers, the platform was built to be the all-in-one platform for artists to manage their career—without needing a business background.
User feedback and two-way communication
There’s a phrase we use a lot around here: great products are built from great customers. As we grew as a company, we put a lot of resources and time into customer support. Every member of the Artwork Archive team is required to work customer service for a portion of each day, co-founders included.
Not only do we believe that excellent customer service is key to a happy customer base, but we also know that having direct feedback on a daily basis helps keep our product development on track.
We rely on communicating with the artists, collectors and arts professionals that use Artwork Archive to drive the product forward. Because who knows what features users need more than those users themselves?
“Most if not all of the changes and additions you see in the product come directly from those interactions,” said Justin Anthony. “That approach has led to a product that is custom-tailored to suit the needs of the people we serve and keeps us up to date on whether or not we’re delivering on our mission.”
We knew that in a digital world, our users would benefit from always having a real person to talk with and knowing that they always had someone on their side.
“We wanted to run this more like a local neighborhood store where “everyone knows your name” than some large anonymous online business. To this day, the relationships we’ve built are the key to our success,” said Feustel.
Building trust and community through transparency
The art world can be opaque on a number of fronts. We made a very conscious decision early on to be transparent about our pricing and product development. We do our best to communicate changes to the product and why any future updates might be happening.
We also know that art (for both artists and collectors) can be an incredibly personal part of their life. We have put in a number of measures to ensure security and privacy for our users so that was the default in everything we did.
“Our users knew they could trust us and we would always be acting in their best interest,” said Feustel.
Artwork Archive exists at a unique intersection between artists, collectors, and art professionals. The overlap has given those on the Discovery platform an opportunity to get in front of the other audience. We’ve also been able to gain a better understanding of how each subset can work with the other to further the opportunities for each. We have been able to get more grants and opportunities from the arts organizations we work with in front of the incredibly talented artists using the platform.
Because of this, one of the most exciting aspects of the last ten years has been watching the company go from a small startup with a handful of users, to a company that provides solutions to artists, collectors and art professionals in over 100 different countries.
Value for artists
If you are a full-time artist, you don’t have that much spare time to be messing around with a million little administrative tasks. The more time you save, the more time you can spend in the studio doing what you love.
That’s why one of the most common bits of feedback we get is how much time the platform saves people.
For many artists things like marketing, sales, and client management aren’t generally the main thing they want to focus on. That’s why we created Artwork Archive to be as easy to use as possible. Some of the core functions of the site allow you to get organized at a base level so that you aren’t scrambling around wasting time on those administrative tasks.
Once you have done a little initial set up, the platform allows you to save time by creating everything from consignment reports and invoices without having to learn another design program.
We lead you through the best practices of running your business and growing your career. From tracking your art inventory to following up with clients, scheduling where artworks are coming and going, and having a detailed list for gallerists at delivery, each feature guides you through how to best manage the details of your art career.
“When we started Artwork Archive, it was with one goal: to help artists make a living doing what they love,” said Justin Anthony. “Throughout the last ten years, our focus has been on arming our artists with the tools they need to get organized, grow their business and share their art with the world.”
This focus on the business of art has set us apart from purely another online gallery and has given out artists an edge in the art world as well.
Value for collectors and organizations
While the origins of our artist platform come from a personal place, so too does our Collection Management Platform.
Co-founder Justin Anthony, a modest collector in his own right, had significant water damage to his collection after one of Colorado's biggest floods. This unfortunate incident is where the idea for the collection management side was born.
"When it came time to talk to the insurance company, I had none of the necessary documentation to prove the value of the work that was damaged,” Said Anthony.
After looking around for solutions to prevent the same situation in the future, he admits that the only options he found were overly complex, cost-prohibitive, and didn't serve his specific needs as an art collector.
That gap in the industry was what drove the team to expand the product to include modern collection management tools that are affordable and easy to use.
That platform is now used by individual collectors, estates and organizations around the world to organize and manage key aspects of their collection like insurance, accounting, and estate planning. And, while many of the collectors and organizations come to us for those reasons, the most common benefit we hear is the peace of mind that comes with knowing all of your collection-related information is safe and secure.
Protecting and preserving the collection you’ve worked so hard to build is a critical part of collection management. By making it easy and enjoyable, we have been able to provide real value for art collections and arts organizations.
What’s next? Plans for the next ten years
If there's one thing we've learned in the past ten years, it's that our greatest source of inspiration and education comes from our amazing customers. Most, if not all, product evolution comes directly from conversations with our users and we plan on continuing that approach throughout this next decade.
In addition to that ongoing interaction, we'll continue to tap into industry leaders and experts to ensure that both our product and our content are robust and relevant.
In 2020, we are also proud to announce an upcoming Lifecycle Artist Grant program that will provide unrestricted funds, resources and a curriculum to both emerging and working artists who are preparing for the next steps in their career. Keep your eyes peeled for an official program release and more application information in the spring of 2020.
“The more we can do to help build a thriving art world, the better the world can be,” said Feustel. “We’re constantly growing, improving, and adjusting. By providing tools for artists to build and grow their career and for collectors and organizations to manage their inventory and grow the value of their collection, we believe we can have a positive impact on the field of visual arts.”