When Art Becomes A Service and Not Just a Luxury
I once was listening to an interview with a man who had recently found great success selling his art work. In general it was encouraging to hear someone recount their successes by following their passion, until he made one passing statement that caught my attention. Little did I know that one statement would change the course of my life forever.
He said, “We all know art is a luxury, not a service.”
The unquestionable certainty in how he declared that statement as reality, along with the fact that I found it completely outrageous, yet more or less true made me do a double take. I was upset. I was outraged, in fact, that something as powerful, as meaningful, and as universal as art would be categorized as a luxury. And I asked myself, why?
For many years I sold my own artwork as a full-time job. I did fairly well and made a decent living selling my paintings in galleries and juried exhibitions. But something was lacking for me and I felt unfulfilled, yet didn’t really understand why, until one day I was hanging a painting I had sold to a wealthy couple in their home. They lived in an impressive mansion, and had elected to have my painting hung at the top of the stairs which was the first view one would see as they walked in the front door. I remarked how honored I felt that they were hanging my art in such a prominent place in their home. The woman, with no ill-intent remarked casually, “Oh we rotate all our artwork out every year or so.”
In that moment I felt the disproportionate weight of what they experienced the value of my art to be compared to how I felt. I had put painstaking hours, pouring my heart and soul onto the canvas, my deepest expression of my inner-being. To me the painting was priceless. To them it was a replaceable decorative piece to match their furniture.
In a consumerist capitalist society there is a supply and demand that generates market value, which in turn also feeds into public perspective of what is valued as a need, a service, or a luxury. Art surrounds us everywhere we go, from the images we hang on our walls to the advertisements in our magazines and on television, to the designs of the clothes we wear. But Fine Art, art that exists as an expression of the intangible, its own outspoken visual representation of what it is, is classified as a luxury, because quite frankly, it serves no practical purpose other than its own existence. So in regards to this artists’ statement about art being a luxury, I agreed. And I saw that there is need for a massive, revolutionary paradigm shift to happen, for the public value placed on art to change. So I was left with the question:
How can the creative power held in each piece of Fine Art become a service, become something that can be of higher social value yet still retain its pure creative essence?
Very soon after my encounter with the couple in the mansion I walked away from the art world. I was on a mission to answer this question, and felt the art world as it currently existed was not the place to look. I dove into the business world, the spiritual world, and explored the ideas behind the fair trade movement. After more than a decade of tireless search the idea began to form of a business model that would both offer art for art’s sake, as well as give each piece of art, and artist who created it the opportunity to create their art as a service without sacrificing this pure expression.
In spring of 2016 Infuse Gallery was born. Infusing the idea of service into the traditional art gallery structure, Infuse Gallery has a unique business model that exists nowhere else in the art world. First and foremost we offer very high quality fine art from well-established career artists, as well as new emerging artists just making themselves known in the art world. Secondly, we have partnered with several nonprofits who benefit from the gallery in two ways:
1. The career artists select nonprofits they wish to support, and with every sale of their art they donate a percentage of the sale to the nonprofit. Each donation is matched by Infuse Gallery.
2. The individuals served through the nonprofit themselves are given a platform to sell artwork of their own, which not only empowers them as individuals, but gives them an opportunity to donate and contribute to the nonprofit that gave them their opportunity to begin with. Again, each donation is matched by the gallery. So as an example, Mustari, a girl in Tajikistan who is attending a school built by our partner nonprofit Central Asia Institute, is selling her art in Infuse Gallery. The money she will make from one sale of her art is not only enough to send her to school for almost a year, but it gives her the chance to donate to a scholarship fund setup for her and her classmates, allowing Mustari to contribute back to her own society.
This model exists as a tool of empowerment for everyone involved as opposed to straight charity. The artists are empowered by creating their art which then becomes a service to the social good. The nonprofits are empowered by giving the people they serve an opportunity to empower themselves through creativity, the sale of their art, while also contributing back to those they served. And the gallery is the platform that answers this question of how we can change the public value of art, as art in Infuse Gallery is no longer just a luxury, but a service as well.
Maybe one day down the road this model will become the norm and art itself will be seen as an invaluable force of change that is at the fingertips of everyone. And with each artwork sold, each life changed and given the opportunity to change others’ lives through their art, and a revolutionary shift in perspective, time will tell.