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4 min read - Wednsday 1st September 2021 
Time to Change a Top-down Industry, Giving Artists Agency by Natascha Ng
From an outsider looking in, the contemporary art market can throw you back to being at school and navigating cliques. The nod of approval from one individual and you’re in. But to many creatives, it remains a mystery as to what that approval requires. This system, in which a few gatekeepers determine who makes It, shapes a ‘Winner Takes All’ market. With 25 artists accounting for nearly 50% of all contemporary auction sales, it is clear to see that this model is unsustainable.

This is what many would term a ‘top-down’ industry, where those with power control and determine the fate of those below them. They can range from curators and collectors to art professionals and advisors, all of whom dictate the desirability and worth of someone’s work. This is contrasted to bottom-up investing, which focuses on the performance and merits of individuals and rewards them accordingly.


In this top-down market, it’s those that comprise the other 50% who are left battling with each other over factors they can neither influence nor control.



The Art Basel Report, 2021, found that of dealers working in the primary market combined, only 10% solely represented emerging artists, while 14% of the sample had no emerging artists. Larger dealers also showed a higher representation of established artists than in 2019 (and fewer emerging artists). It was noted that the COVID-19 pandemic, encouraging risk-averse buyers to focus more on established artists, could intensify the industry’s polarised nature.



The unwillingness of dealers to take risks on emerging artists escalates the need for a new platform through which artists can sell their work. So, some have taken it into their own hands, exploring more inclusive economic models.



Artist, Matthew Burrows, started the hashtag-based initiative Artist Support Pledge on Instagram during the first lockdown. Based on a culture of generosity, the open movement connects ‘communities committed to an equitable and sustainable economy for artists and makers’. Creatives can post images of their work using the hashtag ‘artistsupportpledge’ giving details and price (no more than £200). The unregulated economy then relies on the honesty of artists to repay £200 for every £1000 made back into the system by purchasing someone else’s work.


Artist Support Pledge has proven that there is a huge market for art lovers without extensive budgets; an art market that is for more than the elite buyers and cherry-picked artists. Realigning artists at the centre of the ecosystem, the initiative allows space for emerging artists to showcase their work with full agency, without handing over their practice to a third party.



Similarly, Fair Art Fair, a new subscription-based app, offers a space in which artists can connect directly with art lovers to remove the middleman. Founder, Stacie McCormick, refers to it as a Tinder for artists and art lovers, a network of connected communities and individuals across the world. She says:


“For every well-known artist, there are thousands more yet to be discovered. By establishing an environment which removes the various hurdles and barriers entrenched in the art world, we have created a fairer and more accessible industry ecosystem that enriches the working lives of artists, curators, collectors and art enthusiasts.”



Stacie, a practising artist herself, has built the app to provide artists with tools to professionalise their practice. Invoices are generated through the app, enabling artists to easily navigate the business organisation that accompanies being a self-employed artist.



Art lovers are able to search for art pieces based on aesthetics, adding filters to seek out something that suits the space or collection. Through picking work based on visual merit, emerging artists are presented alongside more established creatives.


Most importantly, the app not only removes the gatekeeper but removes their commission. Fair Art Fair takes 0% commission on all artworks.



Through this rebalancing of resources and income, Fair Art Fair gives artists more autonomy and control over how they work and what they make. These are the first steps to changing the top-down industry.


Follow Gatekeeper and Fair Art Fair’s campaign for a fairer art market on Instagram: @gatekeeperzine and @fairartfair.art.


Gatekeeper Magazine© 2021