Making a living as an artist is tough. When you’re homeless or disabled, it’s even more challenging. But a local organization is changing that, and proving that high art isn’t exclusive to high-end galleries.
When Liz Powers was organizing art groups at homeless shelters, she kept discovering talent, a lot of talent. But there weren’t a lot of sales.
“This big missing piece is a marketplace to curate top artwork from the thousands of different art groups from shelters and disability centers-- and sell it.” Powers said.
Liz and her brother pooled their savings and started ArtLifting, an online gallery for artists who typically wouldn’t be able to sell their work beyond the sidewalk or homeless shelter. But one thing was clear, no one wanted any favors.
“I kept hearing, ‘Liz, I don’t want another handout, I just want opportunity.’ And that really struck home with me, realizing how many organizations that relate to social services now are giving sandwiches or a bed for just the night, and very few are actually creating jobs and real change in people’s lives.” Powers said.
That real change happened with Jeff Powers, no relation to the owners. His past struggles with drug addiction led to homelessness, and for a while, he made money doing portraits of people on the streets of Boston. And although he had been drawing since he was a teenager, Jeff never saw himself as the artist that his work, and his sales through ArtLifting now prove.
“They always say, ‘the artist should never sell his own work. Have someone else do it. You end up cheating yourself.’ Because you don’t know your own worth. And when someone comes along and says, ‘this is what your worth,’ and then you see your bank account grow because of it, you’re grateful. Powers said.
In just three years, ArtLifting has expanded to 11 states, and continues to grow. Their mission has also gained the attention of major investors, including the founder of shoe company TOMS. It’s that mission that also attracted photographer Cinde Perdigao, who had to overcome a disability, to sell her work through ArtLifting.
“I like that it provides a space and conduit for people to do creative process. Because that creates a community. Everything that gets bought, money goes back into providing continual space for people to create continual revenue. And that empowers people rather than rescues people.” Perdigao said.
The revenue split is similar to that of art galleries. 55% of sales goes to the artist, 1% to artist supplies, and the rest to running and building the business. But above all, the art needs to be good.
“People often assume that if you’re in a shelter or social service agency art group, you automatically, can be a part of ArtLifting, but that’s not the case. We purposely want to have saleable artwork. To keep the brand really high and make sure customers continue respecting us.” Powers said.
If their website and business growth is any indication, ArtLifting shouldn’t have any problem doing just that.