As prolific painter and avid multitasker Bob Ross famously said: “We don’t make mistakes, just happy little accidents.”
Jennifer Blackwell was getting an art degree and running her Get-It-Straight home organization company in Charleston when her happy little accident came along. Blackwell was re-arranging a local artist’s home when the idea occurred — what if there was someone who helped artists get their shit together, like, professionally?
“It just kind of spiraled into, ‘let me do everything for you in the studio,'” says Blackwell. “It was a snowball effect from there.”
Straight to Art was born as an artistic VA service of sorts, providing aid for the long and winding road artists must navigate to sell work nowadays.
“There’s so much that an artist has to do to sell their work,” says Blackwell. “They get taken away from actually creating their art.”
Rare are the Basquiats who can hermit themselves away for days with only creative genius for sustenance and not a care in the world for bills or family. It’s a nice dream, the prolific and carefree creative succeeding as a bourgeois bohemian. Instead, most artists exist at the intersection of emailing, framing, chauffeuring work, organizing invoices, bills, and creating PR as much as touching a canvas.
“At a show, artists should be able to mill around and talk to people, not be struggling with a Square reader,” says Lauren Brandon, who came on as co-founder with Blackwell and shifted from studying oral history at the Citadel to telling the stories of their artists through marketing and social media.
“Even if art is not your full time job, to sell the work there’s so much work: set up, clean up, shipping, packaging,” says Blackwell. “It is a lot of emails and spreadsheets.”
Straight to Art, as far as Brandon and Blackwell have been able to tell, is the first service of its kind in the greater Charleston area. Now with artists across Greenville, Spartanburg, Atlanta, and Charleston, they function as an all-encompassing gallery-PR-secretary-moving service solely dedicated to the arts. For a small monthly fee ranging from $30 to $75 per month, artists can get help with everything from hanging their work, delivering it to a client’s home, invoicing and billing, and promoting their art through social networks. The paragon of Straight to Art’s work are the shows Brandon and Blackwell coordinate at least twice a year, partnering with venues like Saltwater Cowboys, The Schoolhouse in West Ashley (there’s a show there on Tues. Oct. 16), and Palmetto Brewing for pro-bono events.
Next to no overhead; zero rent; little hardware — Straight to Art’s business model is fiercely millennial, forgoing the trappings of a brick-and-mortar gallery so that their pricing stays low and the artists stay free from money-sucking business deals.
“Exclusivity is something we really try not to do,” says Blackwell, sounding unlike most marketers out for profit. “We are not marketing people. That’s not who we are,” echoes Brandon.
Instead, these women — who are not, by the way, millennials — run all over town conducting business on their cell phones and social media, the self-described “right hand man” to a current group of 16 artists.
“We’ve picked up work at artists house and driven it to a client to hold it over the bed or the couch and see if they like it,” laughs Blackwell. “It’s concierge service.”
Concierge service, without the white glove price tag, though. These fempreneurs are adamant about that.
“In my twenties when I got married, things were always $10,000 in an art gallery, so you’d just have to get a print. We’ve worked hard to get that stuff out of our house personally,” says Blackwell. “Meeting the artist in person and seeing the work live really matters. It’s about getting it in front of people. Once they see the art, they realize: ‘Oh, I could go to Marshalls and get a $100 canvas or I could get an original work from a local artist for just a little bit more than that.'”
“If you’re buying a piece of artwork, it should really make you happy. Instead of just buying something to take up space,” Blackwell says, smiling about her own sculpture collection from her travels.
With 16 artists in their current pool and little bandwidth for more, Brandon and Blackwell are happily maintaining but hardly eager to grow too fast. Straight to Art is not yet two years old, and with any more work they’d have to hire additional help, something that neither woman is eager to do yet. They’re still holding on to that start-up style, with the majority of artists in Charleston and each interaction a personal one.
“It’s a lot more than we even anticipated when we started, but it’s fun and that helps — when you really love what you’re doing,” says Brandon. “It flexes in and out of the natural rhythms of our lives for the most part and we wouldn’t want to see it become a mechanized thing.”
This is a company by and for people with a heart for art and a modern adulting schedule. The first time I spoke with Brandon, our call was cut short when she came home to her dog foraging in a box of bug poison. On the second occasion, she was in the car picking her son up from a half-day on a Tuesday. Likewise, their artists include former school counselors and professional illustrators, drone photographers, and stay-at-home moms.
“It’s a slow shift,” explain Brandon, “for people to understand how different our business model is from a traditional gallery.”
The idea is simple, born out of a happy accident: people should be able to make and buy art without the struggle.