Necessity is the mother of invention and one artist's inspiration proved a lifeline for artists, and created a new economy built on trust and generosity.
At the beginning of lockdown Matthew Burrows, like millions of others, was worried about the impact the pandemic was likely to have on his industry. Particularly as most artists rely on shows to sell their work and which, of course, were all closing as a result of new social distancing rules.
“I had been getting messages from friends and colleagues saying their exhibitions were closing,” he recalls. “Most artists are reliant on the sales of their work – and if that stops, that’s it.”
Burrows, and no doubt many others, needed to find a solution to help himself and all other artists who were now, suddenly, starting to struggle. While out jogging near his home in East Sussex, he came up with a creative idea to help artists sell their work during lockdown.
“I thought it has to be able to shift work quite quickly and it has to work within a culture of trust and generosity,” says Burrows. “The idea I came up with was simple: you post work on Instagram for no more than £200 and when you reach £1,000 of sales you have to buy another artist’s work.”
Burrows experimented with his concept by posting some of his work on the social media platform one night. “By the next morning I was one sale off making my pledge to buy another artist’s work,” he says. The Artist Support Pledge was born.
In yet another example of a simple solution being transformed in to a spectacular success beyond the originator's wildest dreams, Burrows says what followed was a “tsunami” of positive feedback. “People were messaging me saying they were reaching their pledge in 24 hours,” he told Positive News. “[Initially] I thought if they could reach that in a month that would be good going – at least it would take the sting out of having no money during the pandemic.”
Three months later Artist Support Pledge is estimated to have generated around £48m in sales. “It’s guesswork, though,” admits the artist, who claims he knows some artists who are making £1,000 a day through his initiative. “These are people who were making not much more than that a month. They have gone from having no work to being strangely prosperous.”
Originally only envisaged to last around three months, Burrow's initiative is now being turned in to a fully fledged non-profit organisation, supported by the Crafts Council.
“The egalitarian, democratic market that Matthew has created, is a wonderful platform for makers to promote, share and sell their work to a market hungry for meaningful objects at affordable prices,” says Natalie Melton, creative director at the Crafts Council. “We wanted to support this brilliant initiative and encourage even more craft makers to get involved.”
Burrows believes the The Artist Support Pledge has made the art world more approachable to regular folk thanks to the accessibility of Instagram and the low price point for works. “It has generated a wave of collectors who feel empowered to buy stuff,” he said. “No gallery would charge [so little] because there isn’t any profit margin for them.”