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As a formally trained artist, Erik Culver understands all too well the problem most students face upon graduation: “By the end of my years at school, I had created so much art, and I had no idea what to do with it,” he says. “Most of it was under my bed, or at my parents’ house.” It was a frustrating reality; he spent years of his life creating something he was proud of, but it sat unused and unseen.

Over the next few years, he realized that most of his friends, who appreciate art in the same way he does, surprisingly didn’t have any artwork adorning their walls. A light bulb went off in his head: There had to be a way to help both consumers find affordable, beautiful art and art students sell their work in a way that was transparent, easy, and most of all, enjoyable. After meeting his business partner Alok Marwaha, the rest, as they say, is history: In 2015, ArtStartArt was born.

An online-exclusive marketplace, ArtStartArt works by creating flash sales monthly, each consisting of artwork by students from schools throughout Texas (where Culver and Marwaha both live). As of now, 12 schools are part of the program, with 300 students overall. “We’ve built relationships with these schools, and our students trust that we have their best interests at heart,” explains Culver. “It also really helps the student because they get a sense of the way the real world works in terms of selling art, and even though the sales are timed, we have a rolling inventory—students can submit to us at any time.”

Each sale lasts for a different length of time, for a few reasons: If you don’t know how long something will be available for, you’re more likely to want to snag it immediately. And of course, we always want what we can’t have. For Culver, that was a huge selling point to creating the sales this way. Plus, he notes that “if an item doesn’t sell, we can always ask the student to re-list it another time, since different people will be looking at the next sale.”

The students are in complete control of their work—they submit the images of their art to ArtStartArt, and work with the curator to price their pieces. Prices generally range from $100 to $2,000, based on curator feedback.

“We really want this to be learning process for our students,” explains Culver. “A huge part of that is learning how to price their work. If it’s more than $2,000, of course, they’re already established, and we’re not the platform for them. It helps them to realize how much their artwork is worth.”

The students hold onto their work throughout the entire process, so if there’s no sale, there’s no hassle for ArtStartArt to return the work. “And if it doesn’t sell and they don’t want to try again, they can repaint over their old canvases, which is something I did quite often in art school,” says Culver. As of now, 100 sales have been made in three months of flash sales.

Erin Branscum, an art student at the University of Texas at Austin, has sold four of her pieces with the company. “I think there is a need for a company like this because the transition between art school and working as an artist in the real word, trying to sell work and get your name out there, is not as smooth or easy as it would seem.” She adds that ArtStartArt has given her more confidence to sell her work, and made her more comfortable with the process.

In terms of pay scale, ArtStartArt wants to help students make extra money. So, once fees like shipping are taken out, the artists receive 60 percent commission on the sales price, ArtStartArt receives 30 percent to cover operations and marketing, the curators receive 5 percent, and 5 percent goes back to the student’s university fine arts program as a donation.

“Everything is free for the artists—our fundamental goal is to educate and support university-level art school students in getting their artwork into the world,” says Culver. The university donation also helps encourage partnerships with schools. Currently, they only work with schools in Texas (though art ships nationwide), but they hope to expand in the future.

“As a start-up, it’s hard to know exactly what our timeline for expansion looks like, but it is absolutely our goal to expand coast-to-coast as quickly as we can in a sustainable way,” Culver says. “My hope is that we will be expanding out of Texas in early 2019, and where there is significant student demand for ArtStartArt, we will activate that university.”

Quality is one of the most important aspects of the process for Culver, who wants to benefit consumers as much as he wants to help the students. He ensures that a set of highly trusted curators look at every piece, making a decision based on skill, subject matter, and type of art. The goal is to show the public, and the art world, that great art encompasses a wide range and can just as soon be created by a student as it can an established name.

Once clients are shipped the artwork, they have seven days to make sure it’s in pristine condition and what they wanted (note: Frames are not included). In that timeframe, returns can be initiated if need be, and the buyers will receive prepaid shipping labels so that returns are as easy as the purchase was. The aim? To make living with art you love as easy as possible—a mission Culver takes very seriously.

“In this world, we are constantly digesting information,” he muses. “And human beings are built to create. So if you’re living with a piece and constantly digesting something someone else has made with his or her own hands, you grow with it, too. Living with someone else’s work really sustains that creative human ecosystem.”

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