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Bidgala: breaking the rules of the art market

by María Escalona October 13, 2020
Bidgala: breaking the rules of the art market

Building a community for artists and entrepreneurs

“Community, empowerment and innovation,” I say to myself three times for luck after I end my interview with Sam Tenenbaum and William Lande. I repeat it as a mantra because after our talk I, as an artist, feel excited and hopeful for the future of the art world that they have helped create. Its name is Bidgala.

You may be wondering, what is Bidgala? Co-founder Tenenbaum explains it as “An online community and marketplace that empowers artists to take charge of their careers and their artwork.” What better way to describe the project than that?

Now, you may wonder where my new mantra appeared. “Community, empowerment and innovation,” the founders replied when asked what three words describe Bidgala. All of this came from the idea of bringing innovation to an (already) powerful community of artists missing a better platform to rise.

This story starts with entrepreneurs and ends with entrepreneurs supporting other entrepreneurs. Long-time friends Tenenbaum and Lande not only grew up together and with the same entrepreneurial vein in them, but also weren’t interested in 9-to-5 office jobs, like many artists feel.

They went from making profit reselling shoes, school supplies and anything they could find, as teenagers, to being students at John Molson School of Business, as young adults. They are currently finishing their undergraduate degrees, while simultaneously founding the very first business of its kind that doesn’t need another platform to stand on its own. It will certainly break all the rules of what we know of the art industry.

What do I mean by that? If artists use many platforms to sell their art already and that the “rules” are constantly changing, what new does Bidgala bring to the table, you may ask? I may respond simply by saying there was never a place where an emerging artist could be representing themselves, creating connections and a clientele, exchanging with other artists, building their brand, fulfilling their own criteria and no one else’s, and making money all in the same website. Now there is.

The project, born from this friendship, started at the beginning of 2020 as they “saw all of these artists doing what they love to do but [not] generating any income with it,” said Lande. They realized that most of their artist friends were struggling to enter the art market and sell their work because the industry is very limiting and lacks the opinions of the artist themselves. Tenenbaum and Lande decided to change that by asking them about it.

They have conducted interviews and focus groups, and research on the different social media platforms that artists currently use to promote their work in order to identify the specific needs of artists. They assert that they will continue to do so to constantly improve the experience where the focal point is the artist’s agency.

Before Bidgala, artists wanting to sell artworks outside of their immediate circle often needed an intermediary that would link the buyer to them, like galleries do. This has been changing for a few decades as a result of artists’ centers, collectives and community-based exhibitions, as well as the arrival of social media and online marketplaces like Etsy, Instagram and Facebook. Tenenbaum and Lande thought of Bidgala as an original and independent platform that creates direct communications between the artist and the buyer with all the features of a social network. Those who create can now sell their artwork from the comfort of their homes while interacting with the community.

Bidgala will officially launch for sales at the end of October but is already available for artists to create their profiles. Artists have complete control of their uploaded artworks as they decide the prices, the descriptions and the handling of the pieces, as well as the general image of their brand. The site is designed to be easy to use for both sellers and buyers, and will include features of commenting, liking, sharing, bidding, and even live chatting with agents and curators about the artworks.

The commission of 30 per cent in each sale presents a competitive and fair option, not only to artists who are often imposed a 50 per cent commission in many galleries, but also to the creators and members behind the platform.

Bidgala aims to be a safe, accessible space that welcomes every individual that wishes to interact within the community, without any restrictions or criteria. There will be a section of the website where the users can exchange, interact and learn from each other about art and all its branches, as well as special features for different communities like LGTBQ+ people, Indigenous folks, and more.

Bidgala has also been selected to be part of District 3, a program that supports and empowers initiatives that create social impact because they consider it important to contribute to causes like Black Lives Matter through events, donations and fair opportunities in the industry, as a way of giving to the community they want to help build. Pre-quarantine, the launching of the website was planned to be an event with the goal of raising funds for different groups involved in the Black Lives Matter movement. Even though the physical event was cancelled, Bidgala still plans to donate part of its commission towards this cause.

“Artists need a community now more than ever, especially with COVID,” said Lande. “Artists are one of the most powerful communities in the world and when something resonates with them, they share it,” he told me, explaining why the community aspect of Bidgala is crucial in this new system. “We wanted to give artists the tools and support that they need to follow their dreams.”

When you say “Bidgala,” that is what the future of art sounds like. Now repeat with me: community, empowerment and innovation.

Bidgala is set to launch at the end of October. Visit thebidgala.com for more information.

 

Graphic by Lily Cowper.

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