Paul Becker is an artrepreneur. He started his own business, 10 Group, many years ago and now he’s got another major effort going on. It’s called, “Art Money.” What is Art Money? And … more importantly, how is Paul Becker helping to change the contemporary art game for everyday people? Read our cool chat and find out …
“… I'd like to think that we are facilitating increased engagement with contemporary art … The art world can be intimidating and often perceived as only for the very wealthy or the educated few - for someone else. I would like art to be seen as ‘normal’ ... This doesn't mean ‘dumbing it down,’ it just means making it more accessible …”
MICHAEL: Hello Paul, Nice to be chatting with you. Let's jump right in. What is Art Money? Also, what are you exactly? An art dealer? Curator? Businessman? Frustrated artist?
PAUL: What is Art Money? The formal answer is, “An interest free loan to buy art.” The less formal answer is that we are changing the way people buy art.
MICHAEL: How so?
PAUL: I believe we are facilitating positive culture change which will support and grow this industry - creating ways for more people to enjoy the benefits of engaging with art and culture.
And what am I? My kids ask me that all the time. Certainly not an art dealer or curator! And definitely not an artist, although I very much believe anyone can be creative. A few media people have used the label ‘cultural entrepreneur’ and I suppose that's something I've grown comfortable with. On the other hand, I've had my own business (10 Group) for 25 years now in arts publishing and events.
MICHAEL: Interest free loans to buy art? Wow, even I find that pretty risky. How's that working? You must be a super-rich guy who doesn't have to worry about an occasional bad loan here and there. No? I mean, the banks don't even want to lend money and they're charging BIG interest rates!
PAUL: Ha! Funny and ironic. No I'm not a super rich guy, just one who believes the art world can be a better place for everyone - artists, gallerists and buyers.
It works like this - we partner with galleries to make the loan interest free for the buyer. We receive a discount from the gallery which enables us to make the loan interest free. We pay the gallery within 10 days so they have the cash up front and are able to pay the artist immediately. The customer/buyer/collector gets to take the work home immediately and we take the risk on the client.
Because we are an art business and not a bank (!) we are backing the quality of the person buying the art. We are a responsible lender and we do have eligibility criteria, but it's a simple online application.
It's all completely transparent - it's in our FAQ's here https://www.artmoney.com/au/faqs# (Q: Who pays if the loan is interest free?)
MICHAEL: I can certainly see how this formula works for everyone involved. Yet Paul, as you know, some people would argue that this practice perpetuates art as commodity ... and it keeps people thinking of art as a luxury investment rather than something to appreciate purely for art's sake alone. What do you think about this?
PAUL: I would argue the opposite.
This makes art affordable for all and helps dispel the outdated notion that art is only for the rich. That broadly held misconception is what gives art a bad name and prevents many people from discovering the rewards - personal, cultural and intellectual - of engaging with art.
Only if you believe art should never be for sale, can you argue that art should not be ‘commodified.’ Then your argument is that it should remain the exclusive realm of church, state and wealthy patronage. ‘Commodified’ is a loaded term, but affordability does not mean ‘dumbing down.’
As a practical example, if a person loves an artwork and is keen to pay $750 for it, to have that work in their life, supporting the artist in doing so, we want to support their ability to do that. That's not ‘commodification’ nor ‘art as a luxury investment.’
If you believe that art should be available for everyone to enjoy and that artists as creators have the right to earn income from their pursuits (which I certainly do), then in today's world, art is sold and it is part of a modern creative economy. I don't see anything wrong with that.
Selling art puts food on the table of artists and just as importantly for the artist, making a sale gives them an endorsement of their work - someone likes it enough to pay for it!
Additionally, the vast majority of gallerists are passionate small business people who are trying to support their artists - no one is in this industry simply for the money.
PAUL: So that's the modern art eco-system, for better or for worse. I happen to believe that a whole lot more people would like to engage with art, but don't know how and find it too hard. This industry ‘inefficiency,’ if you like, is stopping more people from connecting with the art world and preventing everyone - buyer, artist and gallery - from achieving their mutual goals. I'm trying to do something about that.
MICHAEL: You certainly are. How did you become an artrepreneur? Were you previously an artist or businessman? Were you a collector who wanted to do more? What led up to where you are now?
PAUL: Love “Artrepreneur.” Can I use that?
PAUL: Well, I'm not an artist and I don't consider myself a ‘collector’ although I do love art and buy some things I love, so I guess that leaves ‘businessman.’ People contribute to their community in different ways and I suppose I see an opportunity to make a positive contribution through improving the art market side of things, which is my area of experience.
The background to this has been through art publishing and events, which my business 10 Group still does in Australia, where we have sought to increase engagement with contemporary art, particularly in growing demand in the primary market.
As I mentioned before, this comes from a belief that the art market is not as efficient as it should be, with both sides - buyers/collectors on one hand, artists/galleries on the other - wanting to engage with each other, but the prevailing cultural and market conditions not making that as easy as it should be.
It sounds a bit economic and dry, but the bottom line is I think we can increase demand in the art market, which will benefit artists, the industry, and the cultural landscape.
MICHAEL: And so, how's Art Money doing? How are you measuring its success? Is it through the number of loans you make or the amount of money you lend or the money paid back? Also, despite Art Money's efforts to promote investing in and appreciating art, aren't you still up against people who'd rather buy a new computer or car? That's nearly everyone.
PAUL: Art Money is going well, thanks for asking. What’s pleasing is that it really is a win/win. Artists love it, galleries love it and buyers love it.
Of course, we have our business metrics around the loans, however the most pleasing aspect is the positive impact on the art market we seem to be making. For example, around 25% of buyers say it’s the first time they have bought a work from a commercial gallery. And 95% of all customers, including regular collectors, say the availability of the interest-free loan either influenced or enabled their purchase. So we feel we are enabling more people to buy art - the art they love and support artists and galleries in the process.
MICHAEL: Do you see any differences in the ways Australians, Americans and Europeans view and regard art?
PAUL: Essentially not. I think people are people. Having said that, I think there is a greater cultural context in Europe (certainly more-so than in Australia), which means more people are predisposed to engage with contemporary art.
MICHAEL: Wouldn't it make more sense to operate Art Money in Europe since people there are more predisposed to engage with contemporary art? I mean, doesn't it feel like you're trying to create demand for art by encouraging people to consider loans? It's like doing double duty as a salesman. You must convince people to take out a loan AND buy art? Isn't that a pain in the ass? Seriously.
PAUL: Well that would be a ‘preaching to the converted’ mentality, which may indeed make good commercial sense. However, I feel addressing the pent up demand of people who want to engage with art, but find it too hard or don’t know how, is the big game-changer here. I’m interested in facilitating cultural change and helping make contemporary art more accessible to more people. I’m not forcing or convincing people to buy art and/or take out a loan. We are merely an enabler - making it easier and more affordable for people to do what they want to do.
MICHAEL: What kind of cultural change are you facilitating? What would you like to see and what role does art play in this cultural change?
PAUL: I'd like to think that we are facilitating increased engagement with contemporary art. I believe there is huge pent up demand for this. The art world can be intimidating and often perceived as only for the very wealthy or the educated few - for someone else. I would like art to be seen as ‘normal’ - very much a part of people's everyday cultural, creative and social world. This doesn't mean dumbing it down, it just means making it more accessible.
PAUL: For me, exposure to contemporary art encourages a creative way of seeing, of thinking - which is now being recognised as essential in areas ranging from business and innovation to empathy for those in society who may be different to us. A vibrant creative culture can and should lead a country in its attitudes and its thinking.
I believe art is vital in sustaining a richer, broader, diverse society capable of critical thinking. Impossible to measure, but it makes a vital difference.
MICHAEL: I could not agree more. Thanks Paul, great chat and I love your business model.