Sometimes the artist is the muse. That’s what happened during Santa Barbara’s first Startup Weekend, when entrepreneur Sky Gilbar was wandering around the Funk Zone seeking feedback for a mobile app to help sell art that he had been developing for some months. He bumped into artist Dani Swann, who encouraged him along on his project — called Artful — the eventual winner of Startup Weekend’s prize for best mobile app.
Gilbar and Artful team member Paul Filitchkin demonstrated their app at the murals on the side of the Hot Spots building in the Funk Zone. Filitchkin aimed his iPhone camera at a painting of skeletons rocking out on guitars and drums when, poof, up popped the name of the painting — “Skeleton Band” — and the name of its creator — Dani Swann. Then, poof, Swann himself appeared like an apparition in camouflage cargo shorts. (His studio is squeezed right between two murals, hidden behind a roll-up door.)
Swann, after catching up on Artful’s progress, suggested its founders change its name to World Gallery. Unfortunately, one of the downsides of the Internet democratizing the marketplace is that digital storefronts must be highly visible and — just as in online newspaper headlines — searchability takes precedence over cleverness.
Swann’s name does make sense though. Artful uses image-recognition technology to identify artwork and, most importantly, let potential buyers order prints. It takes the job of the art broker out of the gallery and gives it to smart phones anywhere in the world. See a painting at a coffee shop you like? Capture an image of it on your phone and within seconds, you can learn anything you want to know about the artist and order a print.
Who curates this expansive, borderless, international gallery? Everybody. Anyone — including artists — can upload images and information to the Artful site. With users able to crowdsource Artful’s database and communicate with each other (and post to Facebook and Twitter), the app — aside from creating a new market for artists — cultivates a community of art consumers.
Artful will make money, its six founders hope, by charging a commission on print sales and, in the process, doing nothing less than revolutionizing the art business much in the way that Napster and iTunes changed the music industry. As part of their prize, they will receive a month of office space and mentoring at the Ventura Ventures Technology Center. Being amenable to advice, Gilbar believes, has been a key to his success so far.