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Entrepreneurial duo launches online art community

Where Y'art entrepreneurs Catherine Todd and Colin Ferguson (Photo by Chris Jacobs)

Where Y’art entrepreneurs Catherine Todd and Collin Ferguson (Photo by Rush Jagoe)

Talk about left brain/right brain endeavors.

Emerging entrepreneurs Catherine Todd and Collin Ferguson are juggling budgets, layouts, website coding, speeches, marketing details and the million and one other details involved in launching a new and needy business.

But at heart, it’s all about the art.

A year ago, the graphic designer (Catherine) and local artist (Collin) floated the idea of an online virtual New Orleans art community, where artists could digitally hang their works and collectors browse.

Today the two are polishing their pitch for a chance at $5,000 and technical assistance from Propeller at Tuesday’s PitchNOLA entrepreneur competition.

And Thanksgiving week they launch the baby they’ve been incubating all these months: Where Y’Art, a curated digital gallery, marketplace and educational resource for artists, craftsmen and designers in New Orleans.

The idea, say the two, stemmed from the knowledge that creating good art is just the first step in becoming a successful artist.

“As artists and graphic designers, we know how hard it is to get your work out there,” Catherine says. “For most artists, it seems like a daunting uphill battle.”

“Artists tend to stop at the creative process, and don’t know how to do the rest of it — networking, building social media, marketing,” Collin agrees.

Where Y’Art gives each of its artists a virtual gallery showcasing his or her works, and explains the individual artistic process through environmental portraits, a quirky Q and A (“If your work were a song, what would it be?”), changing portfolios and a way to not only contact the individual artist, but also to find the works.

The duo knows that, sometimes, you just have to see that $2,000 oil painting up close and personally. The virtual community is meant to enhance the physical one.

“We want to facilitate a sale for the artist any way we can,” says Catherine. “We need Julia Street for the dynamic art community here. The idea is that, if we can grow the artistic community in New Orleans in any way that we can, it will help everyone.”

About two-thirds of Where Y’Art’s stable of 45 local artists are not represented by a New Orleans gallery. Admission to the site is curated, and works range from paintings to jewelry to scuplture to fashion. Finding and choosing the artists, say the creators, was a matter of “boots on the ground.”

“We look for craftsmanship, commitment, passion in their work, quality,” Catherine says.

“We went to art markets, Jazz Fest, talked to people wherever we could,” says Collin. “We started by asking a lot of questions. At first, we thought it would just be an online marketplace, but then we started hearing stories. And it blossomed into something different.”

Now, Where Y’Art offers creative services to its artists, everything from professional photography at a group rate to brand management and advice on everything from business perks like tax breaks and deductions to where to get the best shipping prices. A monthly membership fee paid by each artist supports the site, and Where Y’Art collects 9.5 percent of any work sold through the platform.

But only half of Where Y’Art targets the artist. The other half aims to interest those who simply want to admire art.

Each virtual gallery seeks to tell the story behind the artist and the pieces, “to know what makes them tick,” says Collin. Online visitors will learn, for example, that one artist once backpacked from India to England with $70 in his pocket. (You won’t learn that Collin and Catherine “switched lives” before eventually meeting — the former is from a town near Auburn, Al., and graduated from Tulane, while the latter is from New Orleans and graduated from Auburn. But that’s another story.)

Where Y’Art visitors will be able to pin favorite artworks to a personal page, creating their own virtual galleries. Art devotees can use keywords, too — “red,” say, or “Bywater” — to search for more defined interests. The idea is to pique the public’s interest in visual arts and, eventually, to turn admirers into collectors.

“The user experience will be like social networking,” Catherine says. “You can create an avatar, create your own collection – of glass artists, or Uptown artists or things that are blue, whatever. All of that will be contained within your user profile, and, as with Pinterest, say, you can share it on social media platforms with your friends.”

Audience response to works will be shared with the artists, so that eventually they can determine through analytics which works are the most popular, where their customers are from, what price point works best.

Where Y’Art intends to keep its artists local, although the founders see a potential for replicating the brand in other cities. Meanwhile, each artist has an avatar that shows his or her name, medium and the neighborhood where they work.

“We want to show tourists who come to New Orleans that art can be found throughout the city,” Catherine says.

“There has been a post-Katrina cultural renaissance in New Orleans,” Collin adds. “And the entrepreneurial community here is amazing, thriving, exciting. We have been gifted with an incredible amount of help and advice. But if we don’t create a platform to help our artists, we risk losing them.”

Where Y’Art:

Where Y’art artists: Forrest Bacigalupi of Arts Kinetic, Jonathan Bertuccelli of Studio 3, Jenn Braddock of Hootenannie, Laurel Buras, Anne Cassidy of C. Major Clothing, Naomi Celestin of ReStrung Jewelry, Karma Colby of Karma Soul International, Cathy DeYoung, Tish Douzart, Patti Dunn of Tchoup Industries, Elizabeth Eckman, Ursa Eyer, Collin Ferguson of Birds of a Feather Nola, Georgette Fortino, Becky Fos, Hayley Gaberlavage of Brio, Michael Guidry, Tracy Hamlin of Halfshell Productions, Andrew Jackson Pollock, Chris Jacob of Jacob Media Project, Arlyn Jimenez, Chris Kaiser, Hannah Lane, Avery Lawrence, Chris Lawson, Jess Leigh of Jess Leigh Jewels, Joe Lopez, Oliver Manhatan of Disaster Fashion, Andrea Mabry, Sarah Ott, Jeremy Paten, Ashley Porter of Porter Lyons Jewelry, Teri and Chad Ridgeway of Ridgewalker Glass, Kat Ryalls, Lauren Schonekas of Construct Jewelry, Milo Stephens, Catherine Todd of Mama Roux Studio, Tress Turner, Sondra Venable, Megan Victoria of Jupiter Lala, Caitlin Waugh of Paraph, Nevin Whitfield of Peter Le Plomb, Mike Williamson.

PitchNOLA: 10 semifinalists will pitch their solutions to some of New Orleans’ toughest challenges at PitchNOLA 2013: Community Solutions a competition hosted by Propeller: A Force for Social Innovation, Tulane Social Innovation Initiatives, and Tulane University A.B. Freeman School of Business.

Ten semifinalists were chosen for the chance to win a $5,000 cash prize and technical assistance from Propeller. Audience members will also vote and fund an award for “Audience Favorite.” To read a bit about all 10 semifinalists, click here.


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