Buying art on the internet is not a new concept, but Tze Chun has brought something fresh and unique to the scene with her online art gallery, Uprise Art. The mission of the company is to make the process of collecting art easier, more enjoyable and more affordable. At their website, you can currently view the works of over 30 artists, join up to get invitations to live art viewings, and make arrangements to purchase your favorite pieces with an affordable payment plan.
It’s not surprising that Chun would end up creating an enterprise with such a fresh and inspired vision. No stranger to entrepreneurship, she is also the artistic director of Tze Chun Dance Company, which she founded in 2006. That company, currently developing new work in residence at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center, has recently completed a series of site-specific performances throughout Brooklyn as well as a tour of China during the summer of 2010.
Tze, a Massachusetts native, originally came to New York City in 2002 to attend Columbia University. A dancer as well as a visual artist, she earned a double degree in Dance and American Studies, with a focus on American Art. She also honed her entrepreneurial skills heading up a student dance organization and managing the Columbia Bartending Agency and School of Mixology, where she personally certified over 1000 bartenders (!). This kind of multi-disciplinary approach to life, art and business was fundamental in shaping her hunger to develop her own enterprises.
While there are other companies that strive to make art accessible to greater numbers of people, via rentals and affordable prices, Uprise Art embodies a unique combination of elements. They work very closely with their artists, offering them exposure by promoting their strongest work, introducing them to collectors, and assisting them with the development of their careers. On the collector side, not only do they make purchasing more doable via installment payments, but they also offer custom framing, delivery and installation.
Indeed, their formula seems to be working. Since the company’s bootstrapped launch in 2011, they have nearly tripled their roster of artists from the original 11. With one full time employee besides herself as well as a part time curatorial assistant and “awesome interns all the time,” she has recently brought on a Boston sales associate who is now helping to develop a community of collectors in that capital city.
Last year Uprise Art was chosen as one of six companies who received mentoring assistance from a dedicated team of MBA’s as part of the Columbia/NYU InSITE program and were also one of the winners of Daily Candy’s Start Small Go Big contest, where they were coached by the founders of Birchbox, Rent the Runway and Jonathan Adler. As they prepare for their first seed round, they can boast of a current exhibition at NYC’s Chelsea Market, and upcoming artist talks at a local Apple store.
It would seem that the kind of relationship-building embodying the best spirit of the social media world has been instrumental in Tze’s success. From clients and artists to patrons, businesses and other arts organizations, Uprise Art is creating the kind of lasting community bonds that offer many opportunities for growth and collaboration. Indeed, their client roster boasts as many creatives and start-up workers as it does legal and financial professionals, no doubt owing to the frequent panel appearances and networking undertaken by Tze on a regular basis. New entrepreneurs take note!
When asked about her biggest challenge, not surprisingly, she replied, finding an end to the work day. “There’s always more you could do. You can always be bigger and better.” The trick is to “work most efficiently.” For someone who loves what she does like Tze, understanding her limits and striking a balance between her business life and her personal health and social life has been key. It’s not just the number of hours you’re working, but also “the balance of the day to day and the big picture.”
She further explained, “When you’re hired for a big firm, either you’re a high level thinker or you’re someone who’s producing every day, helping with operations.” However, as an entrepreneur, “…you’re doing both.” Indeed, running one’s own company means simultaneously thinking about current operations, plans for growth and investment as well as new creative directions. The trick is always to figure out, “What’s the priority today?”
Her advice to new entrepreneurs is to not let the logistics of getting your new company started become a barrier. She sees these as research, things on a list that can be checked off – legal forms, fees to pay, bank accounts to set up – a few days worth of work. If you can knock those out of the way, you can attend to more substantive issues: “…the mental shift of being an entrepreneur, being responsible for other people, putting yourself out there… those are the big problems.”
As for rewards, Tze described the two most “overwhelmingly satisfying and rewarding” things about her work at Uprise Art. The first is seeing the headshots of all of their artists together on their new blog. The second is on their collectors page, which features photos of the artworks installed in their new homes. That right there is the thing that’s easy to forget, getting caught up in the day to day business – the fundamental thing of “bringing art into people’s lives.”
Listen to the full interview here:
Deborah Oster Pannell is a writer who specializes in the arts, culture, special events and creative & innovative projects of all kinds. As Director of Communications for the tech start-up eventwist, she also manages their blog. Some of her favorite work is featured on modernlifeblogs.com, lizkingevents.com, and her own blog, shesaysyes.wordpress.com. Currently she is preparing to launch Project Mavens, a content branding firm.