AI PROFILE Making art work for artists

Patrick McCrae, founder and CEO of Artiq

The premise for Artiq was simple when it was founded: bring great contemporary art into public spaces and ensure the artists are properly paid.

The first invoice was for a princely £117, and ten years later Artiq has a multi-million pound annual turnover, ensuring a regular income for more than 300 artists by simply renting out their art and having their work seen.

Patrick McCrae, 31, had been brought up surrounded by art: his mother and brother are both artists, his grandfather was one, and his father ran cultural businesses (later he became Artiq’s finance director). “I would see art shown by the owners of space which was a benefit to them and to the public who enjoyed, it, but the artist was simply allowed to keep whatever money he got if he was able to sell anything” he says. “It was very unfair.”

The business he started as an undergraduate in his bedroom in the family home in the Cambridgeshire village of Harston was born out of sense of despair - “My main motive was to get a job for myself, and maybe make jobs for other people later on” he says - while he worked part-time in a fish and chip shop (the Sea Tree, also an early client), and that first invoice was for three prints to adorn the local village pub, the Queen’s Head. It was just after the credit crunch, in the depth of the Great Recession that followed it. 

Artists very rarely get a stable income, McCrae says, so the setting up of Artiq was to bring a stable and regular income to artists, while at the same time unlocking the corporate sector – “which is doing much better now than it was in 2008-9.”

Seventy per cent of artists are paid nothing unless they make a sale, he says, but Artiq is able to ensure an income of £8,000 to £12,000 a quarter by showing their in public spaces, office blocks, hotels and even private homes. If the artist actually sells a piece in the process it’s a bonus, but the Artiq income allows them to make art exclusively without taking second and third jobs to supplement their income. Over the last decade the company has passed more than £5m on to its artists, three-quarters of that in the last three years.

From his Harston bedroom, Artiq has grown to a complement of 28 with offices in London’s Whitechapel, though the artists they serve come from 17 countries and 35% of the business is overseas. The team is divided fairly evenly between rental and consultancy. When he began he had little first-hand experience. But now the Artiq executives are art history gradates many of them with histories in museums, galleries and auction houses, and all the depth of knowledge that goes with such provenance. In 2017  McCrae was voted Creative Industries Entrepreneur of the Year at the NatWest Great British Entrepreneur of the Year awards.

The rental operation is devoted to finding and recruiting artists, and to meeting the requirements of the space owners that want to show art without having to buy it. Typically, the leases are for six to 12 months, and many of the clients have changing exhibitions – at Gleaneagles Hotel in the Scottish Highlands an Artiq team of experts spends several days a year in the nearby village of Auchterarder as they work on a rehang. The Gleneagles has two kilometres of corridors in which art has to be hung, while another client, the Hilton Imperial in Dubrovnik, has over 2,000 works of art on its walls.

The task of the consultancy side of the operation is to find the clients, and the spread of sectors in which Artiq is working now is what has allowed it to be successful. The first year’s turnover was £12,000 and it has since grown at a rate of 20% a year to be worth now, McCrae says cagily, “several millions”.

Many of the artists are young, and Artiq has an annual Graduate Art Prize, now in it's a seventh year, which invariably throws up new talent for the company to take forward. “We do a lot of exhibitions here that are public facing, five or so a year, and the arts team goes to galleries, shows, exhibitions, and every single degree show. The art prize is very important, with applications this year from as wide a range as Glasgow and Belfast down to Portsmouth” McCrae says. This year's winner was Betty Leung of Camberwell College of Art.

Serving its clients does not always mean their requirements are for living artists, and Artiq has partnership agreements with such institutions as the V&A, the British Museum, the National Portrait Gallery and the Getty Foundation, whose print sections are an almost infinite treasury.

The clients are no longer simply art patrons, and the days of simple business sponsorship are long gone. “Dealing with clients means battling against a lot of other pushes and pulls in the business world” McCrae says. “The market has changed in ten years, and now there’s more acceptance both in business and in the public of the value of art to well-being. So it’s all about asking them why they would want to lease art rather than, say, paying their staff more money.

“All clients are patrons of the arts, for sure, but giving back to arts is not the only reason they work with us” he continues. “So we try to build a business base as to why they should work with us - employee well-being, programming for clients, helping to tell their story”. Investec, the South African bank now based in the UK, has created a collection in its offices that tells the story of the brand in its sixth floor clients’ suite through 14 pieces, and other works of art are spread throughout the offices.  

Artiq is also devoted to correcting biases against LBGTQ+  artists – a quarter of  the staff identify as that - and last year instituted its first Queer Frontiers exhibition which this year raised £27,000 for charity. “It was and is important to show queer and allied artists to an audience who wouldn’t otherwise have seen their work – from Brazil, Spain, Holland, Canada, it’s very important that the collection is international” McCrae says. “More can and should be done, there are still horrific stats of murders in the trans community globally - some countries still execute people for being gay - so a lot still needs to be done, and Artiq is doing it's little part”.

Brexit, as for so many in the arts, scares him. About 40% of the artists Artiq works with are non-British and the proposed requirement for a minimum annual income of £30,000 would exclude many of them. If World Trade Organisation rules are applied, he says, art prices will rise by 20% immediately, and if the creative industries are to continue to operate as they do the visa system will need to be flexible for visual artists. “More attention needs to be paid on how and how we can attract creative talent internationally – 30-40% is standard for non-British employees in the creative industries”.

Yet despite dangers visible on the political horizon, the need to support artists is acknowledged within the sector, and Artiq is a pioneer in a handful of like organisations, a group that is thankfully growing.

“If we aren’t giving sustainability to this part of the art world, then the people who break through are only those who can afford to” McCrae says “and we’d be losing the talent that can’t afford to do it. I’d worry about the future of culture if that was the case.” 

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