Alicia Chen takes us inside ARTiSTORY’s artist collaborations initiative

Alicia Chen – Country Manager of ARTiSTORY’s Singapore Office and head of the artists programme – tells us about bringing artists and museums together for exciting licensing opportunities.

Earlier this year, Art and cultural IP specialist ARTiSTORY launched an artist collaborations programme.

The initiative sees artists given the chance to take inspiration from the archives of ARTiSTORY’s museum partners to create fresh artwork that can then be licensed.

Alicia Chen – Country Manager of ARTiSTORY’s Singapore Office and head of the artists programme – tells us how the initiative is going so far, and takes us inside the artists’ creative process.

Alicia, great to connect. Before we dive into the artists programme, how did you find yourself working in brands and licensing? What was your route in?
A huge part of my career has been related to B2B trading, and I was in the trade exhibition industry prior to joining ARTiSTORY. It was through a mutual friend that I met Yizan He, ARTiSTORY’s Founder and CEO, who was looking for someone to set up the Singapore office. The business model that ARTiSTORY initiated in the licensing industry, especially art IP licensing, really impressed me.

How so?
It was a fresh perspective in terms of how we could re-imagine and re-interpret classical art in today’s modern world. Artefacts are treasures of human civilization, and we now have so many more opportunities to connect with and learn about them. I once heard from someone that licensing is everything; that everything under the sun is licensable, even an idea or concept. And you are basically learning every day – new ideas, new initiatives, new concepts; we are given a lot of opportunities to try things out. It seems to me that everything is possible within the licensing industry, so long as one dares to try.

Absolutely, and speaking of fresh opportunities, ARTiSTORY has recently launched an artists collaboration programme. Talk us through what it’s all about.
It is actually an expansion of ARTiSTORY’s business model. Being a master licensee for the world’s top museums and heritage institutions, we create annually refreshed trends, themes and original designs.

“There’s nothing better than when the artist falls in love with the culture and history of the museum’s collection.”

We noticed that brands love the idea of cross-collaboration, so to add more chemistry to our business model, we started reaching out to artists, getting them to create design assets inspired by artefacts and artwork. Once our museum partners approve these designs, they can be used to develop licensed merchandise that is co-branded, such as ‘Artist x Museum’ or ‘Brand x Museums x Artist’. The artist also receives an official certificate issued by our museum partner.

The design assets are made available to ARTiSTORY’s licensees, including global consumer brands and global retailers, to use on the licensed products, product packaging, retail display and marketing materials worldwide.

Sounds really exciting, but how do the artists get to grips with your museum partners? What’s the process?
Since ARTiSTORY creates themes on an annual basis, we do a lot of research in terms of what’s trending for the upcoming year by combining trend forecast and pop culture. Most importantly, we involve the museum experts in the theme creation process. They make suggestions for relevant artefacts, which we then share with the artists. Our work with Dunhuang is a great example.

This is the Chinese city of Dunhuang, home of the Mogao caves. You represent Dunhuang through a partnership with Dunhuang Culture & Tourism Group?
That’s right, and most of the information about Dunhuang is only available in Mandarin, so it takes true collaboration by our international team. Once the artists have selected the artefacts, we share the stories and cultural significance behind them and the museum is involved in each stage of the design process.

“Everything is possible within the licensing industry, so long as one dares to try.”

It’s a unique experience, and very exciting, because when you exchange cultural experiences and knowledge, suddenly you realise there are similar stories or beliefs in different parts of the world – and the significance is identical. I think everyone involved in this project learned something.

It sounds like a fascinating process to be a part of. What do the museums make of it all? I imagine it’s exciting to see their pieces reimagined in this way.
Our museum partners love the idea, and it’s amazing not only to them but even for us. Every artist has their own unique imagination and way of understanding and interpreting. Seeing how they create their artwork and express their thoughts behind it feels like receiving a surprise gift!

For Dunhuang, we wanted to incorporate western culture, so we got both Laura and Sveta working on Dunhuang.

Yes, this is Ukrainian artist Sveta Dorosheva and British artist Laura Greenan, two of the first artists to be involved in your artist collaboration programme?
Yes. Sveta told me that she got so excited about the project, she wanted to run out into the street and tell people about Dunhuang!

A good sign!
Absolutely – there’s nothing better than when the artist falls in love with the culture and history of the museum’s collection. Creating designs inspired by culture from the east and the west was our initial objective and I’m thrilled with the results.

At the end of the day, we’re not only exploring the culture from the past, but we are developing our culture through new artistic expression and helping to tell the stories of art and artists of our time.

Absolutely. And Laura has been kind enough to send us some images so that we can see the process in action. So the first image is the original artwork – After Buildings, Cave No.217, 650-755 AD.

Alicia Chen, ARTiSTORY
Then we have Laura’s artwork inspired by that piece…

Alicia Chen, ARTiSTORY
And finally, we have your concept art for where Laura’s art could go when it comes to licensing.

Alicia Chen, ARTiSTORY
Thanks for sending us that. I think it illustrates the process perfectly. Now, we’ve mentioned Sveta and Laura, but how are you selecting artists to be part of the programme? Is it something people can apply for?

When we first started the living artist programme, I simply knocked on the doors of artists that I found interesting online. We didn’t have many requirements back then because it was considered a pilot programme. As the programme emerges and develops, we are starting to receive enquiries from artists which is exciting.

We are in talks with a few organisations in the US to develop a comprehensive collaboration for emerging artists. We also welcome artists who have an interest in working with museum collections to reach out to us.

There we go – let the floodgates open! I’m interested, while the artists are creating their museum-inspired pieces, how involved does ARTiSTORY get in the process? Do you encourage artists to go in certain directions that might suit categories when it comes to licensing? Or do you just leave them to it?
We provide support by furnishing them with helpful and relevant information. For example, with Dunhuang, we shared the significance of the artefacts and the stories behind them. Before they fire up their creativity, we give artists the freedom to choose their preferred product categories, but for a higher chance of their design getting selected by licensees, we would also share our experience and suggestions.

One final thought before we wrap things up… I’d imagine some of the work created by the artists as part of this programme could lead to an exhibition showcasing the work – maybe at one of the licensing trade shows! Would that appeal at all?
Certainly. This is the ultimate goal for all living artists, having their artwork exhibited in a museum. By working with living artists, we are proud to support them not only financially, but in developing their talent and profile too. As the importance of sustainability in the business world increases, I believe this is also a well-considered form of sustainability, which is also a priority for museums.

Great stuff. Thanks for taking time out for this Alicia – and good luck with the rest of this year’s artists collaborations programme. I look forward to seeing some of the product that emerges from it.

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