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Collecteurs: Social Responsibility and Accessible Art

Category: Center for the Future Of Museums Blog

Regular readers of this blog know that I’m always on the hunt for museum-like organizations that live just slightly outside the traditional museum sphere. Such business can illuminate public demand, explore new business models, and test sustainable income streams that museums could adopt in the future. In today’s post, Evrim Oralkan tells us about one such museum-adjacent business that he and his wife Jessica founded to fill an unmet need in the art world. — Elizabeth Merritt, VP Strategic Foresight and Founding Director, Center for the Future of Museums

When an artwork is acquired by a collector, it either goes to a private home/collection space or to a storage space. There are 1.25 million artworks stored in the Geneva Freeport (a tax-free zone/storage space) alone. Considering the more than twelve other freeports and hundreds of art storage facilities globally, in addition to the works in private homes, it is certain that more than 100 million artworks are currently inaccessible to the public. If one of the most important purposes of a museum is to display objects of artistic and cultural significance for the education of the public, then there is a significant void that needs to be filled.

Together with my wife, Jessica Oralkan, we founded Collecteurs to fill this void. Developed at the New Museum’s cultural incubator, New, Inc., Collecteurs is a public benefit corporation with a mission to give the public access to the millions of unseen artworks in freeports, storage facilities, and private homes. We believe that historically important artworks are meant to be seen, experienced, and discussed.

One aspect of Collecteurs is our digital museum, The Collective Museum of Private Collections, a space for information, education, and dialogue. We make it easy for collectors to digitize, manage, and exhibit their collections, without needing the capital to open a private museum. I truly believe that bringing these unseen works out of the dark and onto the internet can have a profound impact on art students, curators, scholars, and enthusiasts all over the world. We also provide a dedicated hub for the public to view artworks using VR (virtual reality) and give audiences new ways to explore contemporary art from the comfort of their own homes. As part of our evolution, we are currently organizing our first digital exhibition, 1-31, with curator Adam Carr, and we are excited to experiment with new technologies to bring these exhibitions to a wide audience online.

Many collectors understand that they have a social responsibility to keep their art accessible, but they lack the space and the platform to do it. Even collectors who have dedicated exhibition spaces are only able reach limited local audiences. Collecteurs not only provides collectors with solutions to manage and showcase their collections, but also to reach global audiences. By fostering the cultural value of art and not just the asset value, our community of collectors are sharing their collections with the public.

We also tackle broader, art-related issues as part of our mission-driven work. This year, we partnered with activists like Noam Chomsky, Massive Attack, Nástio Mosquito, and Pussy Riot—among others—to take a stand against censorship while benefiting the free, transnational University of the Underground. We also partnered with New Art Dealers Alliance for the first New York Gallery Open, a new initiative to bring audiences into over fifty art galleries, nonprofits, and alternative spaces around New York City.

When we started Collecteurs, we didn’t think that the traditional corporate model was a good option for us because we believe that the majority of the world’s problems are caused by careless maximization of shareholder profit above all else. We briefly considered adopting a nonprofit model, but we were concerned that we would end up focusing on fundraising instead of innovating. We also realized how easy it was for major funders on the board to influence the decisions of the institution. So, for us, the nonprofit model wasn’t attractive. We ultimately incorporated Collecteurs as a public benefit corporation because we wanted to operate with the mission-driven focus of a non-profit while maintaining our independence and creating responsible revenue models. I firmly believe that the ideal model for a museum is the public benefit model and we will be seeing more and more museums taking this path in the future. We realize that we are the first museum to experiment with this structure, and we are aware of our responsibility as pioneers to help other museums understand what this legal structure entails.

As a public benefit corporation, our mission is to give the public access to the unseen works in private collections. To finance this work, we created a business model based on membership fees and revenue from services to users. Our members want a platform where they can manage not only their collection, but all the related functions such as art storage, fine art shipping, appraisals, and insurance. They also want to work with curators, collection managers, and advisors to better present their collections digitally to global audiences. To cater to this need, we are creating a social economy where collectors can hire curators and collection managers on Collecteurs. We plan to receive a commission from these transactions between our members.

We are in discussions with two of the world’s leading museums about how Collecteurs might work with them in the future. Our company can meet their desire to cultivate relationships with both established and emerging collectors. These relationships can help museums understand what the younger generation of collectors are collecting, request loans for exhibitions, and develop a gifting program.

We believe we can also help fulfill museums’ desire to reach audiences outside their own city and around the globe, by creating what is essentially a media channel for their content.  Collecteurs has over 320 thousand global followers on the web and social media, who will be the audience for content from museum members of Collecteurs, including live and recorded curator-led VIP video previews of exhibitions. We offer virtual reality exhibitions as well. In addition, any museum curator can create a free account to use Collecteurs for research.

I would love to hear from you about how a company like Collecteurs could help traditional museums expand their reach and cultivate new audiences. We are interested in collaborations and partnerships with institutions to educate audiences, create unique digital membership models and explore additional revenue models that help support museum partners as well. You can contact me at evrim(at)collecteurs.com

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