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The art website Minds Island (www.MindsIsland.com) was established by Betsy Davison and Heidi Coutu in 2000 with the purpose of creating an online marketplace for independent artists.
A collection of individual virtual studios, Minds Island is designed to provide artists with a one stop destination to promote and sell their artwork to both trade and consumer art buyers. A basic Minds Island studio offers:
Artists can purchase a studio via an annual Charter membership fee of $49.95. This price will be offered until membership reaches 500, at which time the cost of a basic studio will increase to $7.95 per month. At press time, over 300 artists have already subscribed.
Minds Island members are not charged any sales commissions, and have no exclusivity agreements, and there is no minimum purchase requirement. The site can be browsed alphabetically by artist or by media, from paintings, printmaking, photography, and sculpture to digital art, functional art, drawings, and mixed media. Minds Island also features educational articles, discussion groups, and information about various art leagues, groups, and shows.
As membership approaches its benchmark of 500, the web site is planning to increase both its profitability and its audience by building an infrastructure with expanded e-commerce capability, a trade membership base, and collaborating with industry vendors. Businesses partnering with Minds Island will have the opportunity to sell their products and services to the site's members. Several are already on board, including Hartford Fine Art Framing, East Hartford, CT, Legion Paper, and NY Central Art Supply, both in Manhattan. Rather than charge a fee for obtaining space on the site, Minds Island and its vendors will equally benefit from sales through revenue sharing. The site intends to service 10 to 15 businesses in this capacity. Once the membership goal for artists is achieved, in addition to the increase of Minds Island's basic membership to $7.95 per month, for an annual fee of $95.40, an Enhanced Studio option displaying 12 images will also be available for a monthly rate of $9.95, a cost of $119.40 per year. Members can also purchase extra studio space, in sets of six, for $20 per year.
Recently, the company formed an alliance with Bankcorp.com, a Philadelphia-based bank created to specifically service the financial needs of Internet companies. Their agreement authorizes Minds Island to act as a merchant bank for its members, enabling them to accept payment via the credit cards Mastercard and Visa. "Most artists can't afford to have a credit card machine, because in addition to purchasing the equipment there is a monthly rental fee and charges each time it's used," says Ms. Davison.
Members desiring this service can purchase the Premium Studio package, priced $24.95 per month which displays 12 images and accepts Mastercard and Visa, both online and offline.
Trade Membership will offer art consultants, galleries, corporate art buyers, and independent dealers the opportunity to purchase artwork directly from the artist. For an annual cost of $199.95, trade members will have access to a premium search engine which can find and retrieve artwork according to these specific parameters:
After selecting images, dealers can input them into professional, printable templates for client presentations. "Minds Island is essentially a business marketing tool. It offers art consultants and dealers an electronic portfolio, a virtual slide catalogue," says Ms. Davison.
Development While painting Ms. Davison's portrait, Ms. Coutu, an award winning professional artist and corporate art consultant, shared her insights and frustrations regarding the art world with her subject, a businesswoman with a strong management and organizational background.
They formed a partnership and established HC Davison Editions in 1998 to publish and market Ms. Coutu's artwork as limited edition gicl__e prints. A year later they launched Heidi Coutu.com, an online gallery/ shop site featuring Ms. Coutu's originals and prints.
While creating and launching HeidiCoutu.com, the partners recognized the great potential the Internet possesses as a means for artists to promote and sell their artwork. "We had a business model focusing on one artist, and we thought, what if we put many artists at the center, offering each an opportunity to show their works, and creating an online community of artists?" says Ms. Davison, describing Minds Island's birth.
The company's prototype, featuring its membership cost, no commissions and no exclusivity, was test marketed at Artexpo New York in 2000. Responses were positive, and following the show Minds Island was formally incorporated as an LLC with a business plan focusing on:
After securing the financial support of private investors, Minds Island raised $400,000 between March and August of 2000 to prove its viability to its backers. "It was difficult since we launched Minds Island two weeks prior to the first dotcom crash," says Ms. Coutu. "But, I think people invested in Betsy and me__"in our abilities."
The Minds Island Team While a mutual love of art brought Ms. Davison and Ms. Coutu together as business partners and friends, their different skills have made Minds Island a company which appreciates creativity, but recognizes the various elements necessary to successfully run a business. Ms. Coutu acts as Minds Island's artist liaison while Ms. Davison handles the financials and attends to business administration.
Key additional members of the Minds Island team are financier and investment banker Van Gothner, a member of the company's Board of Directors who brings expertise in advising companies entering new markets. Art consultant Carla Santia serves as Minds Island's direct link to the art business community. With over 20 years as an art consultant in New England, Academic Marketing Director Lesly Reiter, and Maria Russell in Artist Relations complete the team.
Atomic Fridge Minds Island selected the web developers Atomic Fridge, a Manhattan-based boutique wed development firm helmed by Gabe Evans and Jeremy Seitz to design their site. After their first meeting, Atomic Fridge signed on immediately, as they found Minds Island's combination of business and art appealing. Says Mr. Evans, "Art plays a significant role in our design concepts, and it's also present in our office," noting that sculpture, drawings, and photography grace their work space. "We also realized that unlike a lot of dotcom companies, they had a solid business plan in place and that there was a sturdy foundation supporting an innovative idea," says Mr. Seitz__"so much so that as a portion of their payment, Atomic Fridge accepted equity in Minds Island.
In June 2000, Minds Island entered its initial "Discovery" period during which a road map for the site was developed. In December 2000 the site entered its "Strategy" phase and consulted with a market research firm to help determine what features should be implemented based on the audience being targeted.
Actual site construction began in the spring of 2001. Two elements were central to the site, ease of navigation and aesthetics."We wanted to make sure that artists had the ability to self manage," says Ms. Coutu.
It was also important that it could accommodate both Macintosh and PC computers, as well as various computer ages and speed. "It had to load quickly," she adds. "A web site only holds a person's attention for eight seconds before they move on."
Minds Island members can modify their studios, and upload and change their images in five steps:
Minds Island is hosted by Atomic Fridge via two servers in Manhattan, one for primary use and one for back-up. Using a high speed Internet connection, these servers are connected to Minds Island's office in Springfield, MA, where the staff has the ability to change or update any studios or features which are automatically input and copied onto the Manhattan browsers.
An extensive back-up system is also in place, to protect against viruses and hackers. As mainly images, which do not usually carry viruses, are uploaded, the risk of getting one is minimal, but as a precautionary measure, Atomic Fridge implemented a firewall. A "roll-over" process is also in place. If a server should crash, the second immediately picks up. "In essence, the back up server is a duplicate, it acts as a mirror," explains Mr. Evans.
In the summer of 2001 Minds Island launched a rough site offering company information, some brief articles, and examples of member studios. That September the member site went live. Since its launch, Minds Island has received over 2.5 million hits, and represents artists from all over the world including Belgium, England, Ireland, Croatia, Italy, Russia, Canada, Sweden, Israel, Hungary, Germany, and Lebanon.
"We really want to impact independent artists," says Ms. Davison. "The Internet empowers artists to get their message out; once their art is seen, good things happen."
To reach Minds Island visit: www.MindsIsland.com, or telephone (866) 871-2481.
This article was contributed by Joelle Blaskey, http://www.artworldnews.com">Art World News