As part of our series of interviews with art start-up founders, we spoke with Bernadine Bröcker, Founder and Managing Director of Vastari, a platform connecting collectors to museums for exhibition loans. Bernadine will be a panelist at our event ‘Stories from Start-ups in the Arts’, to be held on 1st October at 6.30pm at Google Campus. Read on to learn more about the story behind Vastari.
Bernadine comes from a background in the commercial art world, part of the core team setting up an Impressionist and Modern gallery in London in 2010. She is also a scholar of art history, a graphic designer and originally trained as an illustrator.
What is Vastari and what do you do?
Vastari is an online platform designed to give collectors access to curators at major museums worldwide for exhibition loans.
I run the day-to-day operations of the business, dealing primarily with clients and museums. As I used to do a bit of web design, I also work closely with the product development team.
At a start-up, one ends up doing a bit of everything. I’ve turned into a little bit of an accountant, a fundraiser, a coder, a travel agent and a lawyer.
How did you come up with the idea for your business?
While I was managing a gallery in Mayfair, I encountered collectors who would love to lend, but didn’t know how to get in touch with museums. Curators I spoke to would like to work with private individuals for their exhibitions, but don’t have the time to research where these works have ended up.
Vastari eliminates the need for a middleman when dealing with this research for exhibitions, by providing a secure online environment for them to interact. Curators can browse through collections to find works related to their upcoming show, and collectors can upload their works knowing that they will only be contacted for exhibitions.
In this way, Vastari’s mission is also to help promote a strong relationship between the public and the private art sector, necessary for both to survive and flourish.
Who is it for?
Vastari serves two different customers:
First of all, it helps private collectors who want to share their pieces with the public and increase the exhibition history of the work and validate its provenance.
Secondly, it helps curators who are planning exhibitions and need new and exciting pieces to include in their shows.
Why is Vastari such a good idea?
Traditionally, the process of borrowing and lending private works for exhibitions has been extremely slow and tedious. Collectors lend pieces to museums in order to raise the profile of the work of art. However, the introducer is usually someone with a commercial interest in the value add of this process. Often, the whole process becomes an annoying grapevine of forwarding letters with no guarantee of success.
Through Vastari, we are bringing this to the twenty first century by providing an online platform where collectors and curators can interact directly without the need of an introducer. Curators have embraced our platform because they know the collectors have a predisposition to lend. Likewise, collectors like the fact that their privacy is protected and that they won’t be approached for sales but solely for exhibition loans.
Have you borrowed (and improved) tech that is more commonly used in other industry sectors?
When I was putting together the website, I was borrowing a lot of ideas from real estate and dating websites, funnily enough. It was helpful to see how people work with high value items like property, and unique personalities like people, when analysing how to build a search engine for art.
Also, we have observed privacy settings from financial websites, to ensure that our clients feel their works are secure on Vastari.
What type of skills do you need to develop your solutions?
The main skill you need to develop a website are persistence and patience.
It helps if everyone on the team knows how to read code, and you need someone on your team with technical prowess to ensure everything is of a right standard.
In Vastari’s case, speaking many languages is crucial to enable global reach.
How did you choose and build your team?
For product development, our team is built of an amazing ASP.NET coder with over 10 years’ experience, and a variety of freelancers who work with us on various projects depending on the needs.
Francesca joined from the British Museum in late 2012, having experienced the issues with researching privately owned works first hand.
Our team grew according to the needs of our clients, and also according to the chemistry we had when working together. You have to go through many highs and lows together so it is important to communicate and get along.
What do you think it key to drive innovation in the artworld?
We’ve come to an era in which it is imperative for those in the business to embrace technology rather than to fear or be sceptical of it. In a way, we’ve been quite lucky because more and more offline and obsolete practices are moving towards the digital, and using technology to facilitate their practices. From digital cataloguing, to online auctions and even online galleries, people understand that it is time to move the offline art market online.
What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?
Make sure you listen. To everyone.
When you have a good idea, you tend to tell everyone about it, and want to convince everyone of how important it is to the world. But the best thing you can do is hear what others have to say. Find out what is important to them, rather than to you. Find out what others did with problems in similar situations to you.
Then, take all of that information and turn it into your own. You will still sometimes reinvent the wheel and/or trip over the same rock twice, but you will be going at double the speed of any other startup.
Have you got an idea for improving how we fund, make, share and enjoy art and culture?
If I did, I would be doing it!
Just kidding – there is a lot to be done in the furthering of culture internationally. Especially with the advent of crowdfunding, image searching, image recognition software, open data and the improvement of projection hardware, the sky is the limit.
Inspired? Hear Bernadine talk further about her experience at Stories from Start-ups in the Arts.