When normal life came to a ‘halt’ last year and lockdowns were imposed around the world to curtail the spread of Covid-19, art institutions, museums and galleries had to temporarily close their doors and shutter exhibitions. Artists globally did not remain unaffected by this, as the abrupt closures meant they were left with no spaces to showcase and sell their work. As the world began settling into ‘the new normal’ institutions turned their attention online with virtual exhibitions and viewing rooms while ramping up their digital marketing efforts. Artists on an individual level also had to come up with creative ways to get their work in front of people, with most resorting to social media.
Amidst the changing landscape, art lovers Katerina Patsalidou and Mikaella Melanidou came up with an idea that would not only respond to the challenges posed by the pandemic, but could also offer viable solutions to emerging artists trying to make a living from their art practice and to art enthusiasts in search of affordable art. The idea started with an Instagram account that featured the work of artists from all over the world to a gradually growing audience, and last March, it assumed its full form with the launch of the Visual Space platform.
The online platform consists of an e-commerce store with a brilliant selection of affordable artworks and a blog with interviews of the artists, focusing on their background and work process. At the moment, it is also hosting a beautifully curated virtual exhibition that features a diverse selection of 25 artists. (Check it out here!)
Katerina and Mikaella talked to us about the platform, how they brought together their knowledge and expertise to make it happen, their thoughts on art going virtual and the importance of social media to artists today.
‘We are doing our best to promote the artists we are representing as well as other international artists, through our Instagram stories, blog interviews and day to day posts. In this way, people from all over the world have the chance to meet new emerging and early career artists every day. ‘
How did your combined background and work experience inform the decisions you made for Visual Space? Has the vision changed at all from the original idea?
Mikaella: My background includes a bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts as I am an artist myself, and my Master’s degree is in Art and Design History focusing on Politics of Design and Contemporary art. As we are both from artistic backgrounds, we always find more creative ways to promote our artists and it helps more with the communication between us.
Katerina: My Master’s degree is in Arts and Cultural Management which is about how arts organisation operate (Arts management, marketing etc.) The way we work is that usually Mikaella makes the artistic decisions and I make the business decisions, but we always give advice to each other.
The vision has always been to promote high-calibre emerging and early-career artists through the Visual Space platform. However, as a startup, things constantly change and you have to keep trying to find out new ways to make it work and succeed. Two things we always ask ourselves is “Does this work?” and “Why?”. Sometimes you have to take a step back and see the bigger picture. Things that don’t work out, you just have to let go of and move forward. The vision remains the same, but the strategy constantly evolves.
One year after first starting Visual Space, what do you think was the impact of the platform? How do you see it progressing?
Katerina: Although the idea of Visual Space came up in March 2020, we officially launched in March 2021! We joined the startup programme of IDEA CY which is a non-profit organisation that supports startups in Cyprus. Through mentoring, consultations and training, we gained a lot of skills and insight into how an idea turns into a business. One of our objectives is to collaborate with other art professionals, businesses, and of course, artists. As a platform, our main focus is to grow.
Mikaella: We are doing our best in promoting the artists we are representing as well as other international artists, through our ‘get to know’ Instagram stories series, blog interviews as well as day to day posts. In this way, people from all over the world have the chance to meet new emerging and early career artists every day.
Do you think digital exhibitions could one day make physical galleries and museums obsolete?
Katerina and Mikaella: In our view, online exhibitions are not here to ’replace’ physical exhibitions, but rather they act as an alternative option and provide a different experience to the viewer. Physical exhibitions are necessary to the world and will always exist, but through technological advances now one can visit an online exhibition from another country, or they may feel too ‘intimidated’ to enter a physical gallery, or they might be only interested in one work and would rather see it online. It’s not one or the other, the market can be a hybrid model.
How important is online exposure and utilising social media for artists nowadays?
Katerina: Nowadays, it’s extremely crucial to have an online presence. So many people can connect with you through social media, and if you handle things well, so many work opportunities can come up!
Mikaella: It is also really important to meet other international artists and follow their journey through social media that might end up in a future collaboration!
What would you recommend as key elements for successful social media branding for artists? Is there a secret to balancing online and offline work?
1. Be active on social media and post frequently
You can show the process of your work, talk about it in your stories or do reels! You can take photos of small details of your unfinished painting or even ask people about what they prefer to see more of in polls. There are a million ways to connect with your audience, but you need to stay active to build one.
2. Connect with other art professionals
‘Like’, ‘comment’ or even reach out to other artists whom you admire for their work.
Show them your admiration or share a few good words and this can go a long way. Connecting with other art professionals can eventually open up doors for you and you may end up collaborating with someone that you met on Instagram!
3. Promote yourself!
Which galleries represent you? Do you have an exhibition coming up? Do you have a website? List everything in your bio on Instagram and on your Facebook page/Twitter. Have your email address there so that people can reach out to you for work opportunities. You can even send out invites to other art professionals on social media or via email in order to see your work and in the future, they may want to collaborate with you! It’s all about opportunities to promote yourself and to put yourself out there!
In the future, what developments are you hoping to see in the Arts industries in Cyprus?
Katerina: If we aim for long term results, I hope that our educational system as a nation will start to take more seriously subjects such as art history. Children and teenagers will learn from a young age how important the arts are and our culture will flourish.
Mikaella: As an artist living in Cyprus, I believe is very important for creatives to team up together and create a collective where young artists, curators and art lovers will be able to collaborate and bring the art scene in Cyprus to life.
Katerina and Mikaella brought their vision into life and apart from giving artists an important tool to support themselves, they managed to create an engaged community of like-minded people who inspire each other daily, all the while celebrating art and the escapism it has to offer, more so in these strange times. There’s no doubt that art and culture will continue to evolve with changing times and technologies, and platforms like Visual Space are a vital source of hope for what’s to come in the future.