Do you ever wish you could shop for original art the way you browse Nordstrom’s website for the season’s hottest handbag? Creative personality and art aficionado Allison Williamson recognized the need for such an online art marketplace. By capitalizing on Charleston’s creative community, she created a business that brings together local artists, local charities and a far-reaching network of collectors. A percentage of each piece of art sold benefits the monthly charity partner. Today, the business has expanded beyond The Charleston Artist Collective to include The Atlanta Artist Collective, which launched in October 2014.
After graduating from Sewanee: The University of the South with a degree in art history, Allison was well-versed in the language of fine art. Several more semesters at Parsons School of Design in Paris, followed by years of managing a gallery in Park City, UT, endowed her with a keen sense of how the art world runs. It also gave her the incentive and the resources to think outside the gallery walls.
In 2006, Allison welcomed the birth of twins and returned to her hometown of Charleston, SC. There, she began helping local artists curate their own shows, and before long, she had a blossoming business doing what she loved. Congruently, Allison’s friends, family and distant contacts revealed a growing interest in collecting original art. At once, she had both the demand for affordable fine art–and the network of local artists who could supply it—and thus, The Charleston Artist Collective was born.
“I want to put art at people’s fingertips. It is so hard to make time to visit galleries. I want to capture your attention or catch your eye while you are checking your email,” Allison explains.
Think of The Charleston Artist Collective as an innovative online gallery where customers can browse locally made artworks available for purchase.
How it works:
Each month, Allison meets with the artists of the collective to determine that month’s theme. October and November, for example, were named Impressionism to Expressionism. The artists are then required to create work that somehow expresses the chosen theme. The works are featured online with prices, and patrons can add works to their shopping cart when they find a piece that suits them.
The concept has evolved into a multitiered business that is not only profitable, but charitable, as well. When you buy a work, a portion of the proceeds benefit a charity that has been preselected by the collective. Since 2009, The Charleston Artist Collective has donated a percentage of each month’s proceeds to a local nonprofit or charity, like Rural Mission, Lowcountry Open Land Trust, Charleston Moves, My Sister’s House, Meals on Wheels and many more. The amount raised from the sales is shown in tally at the top right corner of the site for the duration of the month.
The Atlanta Artist Collective also donates a portion of its monthly proceeds to local charities. For February and March, its charity partner is the Marcus Autism Center, MAC.
Ultimately, The Charleston Artist Collective is a platform upon which artists can showcase and sell their work to an engaged audience. But the collective has also changed the way artists interact with their community. It not only provides artists the opportunity to show their work outside traditional gallery settings, but also encourages artists to work outside of their comfort zone by introducing new concepts and promoting collaboration. “Artists like the idea of being part of a collective, giving back to the community and having monthly themes to make them think outside of their routines,” says Allison.
The Charleston Artist Collective has been contacted by numerous artists and charities longing to get involved. Allison has made sure that new artists are afforded the opportunity to participate, and to date, she has yet to feature the same charity twice.
Since opening The Atlanta Artist Collective last October, Allison has since received requests from people in Richmond, Nashville, New Orleans and Asheville. The Atlanta Collective uses the same concept, process and platform as its Charleston predecessor, and Allison still manages the website and assists Director, Laine Kilburn in organizing the month’s show. She’s excited by the new endeavor and is open to further growth, but she understands the need to keep the collective intimate in order to avoid sacrificing the quality of the artwork and the integrity of the business.
“I like to spend time with each of the artists,” she notes, “so [I] don’t want it to grow too big too fast.”
The Charleston Artist Collective has expanded the parameters of the gallery, and has therefore enabled artists to interact with their community in a new way. Together, the two collectives have managed to make fine art both accessible and affordable. In doing so, they have fostered a greater appreciation of original art, while maintaining a vital connection to local makers and consumers.