Meet the startup that acts as an aggregator for art buying, renting, and learning
There is no better time than now to reflect upon the adage, ‘art is long, life is short’. In times of uncertainties, there is comfort in creativity. However, art commerce requires more organisation in India, and its education, more accessibility.
Shridhar N Upadhye and Sharath Narayana locked down on the twin goals of easing the discovery and purchase of art as well as solving for creative individuals looking to learn art.
Having worked for around 25 years each handling various strategic roles in the corporate sector, the duo saw art as an opportunity and launched their startup, The Living Walls, in 2019.
The Living Walls is a platform aiming to transform the art world into an organised ecosystem. The startup provides art education in the form of home-based art classes and customisable workshops. It also organises events for artists and facilitates them to use the platform to sell their art while enabling companies to rent art.
“I have been passionate about art and self-practising drawing and painting for 30 years. I always wanted to learn new art forms from expert artists but could not find any good art teachers. Also, when I was looking for customised home decor artworks, I couldn’t find any. Instead, I was forced to choose from available artworks. That is when I decided that I will solve these problems and conceived the idea of The Living Walls to be an integrator/aggregator of art ecosystem and a one-stop solution for all art-related services,’’ explains Co-founder Shridhar.
He roped in Sharath, who was his former colleague at Pearson. Sharath is also an art patron and a serial entrepreneuer with around 25 years of experience.
The current picture
The art industry in India is highly fragmented and unorganised. The art ecosystem consists of B2C customers—art learners, artists, teachers, buyers, collectors, patrons, suppliers—and B2B customers like schools, colleges, corporates, hotels, resorts, hospitals, states, government, cities and towns.
Currently, all these individual parts of the ecosystems are functioning under silos without much coordination with other parts of the ecosystem. Art education is highly unorganised and ad hoc.
"The Living Walls is integrating the art ecosystem in India to bring it together and make an impact at individual level, community level, and macro level with various public institutions,” Shridhar says.
The startup provides art lovers with access to teachers, buyers and collectors, patrons, and suppliers. It also conducts art clubs for schoolchildren in Bengaluru and will expand to other cities like Hyderabad, Chennai, and Mysuru over the next 18 months.
“Art is a great method for relaxation and stress relief. We organise many art events for employee engagement, customer engagement, stress relief, and celebrations like festivals,’’ says Shridhar.
Living Walls also enables schools, colleges, corporates, and commercial establishments like hotels, resorts, and hospitals to order art from the portal.
“Many good but unknown artists never get an opportunity to showcase their art. The Living Walls provides them a platform to showcase their skills and also sell and rent their handmade, customised art through our ecommerce platform,” says Shridhar.
Additionally, the platform also provides live training and online training. “We identify good quality art teachers and train them on multiple art forms and certify them by providing exposure, visibility, and marketing support to run their home-based art classes. This not only connects the students and teachers in a location but also largely helps in women empowerment to increase their monthly income at comfort of their home,” says Shridhar.
He adds that The Living Walls provides art therapy services as well to cancer patients. It enables art classes for patients and and helps therapists with art in the treatment of patients.
Shridhar has invested around Rs 25 lakh in the startup.
The business of art
The challenge for the startup was to change the perception of art and paint it as a business opportunity. The business model for the platform is to make money from the sale of paintings, creating art education for schools and individuals, creating a platform for teachers, and curating art events.
Till date, The Living Walls has served over 2,000 retail customers, with the age group ranging from as young as five to as old as 90. It also has over 20 B2B customers from healthcare, retail, FMCG, education, IT, and real estate sectors. Prominent ones include Amazon, Cisco, ITC, ISCKON, Pearson, Biocon, Vaya Life, Sparsh Hospitals, Portea, Confident Dental Hospitals, Deccan International School, The Executive Centre, and RMZ Galleria mall. It has over 300 artists and teachers on board.
“Our main USP is being a one-stop solution provider for all art needs. We are also specialised in creating customised artworks as per customer requirements. We are proud to be first aggregator in art ecosystem,” says Shridhar.
The startup did not want to disclose its revenue as it is still in the early stages.
It competes with Udemy and Coursera in the education side and on the corporate art side it competes with individual art curators and a highly fragmented segment.
(Edited by Evelyn Ratnakumar)