Matthew Burrows is the man behind the the Artist Support Pledge. It came at the right time. Just as the nation was beginning to come to terms with Covid-19. The lockdown badly affected the arts. Exhibitions closed, shows cancelled and work dried up almost overnight.
For many artists this was a difficult time. Often relying on a regular pipeline of work. This was no longer something that could be assured. Matthew Burrows was in the same boat. Plans were suddenly put on hold or even cancelled altogether. With no certainty about when they might be re-established.
Video Interview with Artist Matthew Burrows
The Artist Support Pledge is simple. Sell up to £1000 worth of work at no more than £200 each time. Then pledge to buy another artists work for £200. By doing so it creates a micro economy that keeps giving back and putting in. From an initial idea it has grown to over 250,000 posts on instagram. For many artists uncertain of income it’s become a lifeline.
It was born out of desperation. A urgent realisation that as things closed down life could well begin to get very difficult. This was not only true for his own livelihood but, in hearing stories from friends in the arts, theirs too. “I just thought I’ve got to do something and I’ve got to do something radical and I’ve got to do it now” he says. “Not tomorrow, not next week or spending time thinking about it. It’s got to be done today”.
The Artist Support Pledge
What become the Artist Support Pledge was born out of a small list on a piece of paper. Having decided that he needed to do something, Matthew put together a list outlining his own assets. “I only got two” he laughs. The first was artwork and “artists tend to have a lot of that”. Followed by “a culture of trust and generosity”. These two elements from this small list would form the core of the pledge. You sell your art but in doing so you buy into that culture.
Culture of Trust and Generosity
Trust as a core element was particularly key. Selling online direct to buyers means that both the buyer and the seller have to trust in good intent. Likewise, as this is a pledge, there is trust there that the artist will then fulfill their pledge to buy another artists work for £200. There is no policing of this, indeed that would defeat the point. This is about creating a culture where the propensity to trust is the norm.
Generosity came next. Art must be sold at no more than £200. This levels the playing field and creates a range of affordable artworks. Artists whose work might normally fetch more in the gallery would be committing to only selling for that price. That fact that at some point they themselves would then buy work from someone else only cements this underlying principle. Generosity is key in order to get the market moving and generally streamline the process.
All this is then underpinned by the artwork. Some artists sold existing stock, some put out editions. Others created new work and a number took commissions based on the principle of the pledge. All were advertised on instagram with buyers able to follow the #artistsupportpledge hashtag. The resulting interest created whole extra market worth of sales. Buyers too found themselves discovering new artists because of the immediate and visual nature of the platform.
Connectedness seems to have been a factor in terms of it’s growth. The fact that given the platform and the direct nature of it, buyers were able to connect on a deeper more personal level with the artist themselves. “They just loved it” explains Matthew. “Loved the culture, they loved the ethos, they loved the message of hope. They bought in completely to the community”. Messaging directly allowed for deeper conversations to go on and as such a deeper bond between the buyer and the artist.
Change in the Game
“So many people say to me, how did you come up with this. Like it was rocket science. Like I’d just reinvented the wheel” laughs Matthew. “I look back now and it just seemed very straightforward at the time. But now I think it was a really elegant set of solutions. Not just because the economy of it is very simple. But the ethos of it matches the economy”.
Social media and the way it work was, perhaps not surprisingly, key. This was especially true given that it was all happening on instagram. Many other factors would also play a part in what became a perfect storm of an idea. Covid-19 itself and the sense of urgency generated by it being one. But also Matthew says “the gatekeepers left the gates”. Meaning that a mindset shift was taking place in terms of the ‘rules of the game’. A change of thinking around how “we behave as artists and buyers”. It remains to be seen how much of this change will stick.
Matthew Burrows is the founder of the Artist Support Pledge. He was interviewed as part of the Art Online series which explored creativity during lockdown.