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Website sells student art through storytelling

Folkmade aims to solidify College Hill’s artistic community, celebrate artists’ work and stories

Resurrecting artwork pushed farther and farther into the depths of a storage locker, Folkmade displays the pieces of five artists in a setting far removed from the traditional gallery: online. The student-run marketplace, which was launched Nov. 15 and seeks to celebrate the artistic community on College Hill, features a diverse spread of works from painters, photographers, furniture designers and bookbinders.

The initiative had sold $300 worth of goods and garnered 7,000 page views as of Nov. 19, said Nicha Ratana-Apiromyakij ’15, one of the site’s co-founders, adding that every artist featured has sold at least one piece.

The website serves not only as a platform for artists to sell their work, but also as a place for them to share their stories through individual artist profiles, which include short biographies, descriptions of the art and photographs of the artists, said Fiora MacPherson ’16, another co-founder. Ratana-Apiromyakij said she hopes this storytelling strengthens the artistic community.

Folkmade was conceived after MacPherson saw the talent and energy behind student art go to waste as end-of-year cleanouts purged the campus of works that the artists could not store, she said. Her background in social innovation as a social innovation fellow at the Swearer Center for Public Service sparked the entrepreneurial side of Folkmade.

Eighty percent of artwork that Brown and the Rhode Island School of Design students produce every year gets thrown out, Ratana-Apiromyakij said. “We wanted to offer a stable, respectful open marketplace.”

An avid art fan, Elias Ellison ’17, Folkmade’s finance coordinator, said because both clients and sellers are students, the site provides a way for students to buy art within their price range. Through Folkmade, he added, students have a unified way to buy and sell local art.

Marianne Aubin Le Quere ’17, Folkmade’s web manager, double-concentrates in English and computer science. She said Folkmade combines her interest in telling stories with digital representation.

The team of eight members began planning for the site about a month and a half ago, MacPherson said. Coordinators aimed for a short timeline to launch the website this semester in order to get the word out, attract artists and build momentum, she added.

According to the website, the artist receives 80 to 85 percent of the profits, while Folkmade receives the remaining 15 to 20 percent to fund website maintenance, packaging and e-commerce. This sum also goes toward launch events, publicity and storage, Ellison said.

Folkmade stores all of the art featured on the site in a local storage space. Buyers have the choice to either pick up their purchases directly from the space for free or to have their package shipped within two weeks for a blanket price of four dollars, Aubin Le Quere said.

The website aims to emulate the feel of buying art locally, she said, adding that buying through Folkmade means the products take a direct route from artist to buyer.

Folkmade is a hybrid between Etsy’s online shopping platform and Swearer Sparks’ storytelling platform, MacPherson said. The profiles highlight the personal and cultural aspects of artwork, ensuring the work is not dissociated from the artists, MacPherson said.

“We want to approach businesses and trade with heavy emphasis on story and the people behind them,” MacPherson said. “The people they’re buying from are the girl they sit next to in class or their next-door neighbor.”

“People are more willing to buy things when they know what the person selling it is like,” said Savanah Sturm, a RISD student and one of the artists featured on the site. “It’s more of a connection.”

Sturm’s handmade sketchbooks, bound in natural materials like leather, retain an earthy feel even when translated on a computer screen. Hailing from the deserts of Las Vegas, Sturm has brought inspiration from the Native American patterns and searing heat of her hometown to her self-taught art of bookbinding.

She said she received an email through the graphic design department at RISD soliciting artists for Folkmade. Sturm, who studies photography, also displays prints of her photos for sale on the site.

The Folkmade team solicited this semester’s artists through word of mouth and email blasts, MacPherson said. Half of the artists come from Brown and the other half from RISD, she added.

The selection process for artists featured on Folkmade takes into account not only the quality of the work, but also the depth and diversity of the artists’ stories, MacPherson said. In semesters to come, Folkmade will post applications for artists who wish to be featured, MacPherson said.

“The key is to find the right people who are passionate about our project,” Ratana-Apiromyakij said.
The Folkmade team will create a section featuring alum artwork, MacPherson said. Folkmade also plans to hold launch events in the future to highlight the initiative.

To exist independently both legally and financially, Folkmade aims to register as a Limited Liability Corporation, Ellison said.
“What we’re promising the artists is that we will tell their stories,” MacPherson said. “We need an audience.”


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