South Australian online art startup Bluethumb has raised $1 million in a Series A round led by QUT Creative Enterprise Australia (CEA) and Grand Prix Capital, which will go towards expanding out the business’s Indigenous Art Centre outreach program and developing new features for the platform.
Beginning its journey in 2009, Bluethumb is a platform which allows artists around Australia to showcase and sell their work online; it launched a program aimed at onboarding Indigenous art onto the platform following a $500,000 raise in 2015.
As Bluethumb cofounder Edward Hartley explained, the program works through Bluethumb sending out expert art curators connected to the Indigenous art space out to remote communities to speak to the local artists and art centre employees about how to sell their work online.
“It sort of evolved over time,” said Hartley.
“We started looking at our art on Bluethumb and realised we were sort of light on Indigenous art, so we started conducting research and realised that although Indigenous artists are often in remote locations, the way the industry has evolved, with art centres supporting large numbers, it was potentially something we could actually access and help.”
Help, according to Hartley, would put Indigenous artists on the map through the distribution opportunities available via Bluethumb, while on the flip side providing collectors with “unique and iconic” Australian artwork.
“It’s also a brilliant export opportunity going down the track,” he added.
The startup trialled the concept with a few Indigenous art centres and, seeing success, and moved to create an exclusive digital space on the platform to feature digital art from centres.
Hartley said the funding will help forward Bluethumb’s “on the ground” approach to educating Indigenous art centres about how to get their communities artwork online.
“It’s all about getting on the ground and helping them with the initial signup, and showing them really how easy it is to use,” he said.
“I guess coming up in person and being on the ground gives a more personalised service and really gives them a chance to flourish.”
Speaking about the program, Lauren Hicks, Arts and Culture Officer at Injalak Arts, a centre utilising Bluethumb, said it serves as a way to solve the disconnect between remote artists and buyers.
The art gallery, which is located within Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory, is often blocked off from buyers and tourisms during the wet season, rendering in-person sales near impossible.
“Being so remote, it is often difficult for art tourists and collectors to come out and see the artwork in person. We have some amazing indigenous artists working with us and it is great that we can help get their art out there and appreciated by more people in the off season,” she said.
Part of the funding will also go towards building out the platform, which Hartley said will come in the form of finalising a new feature that allows galleries to upload their featured artists work online for sale.
Also in the pipeline for Bluethumb is developing advice AI and machine learning to help guide buyers towards artwork they’re interested in.
“If you think about Bluethumb and what we have…putting the right artwork in front of people and helping them explore their own interest is critical. It’s not like retail sites where you have twenty products and you pick from one of 20. [But] those advancements take a lot of investments from the development side,” said Hartley.
Image: Edward & George Hartley. Source: Supplied.