7 Questions for Entrepreneur Bryan Verona on His Mission to Get Art Out of Storage and Onto Walls

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Founded by Bryan Verona and Jeff Keswin, Up My Art is a vanguard platform that aims to not only make living with incredible art more accessible, but also to make exhibiting art that would otherwise be locked away in storage easier. Through a peer-to-peer lending network, Up My Art lets you browse collections of artworks—from both emerging as well as blue-chip artists—and choose what best suits your needs, whether it be decorating a new home or upscaling a corporate office.

By matching lenders and borrowers, and facilitating all the details such as insurance, transportation, and white-glove installation, art collectors can tap into a new type of value in the work that they own. This is particularly valuable for collectors, or even institutions, that have an excess of work that resides in storage; rather than be secreted away, there is an opportunity to get the work out in the open and appreciated.

We caught up with Verona to learn more about what inspired the launch of Up My Art, and how the platform can not only help lenders and borrowers but artists as well.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, (1863). Currently available for rental with Up My Art. Courtesy of Up My Art.

Can you tell us a bit about your background, and what initially inspired you to found Up My Art? In what ways has the platform evolved since then?

Up My Art (“UMA” for short) lives at the intersection of both my career and personal interests. My job involved investing in bonds, which are essentially instruments that pay the owners a current yield on their investment. Furthermore, I have collected contemporary art with my wife since I moved to New York to begin my career. UMA lives at this intersection because a fixed asset, like art, can earn a yield. This is an entirely innovative concept in this asset category.

The initial inspiration for UMA occurred as I was walking around Chelsea with my soccer friend, Jeff Keswin, looking at art for his new apartment. He was searching the primary and secondary markets for art that was meaningful to him and that fit in the spaces he’d created, even as he felt some pressure to find appropriate solutions in a constrained timeframe. At one point, Jeff half-seriously asked me if I had some art he could just use, temporarily. I did. I sent Jeff a list of art in storage I was willing to share. I (secretly) wanted to charge Jeff for the work. And Jeff (secretly) was willing to pay. And, so, along the streets of Chelsea, Up My Art was born.

We’ve evolved the UMA platform substantially, building on that initial, admittedly playful flash of brilliance. We’ve been pleasantly surprised at the willingness of people to investigate and engage, as we’ve already uploaded tens of millions of dollars in art, more quickly than we expected. People seem open-minded to the idea and, based on feedback, pleased with the simplicity, once they’ve taken the step to try the platform.

How would you describe the mission or ethos of Up My Art?

The mission of UMA is to make art more available through lending. We aim to accommodate both owners and potential owners or renters, making the art experience inviting and super easy. One truth of fine art is that it is all too often inaccessible for many people to live with; it is either too expensive or not available to new collectors—usually both. Another truth is that much of art is in storage, which means it isn’t being enjoyed, and it costs money to own (in the form of insurance and storage costs). Our vision is to unlock and expand the value proposition of this asset category.  Anyone can try Up My Art; they can borrow a piece, or they can upload one, two, or 20 pieces they own, pricing and experiencing as they see fit.

In what ways does Up My Art differ from other online art platforms? What are some of the unique benefits offered to artists and collectors?

I am not aware of a platform like ours, one that offers the opportunity for peer-to-peer lending of fine art. There are some initiatives that work with galleries or specific artists, but none that is making art available from collectors, artists, and institutions. Uniquely, we are creating a new value possibility within the art asset category. Previously, collectors would have to sell art or borrow against art and invest elsewhere to realize a return. Now, owners can make their art available on the UMA site and realize a yield without having to sell or borrow. Art is taken out of the dark of storage, brought into the light, in an excited borrower’s home, and the lender retains ownership and generates a yield. This is a win-win situation. Of course, lenders need not lend any piece for which they have any emotional attachment or concern, and this is easy to try and navigate for all involved.

Example of Up My Art interface and New Arrivals collection. Courtesy of Up My Art.

What are some of the ways Up My Art supports emerging artists?

Through the UMA platform, opportunities exist for artists to obtain visibility, generate income, and meet potential new buyers. UMA can highlight certain artists, movements, or affinities on the homepage or in the search results. Increasing an artist’s visibility via the UMA site is a great way to engage with new collectors. Also, lending works via our platform is a great way to monetize an artist’s original creations and earn income. The reality is that it is very difficult for many artists to earn a living, and, hopefully, this platform can help in that respect. Lastly, the UMA platform provides the opportunity to sell the works; at the conclusion of any lending period, the borrower can make an offer to purchase the item.

How does Up My Art leverage technology and digital tools to enhance the art experience for members?

Returning to our foundational story, it was important for Jeff to find meaningful art that fit his creative vision. We’ve included a search functionality that allows prospective borrowers to find exactly what they are looking for. We even include contextual descriptions of the artists, so people aren’t looking at items in a vacuum. The difference between our site and the many sales sites is that our site affords borrowers the ability to try the work for some time and see if they enjoy living with it. Many of the works on the site are available for sale and users may search using those parameters as well.

Who are your typical lenders and borrowers?

We are still learning all the different types and reasons for lending and borrowing. Current lenders include collectors and institutions with a significant number of items in storage who have chosen to try the site with a fraction of their collections. In fact, one of our lenders is the owner of a well-known storage company! The company is very interested in this new business model, in generating a yield and the optionality to sell the work.

Our borrowers include individuals that currently collect but don’t have all the art they need; often, they’ve moved into a new home, found themselves resource-constrained and/or simply resolved to try something new.

Looking to the future, what are some of the plans and goals for Up My Art? How do you envision the platform impacting the art market?

We hope to develop a robust and efficient marketplace that will create a new value proposition for art, with a focus on current yield. Doing so will bring to light billions of dollars of inventory hidden away and largely forgotten in storage facilities, to be enjoyed and appreciated. Furthermore, we hope to inspire and create a new class of art collectors by making fine art more accessible. These are ambitious but achievable goals.

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