Evening Standard: ARTIQ brings splash of colour to lift City gloom

In these grim times of coronavirus, the uplifting joy of art could be a useful tonic for us all. One east London start-up may be well placed to deliver the medicine, and alleviate the City’s gloom.

Artiq (styled as ARTIQ) is a 28-strong company based on the border between the City and Brick Lane which works with big-money firms in the Square Mile who want to rent contemporary pieces from up-and-coming artists.

Like a Spotify or Netflix for art, the firm rents collections of art to companies to help brighten up offices before swapping them for new collections — delivering much needed levity in these uncertain times.

Clients like British Land and Brookfield pay fees to ARTIQ to source pieces such as paintings and sculptures from a roster of around 300 artists working in the UK’s booming scene.

With most mid-career artists standing to gain little financially from public exhibitions or gallery sales, ARTIQ acts as an important conduit, funnelling the swathes of money swilling around the city into the creative sector.

The business is the brainchild of Patrick McCrae, a red-haired 31-year-old who set up the company in Cambridge while working part time in a local chippie after university.  

The decade-old business has paid over £5 million to artists and McCrae is keen to put paid to the notion that creative industries, which add £112 billion to the economy, are a peripheral flight of fancy.

“The arts are not soft. They are real businesses,” he says when we meet in the firm’s suitably art-lined offices.

“It brings some business rigour to the contemporary art scene. In many ways artists are mini-businesses themselves, they are entrepreneurs themselves and they take risks which can pay off or not.”

ARTIQ, which started in 2009 and moved to London in 2012, works with people like famed sculptors Nick Hornby and Sam Shendi plus lesser-known artists who are at shows like the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition at.

Around 50% of its sales, £3.1 million last year, comes from leasing collections. The rest comes from consultancy services, such as sourcing copies of famous artworks from museums.

What do companies get out of renting the art? The bean-counters like it because renting art makes it tax deductible — it counts as a running cost — but also studies have shown people are more productive and feel better when they sit next to enlivening works of creativity.

That may be vital in the current crisis.

“Interacting with art has a tangible benefit to people’s mental wellbeing, and that is particularly relevant at a time of global anxiety and uncertainty,” McCrae said.

His idea for ARTIQ was rooted in the financial crisis. Due to economic turmoil, he was rebuffed by waves of sensible graduate jobs after uni.

His mum is an amateur artist and his dad is a businessman so he joined the dots and decided to start a small-scale business renting the art.

“I was very keen that it was lean, it didn’t have massive overheads and was low risk and didn’t need a lot of investment,” he says. “I’d seen first hand how difficult it was for artists to make a living, seeing artists working for free. If you are a lawyer or a doctor or taxi driver you are salaried.”

He started making around 60 calls a day asking businesses if they wanted to rent some art, a “baptism of fire” he says. The firm managed to rake in £12,000 in its first year, just enough to pay a £300 per month salary which was supplemented by working in the chip shop. Since then it has grown enough to sustain the wages of 28 people.

There must have been hiccups along the way though? “I’ve had it all,” he laughs. “Clients buy collections, they go under… we had some stolen. It’s only happened once and it was a diptych. Somebody stole the right-hand side of it from a reception area so now we securely screw everything in place.”

McCrae owns the business alongside his father. With private equity increasingly keen on esoteric cash-generative businesses, might he be willing to sell?

“I still love having the reins. People say you’ve got an interesting business but because of the way I set it up at the beginning it doesn’t need lots of cash and investment.”

Starving no more.

Read the article in full now via Evening Standard