On a Commission: Artful new venture connects artists with buyers

Looking for that one-of-a-kind piece of artwork to set off a lobby or make a lasting impression in your office suite – a sculpture, piece of architectural glass, or wrought-iron railing, perhaps? Toni Sikes, founder of The Guild and its successor, Artful Home, has a new venture called The Art Commission, which could make your search much easier.

The Art Commission, which launched Jan. 31, connects commissioned artists with those looking for unique, original art. The online platform allows visitors to search among a vast array of artists, by medium, and view samples of their work. They can contact the artists directly and work with them to create designs specific to their needs.

Large-form artwork of this sort is pricey – pieces can cost tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars – but The Art Commission makes the search for unique art less daunting. “We don’t take commission,” Sikes said about the business plan. “We sell subscriptions to the artist.” 

Modeled after LinkedIn, the company’s website, artcommission.com, allows artists to post photos of their artwork for a fee. For example, they can pay $120 a year to post one photo or $600 a year to post 10. Sikes, co-CEO with Terry Maxwell, said the website has about 700 subscribed artists thus far, but they’ve got a long way to go.

“This company will be a success when it has about 2,000 artists,” Sikes said, “and that will only happen if we are successful at bringing designers, architects, and art consultants to our site.

“[Artists] won’t stay with us unless we can help make them successful. Our success is totally dependent on the artist’s success.”

Sikes, Maxwell, and equity owner and partner Lindsay, Stone & Briggs started artcommission.com with about $350,000 just over a year ago, and they’ve been molding it ever since, soliciting the aid and input of artists along the way who tested the site free of charge while improvements were being made. Since then, another $510,000 has been raised. 


Sikes has scaled back her hours as partner at Calumet Venture Partners to focus on the new company. “This will be a long, slow building process,” she admits, “but profit is in sight. We have investors, including colleagues, associates, and individual angel investors.” (Calumet is not an investor in The Art Commission.)

The timing is right for the launch, she believes, referencing positive economic indicators such as a recent AIA report claiming architectural fees are at their highest level since 2007. 

But smart growth is key.

“Terry and I tried to develop our financials in such a way that we’d grow the revenue and take in some angel investments without having to raise venture capital,” she said. “And we’re determined to keep our expenses as low as possible.”

Even though the company has raised a significant amount of money, its staff of 13 (including several people from Sikes’ former venture, The Guild) is squeezed into tiny offices. “We’re sitting on cheap chairs, paying a lot of attention to the bottom line, and working hard to get our revenue up as quickly as possible,” Sikes said.

And they’re setting their sights on 2014, when they hope to finally turn a profit.

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