“If you had told 15-year-old me that I would be helping to run an art company, I never would have believed you. I come from Southside, Richmond, Virginia. That’s the hood. A lot of the people in the art world come from privileged backgrounds where they grew up with art. I accidentally fell into it. I got a peek behind the veil, but then when I got a peek, I was like, ‘I’m coming in.’”
I’m talking to Everette Taylor, chief marketing officer of Artsy, one of the largest global online art marketplaces. Over coffee in a members club in SoHo, New York, we discuss his passion for his work and the arts in general. Taylor joined Artsy in December 2019 after, he says, “only having been in the proper art world for a year and a half”. Last month he was included by Forbes on its list of the top 50 most entrepreneurial CMOs.
As we talk, it becomes obvious that, for Taylor, being CMO of Artsy is more than just a job. Now 32, he recalls the first time he saw art in the home of someone his age, in his twenties, and his journey as a collector. “That moment of putting up a piece art in your home for the first time. . . it is like when the lightbulb goes on. Now I feel like every time I walk into my home I see something new. The art speaks to me. A large portion of my life has been spent living alone. But every piece in my collection has a personal story, so I never quite feel alone with art.”
Initially, he did not find collecting an easy process. He saw a side of the art world that troubled him and stirred him to consider how to make accessing and buying art less difficult and intimidating for art novices — and for people who looked like him.
“I saw a lot of inequities, of what it was like to be a black collector, which inspired me to start one of my companies, ArtX. I didn’t understand why, if I had the money for something and it was available, I couldn’t be the one to buy it. I saw a system of gatekeeping that’s not set up for new people to break through. Just because I was a young black guy walking into galleries in my streetwear and maybe some Yeezys, people would look at me like, ‘This guy isn’t serious.’”
So Taylor began collecting emerging artists. “I started collecting works by artists like Amoako Boafo and Jadé Fadojutimi. Now I have the collection I have because I trusted my eye and my gut instincts.”
Artsy, launched in October 2012, is a privately held company with ownership spread across founders, investors and employees. Now, Taylor says, it showcases more than 1mn artworks from 100,000-plus artists across the globe; 4,000 art businesses, 3,700 galleries and two-thirds of leading auction houses engage with Artsy.
“I want to help democratize the art world and create spaces where there’s a more fair and transparent access for artists, and collectors, especially those of color. . . Yes, art changed my own life, but I also know how to run a business. So I’m not just running marketing. I’m a very unorthodox CMO, involved in business strategy, products and sales. I’m a problem-solver so if I see something that needs to be solved, I try to solve it.”
Taylor believes Artsy provides a unique community for artists, buyers, collectors and gallerists that helps people cultivate an identity in the art world. Artsy Price Database offers price transparency and free access to data which, he says, helps collectors make smart buying decisions.
“As you use Artsy, you have the ability to tell us your budget, the sorts of artwork you like, the artists you follow, the auction results you look at, even upload images of works from your actual art collection. All these things are part of an algorithm that becomes more and more personalized every time you use the app. It becomes your personal art adviser.
“We’re building connection and community between collector and gallery. This allows galleries to thrive because we have millions of people using our platform a month.”
No business is perfect, and Artsy has its share of mixed reviews online, including critiques of its business model. I raise this with Taylor, and while he acknowledges that every business is going to have its critics, he also says: “Artsy has gone through several iterations and has been transformed dramatically over the years into a platform that uniquely supports artists, collectors and galleries globally. There is pushback from many in the industry who don’t necessarily want us to open up the art world or to have price transparency.”
Taylor’s instinctively entrepreneurial nature goes back to his childhood: he got his first job at the age of 14. “Growing up in Southside, Richmond, I saw everything: gang violence, prostitution, drugs, you name it. I even started selling drugs when I was 13, 14 years old and I stopped because my mom found drugs in my room and forced me to get a job. That’s really how I found marketing — and marketing saved my life.”
From there, Taylor would spend the next several years hopping between school and jobs. After dropping out of college in his sophomore year to help his family, he started his first company at 19, then sold it after a few years to return to college. He studied business information technology, before dropping out of college again to try his hand in the tech world in Silicon Valley, rapidly becoming head of marketing at user research company Qualaroo. He joined a series of companies to grow them while also creating his own. To date, Taylor has founded or co-founded six companies and still owns or co-owns four.
“I always had this duality of being a CMO or running a company while also having my own thing. At 28, I sold PopSocial, my most successful commercial business. Then I went fully entrepreneurial, started ArtX as a platform for emerging artists. We profiled people like Kennedy Yanko, Jerrell Gibbs, Ludovic Nkoth and Genevieve Gaignard” in the early stages of their careers.
His work at ArtX chimed neatly with Artsy’s mission. “A lot of the things the then new CEO Mike Steib was trying to accomplish aligned with what I was trying to accomplish: a fairer, more transparent art world.
“People are buying art on our platform sight unseen at the tap of a button, from $100 to millions of dollars. If you live in Louisville, Kentucky and you want to be a top collector without leaving home, you can be now.”
According to Taylor, during the pandemic, Artsy’s ecommerce sales rose 150 per cent year on year but, beyond the purely commercial, Taylor is proud of the ways the platform helps raise funds to tackle social issues. Taylor also says it raised $16.5mn for good causes in 2021, and recently held a Benefit Auction for Ukraine in which Marina Abramović restaged her performance installation, “The Artist is Present”.
Next, Taylor has plans to take his love of the arts back to Richmond, Virginia: “I feel like I haven’t invested as much as I could have in my community back home. I’d like a permanent home and museum for my personal collection of black artists, plus a place to have rotating shows of emerging black artists. I want to invest more into my hometown.”