How a hashtag caused a surge of optimism for artists on Instagram

The #artistsupportpledge movement was created just two weeks ago but has since helped thousands of artists to sell their work in a landscape of instability. Here's how it happened, and why it might be here to stay

Generosity is infectious
(Image credit: press)

The current public health situation has undoubtedly thrown the art world into a climate of uncertainty. The #artistsupportpledge is an Instagram movement conceived by Sussex-based artist Matthew Burrows to provide a platform for artists to share and sell their work through a straightforward, artist-to-patron, artist-to-artist formula. The artist posts an image of their work on their feed with pricing and details, then prospective patrons get in touch via direct message. Each time an artist makes £1,000 in sales, they, in turn, commit to using 20 per cent of their earnings to purchase another artist’s work. The rules are not enforced; this is a principle built on camaraderie, trust and generosity.

‘When Covid-19 came about and galleries were closing and exhibitions were cancelled, I knew whatever we were going to do it had to be rapid, it’s got to generate liquidity, now,’ says Burrows, who dreamed up the idea while watching an episode of House of Cards two weeks ago. The initial concept was to create a sustainable ‘micro-culture and economy’, rather than one of aggressive growth, to tide artists over until a three month isolation period lapsed.

But does this format of commerce risk undermining the broader art market? Burrows doesn't think so. ‘The prices are too low’ he says, ‘there are pieces on there for £25; the galleries I know never sell work within that price range because they wouldn't make enough profit.’ The theory is a ‘micro-market’ of sorts, one that operates underneath, and in tandem with, the mainstream. ‘In effect, it’s taking a product which already exists, and creating a platform and ethos on which that market can fluidly exist. It’s a win-win situation for everybody.’ 

Does the project have a life after quarantine? It’s probably too soon to tell, but Burrows has already consulted economists – who have dubbed the model is ‘pretty solid’ – and is even looking into building an administration team and sourcing direct funding. The platform has also launched the weekly ‘Tyson Award’ whereby £1000 is split between five winning artists. Judges include Elizabeth Hastings, director of Hastings Contemporary and art critic and broadcaster, Matthew Collings.

#artistsupportpledge only came into existence a fortnight ago but has since spiraled into a self-sufficient, egalitarian platform that has already accumulated 21,000 posts and counting. In a period of social distancing, the art community is flocking together to celebrate each other's work and supply a vital financial lifeline.

Burrows does admit that he’s had to stop looking at his bulging inbox of ‘thank you’ notes for now. ‘It’s very exciting and extraordinarily humbling, but it’s overwhelming. People from all over the world saying, “you’ve saved my life” – how do you digest that over breakfast?’

Here's the Wallpaper* edit of  #artistsupportpledge



Harriet Lloyd-Smith was the Arts Editor of Wallpaper*, responsible for the art pages across digital and print, including profiles, exhibition reviews, and contemporary art collaborations. She started at Wallpaper* in 2017 and has written for leading contemporary art publications, auction houses and arts charities, and lectured on review writing and art journalism. When she’s not writing about art, she’s making her own.