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Pay As You Wish: Building a Sustainable Bali Art Ecosystem

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In October 2017, artist incubator Yayasan TiTian Bali (TiTian Bali Foundation, known as YTB) introduced Pay As You Wish (PAYW) to sell art in the Nawa Citra Children’s Drawing Exhibition. While YTB discovers, nurtures and develops artistic talents, its new transaction strategy Pay As You Wish (PAYW) allowed buyers to determine the price of the artwork. It gives every individual a chance to own a piece of art based on what they can afford to pay. YTB is a privately funded initiative and takes no cut from the PAYW sales.

Nawa Citra featured works in the Batuan School traditional ink technique. Held at TiTian Art Space, Ubud, it was also presented online via social media platforms. “We started PAYW to help free artists from the market authority over their creativity. Otherwise, they would tend to make only what the market demands. And by doing so, they sacrifice unexplored potential which could lead to them becoming the next Picasso,” said the founder of YTB, Soemantri Widagdo.

“We introduced PAYW for Nawa Citra because children’s creativity is pure and external factors such as the market are of little importance to them. Children create from within; it is important to maintain this creative spirit,” he continued. 

PAYW was next utilised in June 2018 for YTB’s following children’s exhibition, True Line by Sanggar Bares, an open community workshop for children in Lodtunduh, Ubud. Faces, an exhibition by 13-year-old Wayan Dendy in June 2020, also adopted PAYW and generated quick sales. In addition, PAYW was utilised for ‘drops’ by mid-career painters Putu Edy Asmara in August and Nyoman Bratayasa in September.

How the pandemic affected Bali’s art economy

The global pandemic in 2020 immediately impacted the Bali art economy with lockdowns, the closure of tourism and the physical art infrastructure, and the financial downturn. As a result, going digital was the most practical solution. Galleries and artists went online or increased their digital exposure. 

YTB presented PAYW works to the market by sharing a catalogue of artists’ works on TiTian Art Space’s digital platforms. The artworks were sold to the first offer received, with all proceeds going to the artist. The social media platform Instagram proved effective in facilitating sales.

By lowering the financial barriers to buying art and increasing the ease of sales through online purchases, PAYW enabled YTB to support its participating artists and engage the public throughout the pandemic. “PAYW proved an innovative vehicle to reach new clients and a novel way to relate with YTB’s loyal supporter base,” Soemantri told me. “We have more than doubled our network of collectors.”

Improving existing models

Bali’s prevailing art business model tends to disadvantage both artists and buyers. The galleries and dealers who negotiate directly with the artist force their prices down to the lowest possible option. These middlemen then sell the works at the highest possible price, reaping excessive profits. In addition, the limited supply or scarcity of artworks available on the market also allows the middlemen to increase the price.

“PAYW makes potential buyers pause and think about how their purchases will impact the artist’s lives, especially in today’s economy,” stated Soemantri. He also shared that PAYW makes buyers aware that their acquisition will become an act of goodwill that helps the artists, who remain vulnerable during the pandemic.

“Currently, PAYW functions on a small scale because it only represents YTB artists,” continued Soemantri. “However, it helps Balinese artists to feed their families during this crisis.”

The Artists’ Perspective 

Not all artists were convinced by PAYW initially, but the participants have come to benefit from the model. 

“Initially, I had my reservations, thinking the PAYW prices would be too low to cover my expenses,” said painter Gusti Wis. On top of offering financial benefits, PAYW speeds up his works’ exposure to the market while maintaining market buoyancy.

Furthermore, PAYW introduces price adjustments to help achieve fair market prices. In his eyes, Gusti believes this is crucial, citing how “many emerging Balinese artists have illogical, overinflated prices from regularly exhibiting in restaurants and hotels in tourist hotspots such as Canggu and Seminyak.”

“They cater to and hope to make more money from tourists and the wealthy expatriates and Indonesians who frequent the area,” Gusti explains. 

“PAYW is a salvation because it allows me to be creative, without the burden of thinking about the market, sales and the financial needs of my family,” said contemporary artist Putu Edy Asmara.

A Collector’s and an Art Lover’s Perspective 

Some collectors are drawn to the PAYW model because the artists, rather than a middleman, are compensated directly for their works.

“A PAYW benefit for collectors is that they sense that the price paid won’t be significantly different from what the artist usually receives. However, this system only works when you deal directly with the artist,” said Singapore-based Indonesian collector Ario Harsanto, who collects modern and post-Impressionist-styled Southeast Asian art.

“Paying what you like also gives the artist a sense of the market’s perception of their work. It, therefore, normalises its future value as the market is heavily commoditised,” he continued, citing the typical problem where the intermediaries — galleries, in this case — would prioritise their interests and drive the price upwards to maximise their returns. “The normalisation of the market price would also be helpful as an entry point for new collectors to the market,” he added.

“PAYW is important during this shifting economic paradigm as it enables artists to have cash flow without really sacrificing their work’s real value. PAYW is not a fire sale!” asserts the thirty-four-year-old Indonesian collector who has been collecting for the past decade. On the format’s future, he shared that, “the challenge of upscaling PAYW is how and through which platform.”

Another compelling benefit of PAYW is that it allows for more works to be discovered at fairer and less-inflated prices.

“PAYW is a good platform for artists to bypass price setting and manipulation by galleries and collectors. And vice versa for collectors and buyers looking for art. PAYW is unique and, if positioned and marketed correctly, can be a win-win-win platform for all parties involved,” said Indonesian art lover Andre Halim, who doesn’t describe himself as a collector but enjoys buying vibrant and bold artworks. He believes that adopting PAYW on a larger scale will help identify the aspiring artists within the globally expanding art market. 

Andre offered suggestions to improve the system. “Perhaps an artwork’s minimum price can be added if artists prefer. A transparent platform describing any price charges would be ideal, so the public knows how much the artist receives.” He also added that including artist ratings based on the number of artworks sold and comments from verified and non-verified buyers may help new buyers take comfort in purchasing artworks.

The future of PAYW

The 21st-century global creative economy has significantly disrupted centralised art systems like the gallery and the art fair models, birthing a new digital era of opportunity. Peer-to-peer (P2P) models like Instagram are proven to facilitate increased sales. Exploring alternatives leading to the expansion of the affordable art market through new initiatives is essential. The introduction of an alternative business model, such as PAYW, may potentially revolutionise the art world by providing the opportunity for people to buy art at prices that aren’t dictated by the art market.

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