There is this critical moment in every artist's career where all they really need to do is survive. After they've studied the masters, mastered the movements, found their style, and figured out what they want to say with it, all that matters is that they continue to make work. "What makes that hard," Sugarlift founder Wright Harvey tells Creators, "is that given the tastes of the audience today, the most interesting and most challenging work is usually the least commercial." Galleries tend to show what's worked in the past, which leaves many of today's top young artists outside of the gates, stringing together part-time jobs to make rent. Harvey and his co-founder Bart Piela started Sugarlift to give emerging creators a chance to develop into great artists by connecting them to a new class of patrons.
Harvey majored in studio art with dreams of one day becoming an artist himself. He also majored in economics. And though this mix of right and left brain kept him from dropping $80,000 on an MFA and fulfilling his dreams, it did create within him a unique blend of idealism and rationality. He sees the art world in terms of supply and demand. But his demand isn't the spectacled sportcoat you picture when you hear the word "collector." Instead, it's people like him and Piela who appreciate local quality and craft and don't mind shelling out a few extra bucks for a good experience.
"We appreciate a good cup of coffee and prefer fresh, local food and drink craft beer. But if I were to benchmark where we are in terms of appreciating and consuming art, we're still drinking Keystone Light," says Harvey. And that's no insult to art lovers or artists—Harvey puts the blame on the art world's failure to connect a new and hungry class of aesthetes with local, quality options the way craft breweries have with beer or chic cafes have with coffee.
The reason for that failure is twofold. The first problem is art's current narrative. "We're conditioned to think about art as a financial asset, which is the wrong way to think about it entirely," explains Harvey. You don't go into a wine store and ask how much the $15 bottle of Cabernet is going to be worth in two years. You ask if it goes well with flank steak. Harvey believes the same should be true of art. It should be something that elevates your everyday experience, something you can live with and still have a reaction to five, ten or 20 years down the road.
The second part of the problem is that Sugarlift's new class of patrons know very little about what kind of art will give them an experiential return twenty years down the road, or how to begin sorting through the thousands of artists active today. So instead of asking patrons to visit a gallery and fend for themselves, Sugarlift brings the gallery and their roster of artists to the patron.
"We go into their homes, we talk to them about their space, styles they like, answer their questions," Harvey says, "we're like sommeliers." The one-on-one time gives Sugarlift a chance to understand the needs of each buyer and connect them with artists that fit their tastes.
Sugarlift has a roster of over 100 intensely vetted artists that serve as representatives of their respective styles. And because most of them are fresh out of MFA programs, the costs are lower, usually between $1,000-$10,000. But within that critical survival phase, every sale helps artists take a giant developmental step towards becoming our generation's next De Kooning, which is the real driver behind Sugarlift.
"I fundamentally believe that each generation should collect artists of their generation, as a responsibility," says Harvey. "It's a responsibility of the artist, or new artists, to push the envelope of the visual arts. And it's the responsibility of the patron to put gas in the tank of those artists so that they can do that."
Who are some of the artists and collectives pushing the envelope? Sugarlift put together a shortlist of partnering creators: Nicolas V Sanchez, Hiba Schahbaz, Esteban Ocampo Giraldo, Nicolas Holiber, Lizzie Gil, Rubin 415, Dave Krugman, Esther Ruiz, Guno Park, Elliot Purse, Heather Amistad, Depthcore, The Brooklyn Collage Collective, Bushwick Collective