Artist Support Pledge is an an unbelievable social media movement, started by contemporary British painter Matthew Burrows.
Matthew founded Artist Support Pledge, an initiative to provide a new source of income for thousands of artists impacted by the pandemic. This initiative has become a movement that continues today and keeps expanding. Matthew’s brilliant idea also redefines the meaning of success by promoting abundance and helping countless artists achieve financial independence.
His idea is simple. Any artist with work to sell can post an image of their work on Instagram using the hashtag #artistsupportpledge.
Each post must be for an original piece costing less than £200. People interested in buying the art can then contact the artist directly to purchase the piece. Each artist’s sales begin to add up. When an artist reaches cumulative sales of £1,000, they pledge to reinvest £200 by purchasing the artwork of other artists who also post their work with #artistsupportpledge. Artists committing to support each other by reinvesting a portion of the money they earn quickly creates a fluid market where everyone benefits. Matthew describes it as an “egalitarian micro-economy based on generosity.”
And the results are impressive. Artist Support Pledge’s open, inclusive nature has created a new type of art market with an estimated £80 million in sales. It’s a global movement connecting people and communities and providing artists and craft makers with a viable way to support and sustain each other.
Connecting altruism, gifting and trust to social media? We wanted to know more, so we talked with Matthew to understand how his simple yet VERY effective solution impacts artists.
It started on the 16th of March 2020, just as the UK went into lockdown. At that time, all of my projects and exhibitions planned for the next year or two abruptly came to an end. They were all cancelled, literally within an hour.
I saw messages from friends on social media saying exactly the same thing. It felt like this wave of desperation was hitting artists across the world in a way that I’d never experienced before. I could see that there wasn’t going to be an obvious support mechanism because there wasn’t any precedent for any of this. Nobody really knew what to do.
So I took a piece of paper and wrote, “What have I got that can help?” and I came up with two ideas immediately.
The first thing that I had was my artwork. Secondly, I had a culture, a community, and a network of trust and generosity, which I’ve been developing for about 15 years amongst friends and peers.
So that’s where I started. Then, it was about coming up with what Artist Support Pledge actually is – a very simple formula to sell work and support other artists. And because the sales threshold is low (£200 or less), it immediately created an economy.
So on that day, the 16th of March, I posted the first post on my Instagram account at about 8PM. By the following lunchtime, I was already making my first pledge and buying somebody else’s work. It went much quicker than I expected. When I made the first post, I thought it would perhaps generate a bit of money for my friends and colleagues, and that’s it. But in just a few days, it had gone global.
MB: It was the perfect storm. I describe it now as if a sudden vacuum was created (the lockdown) where everything stopped, and everyone went home. There was a moment of complete silence and pause. And on top of that, everyone suddenly was on social media because they couldn’t go anywhere and they couldn’t socialize. I just threw something in at that point. It was a simple idea, and anyone could do it. I think people were desperate enough just to give anything a go. All of those things together created this perfect set of relationships that made Artist Support Pledge just explode.
MB: Artist Support Pledge is not just a sales platform. It’s an idea of how we are a community and how we can thrive within that community.
We are moving towards a more horizontal economy rather than a vertical economy. Instead of going in one direction – where on one end, rich people get richer and on the other, poor people get poorer – we are creating an egalitarian economy. It’s an economy where it’s in the interest of everyone within the community to support the common good. Suppose you are selling a lot of work on Artist Support Pledge. In that case, you’re actually also supporting the other artists on the platform and spreading your success across your community.
MB: To tell people about it! Suppose you just simply use the hashtag without telling people how it works. In that case, you’re relying on somebody else to tell everyone what it is about, which diminishes its capacity. The movement vastly increases when everyone who uses the hashtag also adds a description of what Artist Support Pledge is on their accounts, explaining how it works. The more people have access to it, the more they can support those on it. So it’s in everyone’s interest to spread the word. That’s why I call it a generous culture.
MB: Most people in developed countries don’t realize that generous cultures have existed for hundreds of thousands of years. Generous cultures sustained human beings equally, with gender and social equality, in an environmentally sustainable way for hundreds of thousands of years.
It’s actually the most accessible cultural idea in human history. It’s just we’ve forgotten about it. Or we just don’t practise that anymore.
Generous cultures are about building a sense of self-awareness about how we act. It’s also about developing values that enable us to act in a way that is for the good of the community.
A simple example of this is when I say the word “success”. Most people in industrialized societies think success means either being wealthy, famous, or both. Wealth is a particular value of rich, industrial societies. The basic idea is that you are unique, you are celebrated for this uniqueness, and the reward is that you are wealthier than everybody else.
In generous cultures, success is measured inversely. Individual wealth is not seen as a good thing in generous cultures. In a generous culture, someone who was wealthy at the expense of the good of the community would be shamed. And the thought that a person is not only rich but they were also famous for being rich would be absurd.
So I set up Artist Support Pledge using the model of generosity. It’s this careful shift – it isn’t about my success. It is about OUR success. I try to get people to think about what success means in a generous culture.
MB: The financial impact is huge. We don’t know exactly how much it is, but the upper amount is staggering. The highest estimation of sales is nearly £300 million. But I prefer to be conservative in the way I estimate it, and I think sales are more likely to be around £80 million at the moment.
But what’s more important for me is the anecdotal evidence. It’s the artists, supporters, collectors, and those who don’t participate as artists or buyers but are engaged with the community. This whole idea that Artist Support Pledge is a different way of living is what’s important. I’ve received thousands of messages from people worldwide telling me how #artistsupportpledge changed their lives. Sometimes it’s simply a “Thank you, I’ve paid the rent this month.” But I have also received quite a few messages from people who said they managed to raise a down payment on buying a house. Many people I’ve spoken to also gave up their day jobs before COVID to begin working full-time as artists.
All of this is happening because of Artist Support Pledge. It really is completely changing the artistic landscape. Who would have imagined? Certainly, I didn’t!
MB: There are a few things. The first one is to keep going on what we’ve already started! I want to keep Artist Support Pledge freely accessible to all by using the simplest means possible. But that also has its downsides, and it’s not perfect. So we are looking to develop our own platform. Not as a competition to Instagram, but to create a more sophisticated website and app that can help support artists long term.
Secondly, we’ve also launched a hybrid version where we are bringing #artistsupportpledge into exhibitions and museums. We’ve just had a four-month-long museum show at Hastings Contemporary in the UK with 307 artworks from artists around the world. And all the work in the exhibition is for sale by connecting the artist and their Instagram account. So the label on the wall takes you straight through to the artist’s Instagram account, where you can buy the work on the wall or buy another piece of work.
And we have another exhibition in the New Art Gallery in Walsall with a hundred artists. We selected 50 artists. Each of those 50 artists then selected another artist from Artist Support Pledge.
The long-term plan is to do a general exhibition every year in a different location.
MB: Simone Weil. She was a French philosopher, one of many who inspired me. Although she was part of the intellectual elite in France, she gave up any pretences of a well-paid job. She worked in the factories to see the reality of how the workers’ lives were.
Anyone who can break down those barriers between the hierarchies of power and the everyday people are the people who inspire me.
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