Founded in 2013, ArtLifting is a Public Benefit Corporation (a for-profit, for-purpose business) that empowers artists facing homelessness and disability through the sale and celebration of their artwork. Two siblings in Boston, MA, Liz and Spencer Powers, launched their venture with four local Boston artists, and since have grown ArtLifting to feature more than 120 artists who are located across the United States.
After securing a grant post-graduation from Harvard, ArtLifting co-founder Liz Powers spent a year establishing art groups in homeless shelters throughout the Boston area. She was struck by the incredible talent of the people she was working with. She recounts that a great deal of the quality art being produced in these shelters and disability centers were eventually discarded or left to collect dust. A common refrain she heard while working from those artists was “Liz, I want opportunity, not a handout.”
Powers realized that art could be a transformational path to financial stability for these artists; they needed a digital marketplace to connect with a larger audience. The business had its early formation at the Harvard innovation lab (i-lab), an entrepreneurship center open to any full-time degree seeking Harvard student from any Harvard School with an idea at any stage of formation.
Over the past several years, ArtLifting has grown to have national impact with partnerships with companies that include Microsoft, Starbucks, and Google. During the 2016 holiday season, for instance, Starbucks partnered with the company to create limited edition gift cards by 11 artists; those cards sold out in one day. Other ArtLifting clients include MIT, Bain Capital, and ThinOPTICS.
For its part, Harvard’s i-lab has purchased several pieces of art whose creator, Nick Morse, is on the autistic spectrum. A representative at i-lab notes, “This art is proudly hung in the i-lab to remind us of ArtLifting, a true i-lab start up success story.”
Every ArtLifting artist earns 55% from the profit of each of his or her sales. And, 1% from each sale goes toward strengthening art services for community partners that support ArtLifting artists, which includes art programming at social service agencies, shelters, and disability centers. The company uses the remaining 44% to further its mission.
In 2015, ArtLifting achieved its first partnership with a Fortune 500 company when Staples purchased 17 pieces of art from four artists including those who were formerly homeless. The company installed the artwork in its headquarters office in Framingham, MA. Says John Burke, chief culture officer, Staples, “I have seen the artwork produce a lot of energy. A lot of employees are interested in it. When you put a picture on the wall with an incredible story, it generates a lot of interest.”