Interview with Aditya Mehta | Founder of Art&Found & DesignFightsCOVID.com
In times of crisis, it's always amazing to see how seemingly separate & unrelated communities can come together without a moment's hesitation to support one another. In the current times of COVID-19, a prime example of such solidarity for those in need can be seen across the creative community of India. As artists all across the country step up to express the needs & concerns of others in such a raw & relatable way that only art allows.
For the creators of Art&Found, a digital platform & online marketplace showcasing the young contemporary art scene of India, the fight against COVID is a battle to be fought collectively.
Recognizing the frequent lack of quality design & communications within the field of social work, founder Aditya devised a plan to make it that much easier for the NGOs and non-profits providing relief during COVID-19 to reach out to those at home.
But before we go into detail on their recently launched initiative, DesignFightsCOVID, we'd first like to introduce you to Aditya Mehta & share the story behind our own relationship with Art&Found.
Our introduction to Art&Found begins nearly a year ago, after falling hard for the work of Goa based artists Praveen Yaramili.
In the process of featuring his series on 'Mapusa Market' & the 'Beaches of Goa' here on the site, I realised that beyond promoting the work of local artists on Goa.me, I also wanted to make sure I was supporting them monetarily, as much as I could. So in one of our email exchanges, I asked Praveen the best way to purchase one of his prints. I had my eye on 'Banana Seller', a stunning, cobalt blue & yellow illustration of a man with a basket of bananas on his head, of which he informed me was only available through his account with Art&Found, a Mumbai based platform I had yet to encounter.
Unfortunately, as I did not have a stable home at the time and was moving up & down the state on a regular basis, I had to put off my purchase. Fast forward to November and as I was moving into my new house here in Panjim, I suddenly remembered the print.
I rushed to get online, searched back through my emails, found the link that Praveen had provided, clicked over to Art&Found and made my order. It was a Wednesday afternoon and I was so excited, I could hardly wait.
Long story short, my house (like so many in Goa) is a little tucked away and can often confuse delivery men when they are tasked with dropping off a parcel. Surely enough, on Monday morning I received an automated text saying the attempted delivery had failed. My immediate reaction was of course disappointment. Not so much for the inconvenience, but rather at the thought of such a beautiful artwork being lost in the mail. However a few minutes later I received both an email & Whatsapp message from Aditya Mehta, the founder of Art&Found himself who had also been made aware of the issue. A quick exchange to clarify my address details later and within the hour there it was. My Praveen Yaramilli artwork safely delivered to my doorstep. Needless to say I was thrilled to receive my order but also incredibly impressed with how dedicated Aditya was to ensure I had a positive experience with the platform. Not only did he express his apologies for the trouble but with the lines of communication open, it wasn't long before we were conversing back & forth. Discussing our respective work, a mutual appreciation & dedication to the arts and a promise that the next time either of us was in Goa or Mumbai, we would sit down to chat.
Sure enough, I found myself in Mumbai for a few days in early January and as promised, reached out to Aditya to see if he was free for a chai.
Curious about the individual behind such a wonderful initiative I was thrilled to learn, over a long extended meal in Kala Ghoda, the story of a young entrepreneur who envisioned a better way of selling art and in turn created a platform that both supports & caters to the increasing population of young creative talent across India.
So what exactly is Art&Found? We asked Aditya to explain & take us back to how it all began...
How did the idea to create such a platform come about & how long did it take you to go from initial concept to actually launching the business?
Art&Found, as an idea, started as something I wanted to do offline. A bunch of people in the art scene in Mumbai were putting together exhibits and pop-ups every weekend. I’d attend a lot of those and observe the energy, the works, setup, crowd, what worked, what didn’t. I wanted to do the same thing with a different approach and build a consistent pop-up gallery model. Those were the early iterations on paper, or in my head, of an offline art platform. Thinking I pretty much have it figured out and ready to launch, I spoke to a lot of people I met at networking events or conferences, seeding the idea of an offline pop-up art gallery for young artists – kind of like how the YBA started in London.
Two years and all my salary savings later, I launched Art&Found.
Things really changed at a creative conference where I understood the potential of scale. I had made up my mind that if I’m going to do this, it had to be online. From there, I immersed myself into studying online platforms, art platforms and e-commerce in general. This is exactly when I knew I was onto something I wanted to design, code and go live with. From this point, I was dedicating after-work hours with a single-minded focus to get an MVP out. I took one last trip to Spiti Valley before committing myself to this, mentally and financially.
What were you doing before & what gave you the push to step out on your own to pursue this full time?
I was working at Ogilvy Mumbai as an art director. There were two things that led to pursuing this. One, the idea of building a platform for curated affordable art for millennials to own. Second was more from finding a purpose to do something that made me happy and push my potential to do something big that aligned with my idea of success, which, for me, is the measure of positive impact that you can have in the world with what you do.
Beyond the website, where individuals can browse & purchase custom prints delivered to their home, you actually do a whole lot more to get art out into the world.
Can you tell us a bit about the projects, services & consultations you do around India?
We’re into everything art – from space styling to art projects and art for homes, offices, hospitality. We curate for homes, offices, restaurants and work closely with architects and designers to curate art for their projects – custom art, murals, installations and so on. We also commission our artists for interesting collaborations and projects with brands.
What does your team look like today? How many of you are there and how has your role within the company changed overtime?
I am the sole founder with a core team of 3. My tech and design teams are clusters of 2-3 people remotely working. Over time, my role has changed from a maker to a manager. I do twice a week team meetings where everyone knows their tasks and deadlines for the week. It’s a management style I’ve adapted recently that’s been working great to not only give me headspace to focus on my tasks but also freedom for my team members.
Not long after we met, you travelled to Jaisalmer to take part in the 2020 Reth Festival. Can you tell us about that?
We do monthly art, craft, design workshops as community building events. At Reth, we did leather embossing and organised a day trip to visit local craftswomen in Barmer doing ajrak, embroidery and block printing.
Are there other festivals on the list you’d love to collaborate with in the future?
We’ve love to collaborate with IndiaDesign in Delhi, RAW in Ahmedabad, Serendipity Arts in Goa and the ICCR (Indian Council for Cultural Relations).
How would you say a platform like Art&Found has helped to shape not only the way artists are able to promote & sell their work, but the overall way in which the general public views, consumes & appreciates art?
I started this platform with a mission to increase the value of art and design in India, so everything we do and our approach aligns to that goal. The kind of work we’re doing with the incredible talent we have here, we’ve definitely seen that appreciation grow over the last 2-3 years, be it with overall aesthetics, detail, craft or monetary value. It is a slow upward graph and what excites me is that we’re growing this market as we go. In a few years, if we can look back and see how the appreciation and value for art and design has changed over the years, and how we had our small contribution in making that happen, that will be quite a story.
Tell us about DesignFightsCOVID.com
The platform is an obvious response to the current COVID-19 crisis, but tell us a bit about how it all came together:
We wanted to unite the creative community for the fight against Covid. There were a few ideas but finally it came down to simply helping NGOs who are working tirelessly but don’t have access to the power of design. We put together the initial NGO list, let them know what we’re doing, wrote the content, built the platform and started reaching out to a few artists. Since then, the entries have been pouring in and the response has been incredible.
How would you say the power of art & design plays a role in engaging the masses & raising awareness towards important social, political & environmental issues, such as the one we are facing today?
Design has power. To bring us together, to voice opinion, to create awareness, to save lives. Design is a catalyst to convey a powerful message emotionally. Like Design Fights COVID, there are similar projects globally active.
What has been the response so far from the #designfightscovid campaign & how can we help to get more people involved?
The response has been amazing from artists, viewers and the NGOs. With support from global creatives, our goal is to help raise funds for the fight against Covid. Let’s share the campaign to create awareness for the soldiers on-ground.
In conclusion, how has India’s lockdown & the COVID crisis affected your business and the way you & your team work? What do you think we can learn from this experience and the time at home to rethink the way we function as a society (both at work & in our personal lives) in the hopes of shaping a better future?
It’s been great. The team is motivated and there for each other. We do our weekly team meetings online where half the time is spent discussing non-work related stuff and that keeps the mood light. With regards to team work, we’re completing on-going projects, thinking up new collaboration ideas, ramping up on tech and design. E-commerce has completely taken a hit so revenues are down. I like to think that when shit goes down, you build internally. We’re also actively working to generate work for creatives. For example, our Design Fights COVID project has led to commissioned work for our artists from brands and business owners approaching them for work. And it feels amazing how one project has opened up conversations and opportunities shaping new work in the future.