Arts

Want to own a piece of original artwork for just $5? You should play this lotto

ArtLotto, founded by painter Gabriel Baribeau, is reimagining the way art gets bought and sold while supporting both artists and community causes.

ArtLotto is reimagining the way art gets bought and sold while supporting both artists and community causes

Left: an acrylic and oil painting by Montreal-based painter David Bellemare, titled 21st Century Nagual. Right: handblown glass vase by Kayla Francis Della-Nebbia. (David Bellemare/Kayla Francis Della-Nebbia)

We all know original art can be expensive. But what if I told you that for just five bucks — and a little luck — you could buy an original work of art, while also supporting the artist as well as an important cause within the community? If that sounds too good to be true, well, then you just don't know about ArtLotto yet.

Like so many artists, ArtLotto's founder, Gabriel Baribeau, has struggled with an existential matter throughout his career. "Why am I doing this?" the artist will ask himself. "What is this for?" 

He wonders: "How can I make my art serve the people? How can I make my art politically powerful?" And, at the same time, he wonders: how can he make his art accessible?

Primarily known as a painter, Baribeau has had success in commercial settings before — but he doesn't want to sell his work only to the wealthy. He wants to share it with friends and family, he says. But his labour requires compensation.

"I'm sitting there often feeling absurd, having multiple people say, 'Oh, I wish I could own your art.' And it's like, 'Yeah, well, here's my hilarious price. Can you meet that?'"

So, disenchanted with traditional models of art commerce, Baribeau has come up with what seems to be a winning DIY solution: what if you raffle the art?

A sculptural jewelry holder with earrings by artist Jesse Hiss. (Jesse Hiss)

The Hamilton-based artist began ArtLotto in January 2021, launching the experiment with an oil painting of his own. (It pictured a person bobbing for apples, which, if coincidence, is an apt one.) ArtLotto has since raffled the work of some 20 other creators, raising thousands of dollars for the artists as well as thousands more for community causes close to their hearts. Entry tickets to win the artworks — some of which could fetch hundreds or even thousands if sold by a dealer — cost just $5 each. 

"It is built to be a disruptor of the single-wealthy-buyer model that the art world runs on," Baribeau says. He emphasizes, though, that it doesn't dispel the idea that art ownership is mainly for the rich. The raffle can only give people a small chance to play in the game.

Beyond its novel luck-of-the-draw feature, what really sets ArtLotto apart is the way it splits the revenue pie. Typically, galleries take half the sticker price of an artwork, leaving the other half for the art-maker. ArtLotto, on the other hand, takes 20 per cent (or $1 from each ticket) of raffle proceeds to cover base costs, like shipping and website maintenance. The remaining 80 per cent is then split between the artist and a social initiative of their choosing.

Left: an acrylic painting by Montreal-based artist Katie McDonald titled Release. Right: a diorama by Hamilton-based artist Andrea Flockhart, titled The Sin Eater. (Katie McDonald/Andrea Flockhart)

This added dimension seeks partly to answer that ever-present ache: "What is this for?" The act of art-making alone "isn't in any way altruistic," Baribeau says. "That's the problem that leaves a lot of these artists who want to be good people squirming." Giving the art a social mission, as ArtLotto does, enables the artist's work to do good directly in their community — and do it without costing the artist their livelihood. Some of the causes ArtLotto has benefitted thus far include the Disability Justice Network of Ontario, Sex Workers' Action Program Hamilton and Resilience Montreal. One of the first questions Baribeau asks any prospective raffle artist is who would they like to help. 

As for the art on offer, ArtLotto's curatorial tastes are eclectic, with an inclination toward the psychedelic and the adventurous. Baribeau selects the artists himself, featuring creators whose work he admires with nary a concern for CV highlights or exhibition credentials. That means a wildly talented high school student might star in one lotto, while the work of an MFA who's shown internationally might comprise another. Baribeau invites the artist to contribute whatever work they want, whether it's their most saleable, something new and challenging, or a piece they'd just really like to liquidate. Some works would be gallery darlings, while some would never make it through the doorways of a traditional commercial space. But ArtLotto "levels the playing field," Baribeau says.

Usually, I'm at a market and I'm talking to hundreds of people and I'm really hustling to get that sale...This process involved none of that.- Sonali Menezes, artist

Without the white cube's high art context, ticket buyers respond to raffle items simply because they admire them, and appreciation alone establishes value. A charcoal drawing by the London, U.K.-based artist Sara Anstis, for example, inspired another Londoner — "presumably a collector," Baribeau says — to snatch up a ton of tickets. "They were buying the win," he says. But ArtLotto's randomizer favoured a different admirer. When Baribeau reached out to congratulate the winner, he shared a bit about the artist's impressive background with them. And they said: "I'm glad you told me, cuz I was gonna Scotch tape it to my kid's wall.... I just liked it."

Perhaps ArtLotto's biggest success, however, is the fact that it's more or less sustainable for artists. Participants are not offering up their works at a painful discount — the raffle model often raises roughly the target price they would regularly receive for the item, Baribeau says. "And, in some cases, it hits way above that mark."

Sonali Menezes, whose interdisciplinary practice includes printmaking, zinemaking, performance, video and poetry, was one of ArtLotto's very first artists. "Usually, I'm at a market and I'm talking to hundreds of people and I'm really hustling to get that sale," she says, "to make up the tabling cost and the transportation costs, the printing costs, my lunch. There's a fair bit of stress and anxiety around 'Will I break even? Will I make a profit?' And this process involved none of that." Her print, The Hairy Bather, raised more than double its target price. 

Another successful lotto featured Hamilton-based painter Kareem-Anthony Ferreira, whose star has grown internationally over the past few years (yes, that's his work hanging in LeBron James' dining room). Ferreira contributed a print portrait of his Aunty Pam with raffle proceeds supporting the Hamilton Youth Steel Orchestra, the local steelpan band his mom co-founded nearly 20 years ago. The art was about family and the raffle supported a cause dear to the family, so the Ferreiras and their community supported the lotto enthusiastically.

"It's this kind of continuous thing," Ferreira says, "giving back to the community, using my talent and heritage to give back to that program, which is itself giving back … I've already told Gabe to slot me in again."

A silkscreen print by Hamilton-based artist Kareem-Anthony Ferreira called Aunty Pam. (Kareem-Anthony Ferreira)

Baribeau considers this a rare example of a "closed loop" — when all stakeholders (the artist, the social cause and the audience) are intimately connected. It is a powerful dynamic, and one he'd like to emulate in future raffles. In fact, as the project grows, Baribeau would like ArtLotto to do less of the sort of philanthropic work that simply airdrops one-time donations to area charities and organizations and do more direct service within the community that ArtLotto is itself building. He can imagine classes, workshops, grants and sponsorships all funded by ArtLotto. This sort of social development, after all, is the true strength of the project.

The raffle will not overturn the way the larger art market does business, but that was never its mission. Instead, ArtLotto emphasizes that "there are artists everywhere in your community," Baribeau says. "Its goal is to show that and to better connect artists to their community."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Chris Hampton is a Hamilton-based freelance arts and culture writer. His work has appeared elsewhere in The New York Times, the Toronto Star, The Globe and Mail, The Walrus, and Canadian Art. Find him on Instagram: @chris.hampton

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