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New Startup Wants to Turn Spare Walls Into Independent Art Galleries

Billed as an "Uber for curation," Boston-based Tekuma wants to turn your spare wall into a marketplace

Can any room become a gallery space? That’s the premise behind new Boston-area startup Tekuma, which believes its sharing economy model can widen access to art, and turn your walls into a marketplace for independent work.

"Buying art can be overwhelming," says co-founder Marwan Aboudib. "With Tekuma, it’s as easy as uploading photos of your space, and curators give you suggested work by local artists."

Lots of real estate needs art for decoration, and lots of art needs real estate for display. Tekuma, meant to be a mutual solution, functions as a middleman between artists and property owners. The company obtains work from organizations such as ArtLifting, which promotes work from homeless or disabled independent artists, and then sells them to property owners—especially those who rent rooms on Airbnb, as well as those who run commercial spaces and apartment buildings—looking for a unique interior decoration, and the ability to potentially make a little money on the side by selling art.

After purchasing the artwork, owners display it on their walls along with a description and QR code, which guests or visitors can scan to make a purchase. Artists get the money up front in this system, instead of having to wait for the gallery to make a sale and take a commission, while property owners get unique artwork they hope makes their rental space more attractive.

"Property owners are already purchasing art for decoration, so why would they get it for free?" says Aboudib. "They’re paying us for artwork that creates more of an authentic experience. They need personalized space for millennials."

The co-founders of this "Uber for curation," Kun Qian, Aboudib, and Tengjia Liu, met during grad school at MIT, when both were studying both architecture and real estate (Liu would later leave to pursue architecture). During a presentation of one of their models, they realized few people were actually seeing their work besides the judges, and started thinking about the issues of physical exposure for artists. After playing with an online market for student work, they pivoted to their current model.

The company believes Airbnb hosts offer huge room for growth, since the growing number of listed properties on the network has created competition and a desire to stand out. Tekuma ran A-B testing last summer to test its value proposition, comparing the rental rates and reviews of two similar apartments on the room-sharing service: one serving as a control and the other, art-filled flat standing in as a test. The decorated space attracted more bookings and commanded a premium price.

Tekuma sees plenty of blank walls to fill in its future. After running tests and pop-up events with student artwork and completing an MIT tech accelerator program last summer, the startup has expansion plans, including furnishing an entire 30-unit apartment building currently under construction in Boston’s Back Bay, which will be "the neighborhood’s largest gallery" when Tekuma is finished.They will soon have 400 pieces of art hanging at different locations around the city including six office buildings, and eventually plan to move into cities such as New York.

The service hasn't worked with name-brand artists just yet, but when they partner with higher-end hotels and residential properties, they believe they’ll have the budget to attract more famous creatives. While it was founded with the owner’s focus on practical, profitable solutions, Tekuma's owners believe it can make a business out of aesthetics.

"We’re against the idea of generic space," says Aboudib. "We want to share creativity."

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