Andrea Carafa can speak several languages, among them English, French and Spanish, but to him, the most universal ones are of music and the arts. With these languages, the only barriers are physical ones.
“There is a big issue we are facing, and this is access to space,” said Carafa, saying that "skyrocketing" rents have forced many art and performance spaces to close.
As an artist and entrepreneur-in-residence at Stanford University, Carafa points to the local art scene in the San Francisco area as an example. “In just the last five to 10 years, most of the cultural venues have disappeared,” he noted.
For up-and-coming artists, lack of space makes it even harder to get their name out and work sold.
Carafa realized there were many untapped spaces and in some cases, they were right in people's backyards. He created ArtsUp, an online platform that pairs artists with venue owners willing to host events in their space, be it a backyard, living room, bookstore or cafe.
In the past, a rooftop, boat and even a lighthouse have functioned as ArtsUp venues. “These spaces are there; we just have to share them and use them,” said Carafa.
An AirBnB for the arts
Carafa likens ArtsUp to another sharing economy startup, AirBnb, that allows people to profit from guests' use of their homes or spare rooms.
“It is a bit like an AirBnb for cultural events, so it allows you to host a concert, an exhibition, theater or dance show," said Carafa.
The platform lets artists sell tickets and/or work, accept donations, and perhaps more importantly, introduce their work to new audiences. Venue owners can also receive a percentage of the profits, but Carafa said most don’t request a cut, as they are essentially able to book and experience artists and performers for free.
Similar to ticketing platforms like EventBrite, ArtsUp charges a small commission.
For Carafa, the startup is a labor of love, “It’s really hard to be an entrepreneur. You work very hard. You work a lot and you can keep going only if you’re passionate.”
His passion has brought events to four continents and 16 cities around the world, including Buenos Aires, Lima, Barcelona and Shanghai. The pop-up events have allowed guests to experience music and art in unique and unexpected locations, while connecting some with a world from which they may have previously felt estranged.
“Some people told us, ‘We don’t usually go to exhibitions or other kinds of shows in very traditional settings because we don’t feel it’s for us’” said Carafa. "[ArtsUp] removes any social and socio-cultural barrier to going to cultural events, which you might have in other kinds of settings, like in museums or in art galleries,” he added.
Describing a typical ArtsUp event, Carafa said, “There’s a very friendly atmosphere; they are very intimate and unique, especially because they are hosted by people who are local citizens and open up their space and share it with the invitees.”
In developing countries where art scenes are less established, Carafa envisions ArtsUp as a way for local communities to experience art, in environs that are familiar and accessible.
Social causes and entrepreneurship are not mutually exclusive ideas for the startup founder.
“Impact entrepreneurship can become mainstream. We define impact entrepreneurship as entrepreneurship which is for good, for profit and for the world,” he said.