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Posted at 11:50 AM ET, 05/30/2013

D.C. art academy dabbles with crowdsourcing

Michael Clements, founder of Washington-based bar-and-art studio ArtJamz, had been hearing his customers ask for art classes since the business — which offers studio time, materials and drinks to interested artists — opened three years ago.

But for three years, he’d hesitated to open an “ArtJamz Academy” because he wasn’t sure what classes students would actually attend.

So he decided to ask the market. In ArtJamz’s first attempt at crowdsourcing, Clements invited students to pledge money online to art classes they found interesting — if enough people agreed to put down cash and the class was funded, a teacher offered the class at ArtJamz’s Dupont location.

Clements said he has yet to turn a profit on the approach— he’s still working out best practices—but he likes the idea that crowdsourcing allows the studio’s small staff to focus resources on classes students have paid to attend, instead of offering classes and hoping they would show up.

ArtJamz Academy’s marketplace features class concepts including “Paint Your Pooch” and “D.C. Skyline Painting,”with prices ranging from $29 to $35. Clements has pitched a few of the classes himself — others have been from ArtJamz staff, or from artists unaffiliated with ArtJamz.

Each class concept remains on the marketplace for three weeks. If it fails to gain the support of at least five students, it is removed. Teachers can set their own rate, and ArtJamz charges a fee for materials, drinks and studio space.

The classes likely to fail are those whose prices are more than $35, Clements said. “There seems to be an established rate for a two-hour class,” he said, noting that LivingSocial has been offering studio sessions for $29, which includes half a bottle of wine. “When you allow teachers to crowdsource and set their own price, they typically can’t match LivingSocial.”

Successfully funded classes were set at $35 or lower, while unsuccessful ones, such as Introduction to Embroidery, were between $45 and $75, Clements said. So far, five classes — 50 percent of the classes on marketplace — have been funded, and ArtJamz offers about three a week.

While he’s confident the online marketplace will establish which kinds of classes the crowd wants and how much it’ll pay, he noted that setting up the infrastructure for the system has been the most challenging and expensive part of the process.

Clements said the initial investment to get the platform up and running was about $5,000. ArtJamz partnered with D.C.-based event crowdfunding site EventStir, paying it a monthly fee of about $45. ArtJamz and EventStir staff are working to develop an efficient way to communicate with students online — encouraging them to sign up and updating them about class times, for instance. Clements also hired an employee to manage ArtJamz Academy full-time.

“Right now we’re still spending more than we’re making,” Clements said, noting that to be comfortably profitable, ArtJamz must double the amount of classes it currently offers and teach about 50 students a month.

By  |  11:50 AM ET, 05/30/2013

 
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