Charles Doyon initially came up with the idea for an app called Lonely Walls during his MBA when working on a business case competition.
"Reflecting on my time as a photographer and the challenges I had faced in exhibiting my art, sparked the idea for a tool to connect artists to local businesses such as coffee shops, restaurants, hotels etc." he said. "Many artists give up because they cannot get exhibited in art galleries and find it too difficult to market their artwork."
A couple years ago, he participated in the Y combinator Startup School program and received great feedback while sharing this idea. Since then, he and his business partner have been working on this project, Doyon's first startup, officially launching in the Seattle market this July.
Doyon, a mechanical engineer by trade, came here from Montreal to work at Boeing in 2007.
"As a way to explore the city and pass time, I picked up photography and became pretty tenacious with it and obtained a certificate in photography from UW," he said. "Later, I worked in software development and consulted for various major corporations. Lonely Walls allowed me to bridge the gap between my passion for art and my knowledge of product and software development."
So far, the reception has been positive, and Doyon says it has been very exciting to see artists create profiles and upload their artwork.
"The quality and diversity of the art has been very impressive," he said. "To date, we've had three shows, two of which are still ongoing, and we are in the process of booking many more. The talented Misha Pritchett is currently exhibited at Retro Coffee in Seattle, and the amazing Tara Jennings is showing her art at Route 522 Taproom in Woodinville."
Helping artists land exhibitions in local businesses has never felt more timely.
"The pandemic has been particularly hard on visual artists relying on people being able to see their artwork in person," Doyon said. "It’s also been tough for local businesses that have not been able to welcome people through their doors until recently. At the same time, the pandemic has supercharged the demand for artwork, as more people are working from home than ever and want to spruce up their homes."
"Many people also turned to making visual art during the lockdowns as a way to keep their sanity," he said. "Now is the perfect time for artists, venues and collectors to use Lonely Walls to buy and sell artwork as well as embellish public spaces."
The app is free for anyone to join; they charge a 10% commission on artwork sold. Venues get to pick their own commission level, from 0% to 25%, depending on the type of venue.
Doyon shares that conceptualizing and building the app has been tremendously rewarding.
"Though it is a simple concept, it took several iterations to bring the original idea down to something that is easy to use," he said. "Seeing the app working smoothly and being used to book our first show with Misha has been incredible to witness it come to fruition. Now, our mission is to keep bringing awareness to the application, and showcase how it revolutionizes the way people buy and sell artwork."
In order to keep the momentum going, Doyon hopes that more artists and venues will sign up.
"Our goal is for everyone to be using Lonely Walls, as it makes it a lot easier for artists to find venues to work. It also brings them more exposure, as collectors can see where their artwork is exhibited and go see it in person."
He explains that the app also takes care of the payment process; artists will no longer lose a sale because the buyer couldn’t get a hold of them.
"For venues, it dramatically simplifies the process of working with local artists, and to manage all their ongoing and future exhibitions in one unified place," he said. "It’s also a unique way to generate new revenue for their business by setting a commission level."
Doyon believes that the biggest problem within the art industry is that the curation process leaves a lot of talented artists behind.
"We did not want to be dictating who should be allowed to sell their art or not. For that reason, we invite all artists to create a profile — established ones as well as emergent ones. Venues get to pick and choose who they work with. Also, our 'Discover” / feed algorithm is designed to bring the most appreciated artists in a region to the forefront."