Theodora Clarke is founder and editor of the online arts magazine Russian Art & Culture. She also set up Russian Art Week in London and publishes a bi-annual guide to this major event. She built her company from a blog that she started at university. Through social media and blogging she has become an established art historian, lecturer and critic specialising in Russian art and European modernism.
What is it exactly that you do and what is your start-up/company all about?
I am editor of Russian Art and Culture, an online community and arts listings hub that focuses on Russian culture both in the UK and abroad. We provide articles, reviews, interviews and listings of Russian cultural events. We also publish the official guide to the biannual Russian Art Week, which features auctions of Russian art, exhibitions, concerts and auxiliary events. Russian Art and Culture also organises events such as talks, conferences, film screenings and panel discussions.
What is your main objective with Russian Art and Culture?
Our goal is to improve understanding and awareness of Russian culture in the West. There is a lack of information and exposure of Russian culture in English, which is what Russian Art and Culture addresses as most foreign websites are in Cyrillic and are infrequently updated. I identified that there was a lack of a single source of information for the general public, collectors and curators of Russian art worldwide. We now provide constantly updated and accurate information on all Russian cultural events taking place and aim to become a global hub.
What is your audience?
We have an audience of over 60,000 readers. We act as a bridge between the academic and commercial art worlds and the wider general public with an interest in Russian art. Our readers include academics, Russian art specialists, Russian art collectors, students, gallerists, auction houses representatives, and the Russian diaspora.
That’s certainly a wide reach. What’s special about your work?
We differ from other Russian organisations and magazines in that we cover a wide range of content: all aspects of culture from art to music, ballet to theatre, contemporary and historical. We also include listings, job opportunities, and have an academic slant in that we publish conferences and calls for papers. We are unique in covering both academic and commercial content.
Our original blog I built myself in Google Blogger for free with no knowledge of computer coding! We know have a website developer and use a custom built version of WordPress. The original blog went viral through social media platforms and we get a huge amount of traffic from Facebook, Twitter, Mailchimp, Flickr, Instagram, VKontakte, Soundcloud and YouTube.
What are your core skills?
Marketing, research, journalistic, Russian language. But most importantly we need to publish interesting and creative content to attract readers and grow our community online.
How did you choose and create your team?
Most of our employees started out on work experience placements and often are graduates straight out of university. I believe that if you recruit young people who are passionate about our industry and subject and are willing to learn then they can become a great asset to the team. They have all got good research and social media skills and often come to us speaking multiple languages, set up their own blog or have lived in Russia or worked in a major museum. As we are a small team they all get to do lots of different jobs and build their skills. Lots of our old interns now work for our clients!
What are the top trends you see happening right now in the Russian Art market?
The market for contemporary Russian art is certainly improving. Unfortunately the current political situation has proved problematic, but on the other hand it emphasises the need to an improved understanding of culture for channels of dialogue. Contemporary art is a growing field and also we have expanded into literature, music and theatre as these are very popular with the public.
What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?
Be persistent and believe in yourself! Most of my family and friends thought I was crazy when I started a business focusing on Russian culture, especially as I am not even Russian! However, I was passionate about art and their culture. I love Kandinsky’s paintings, Tolstoy’s novels and Tchaikovsky’s music. My blog turned into a business because, without realising it, I had provided a useful hub for information and something which was a resource for people around the world, not just in the UK. The best businesses solve a problem that exists, in my case we have become a global community and hub for all things Russian. It takes a lot of determination and drive to set something up from scratch but I believe anyone can do it if you put your mind to it. My best tip would be to find something you enjoy doing as you are going to be investing a lot of time and energy into the project. Also do your research, why is your company different and what is unique about your product or service?
There are lots of books and blogs out there which can give you advice on how to set up your website, effectively market to customers, increase sales through business development and so on which are all helpful. But don’t forget to ask people’s advice. I must have had hundreds of cups of tea with people who ran totally different companies just to get their perspective on my ideas. Keep a notebook with all your ideas, good or bad, as you never know when inspiration will strike!
Have you got an idea for improving how we fund, make, share and enjoy art and culture?
Social media has the potential to totally revolutionise the arts. People can share their favourite works in museums, post photographs of little known historial sites and can blog about their works as artist and so on. Also skype has been incredible providing face to face access so I can simultaneously interview an artist in Moscow, the exhibition curator in New York whist I am in London. Most museums and galleries are now looking at opening up their collections and exhibitions online as ways to interact and build new audiences.
Our fundamental goal is to promote art and culture, through exposure and promotion of events that we ourselves would want to go to. We hope that our magazine and events fulfill this goal as much as possible.
Inspired? We look forward to seeing you at the Startup Weekend Art London in October!