How did an Instagram hashtag create a mutually supportive art market that puts artists first, whether new graduates or well established? Artist Support Pledge founder Matthew Burrows explains. Interview by Chris Sharratt.
#artistsupportpledge is an Instagram hash tag that has turned the art world on its head. Founded by artist Matthew Burrows in March 2020 as the first lockdown hit, it has created a new way to sell art, generating an estimated £60m in sales and offering a financial lifeline to thousands of artists.
It’s a simple idea. Using #artistsupportpledge, artists post images of their work with a price tag of £200 or less. Interested buyers contact the artist directly – there is no commission to pay or fees charged. The ‘pledge’ made by those using the hashtag is that once they have achieved £1,000 of sales, they will spend £200 on work by another artist who is using the ASP hashtag.
So far, the hashtag has been used on more than 610,000 posts.
Why did you start Artist Support Pledge?
I set it up initially thinking it was only going to affect some of my friends and colleagues in the south east of England, but it went global pretty rapidly. Covid created an opportunity when, for a moment, people were willing to give anything a go because there was an overwhelming sense of global desperation – and there’s nothing more creatively engaging than creative desperation! I couldn’t have done this at any other time – it wasn’t on my mind because, like everyone else, I was trying to make the most out of the systems I had.
It has created a market for artworks that artists might otherwise not have been able to sell. How can new art graduates use it?
I think it can be a really useful thing for graduates – they can use it as a way to develop their professionalism, to learn how to present themselves in a way that is understandable to a public.
There’s an element of persistence needed in order to be successful using the hashtag, but it’s a big psychological boost to get your work out in the world and sold, and to do it with virtually zero cost. Is there potential for new graduates to make money through ASP? I always get slightly nervous talking about the finances of it, because if you get too excited about who’s been successful on it, it blinds us to the people who aren’t doing so well. I always try to be modest about the success, because there’s always people who need help to sell their work. But it can provide financial support. Maybe it buys you a few hours every week to make some work, or it might even allow you to work part-time, or even full-time, as an artist.
Some artists have sold a lot of small works, and editions, through #artistsupportpledge haven’t they?
I know a significant number of people who are earning more from Artist Support Pledge than they ever earnt from their art before. So it works for a lot of
people. A lot of art professionals, gallery owners, directors, and curators use it to buy art. They’re also discovering artists they didn’t know existed. That’s something I find really exciting.
What feedback have you had from new graduates specifically?
The  graduates I’ve spoken to who have used it have said they were despondent about graduating without there really being an art world to graduate into [due to Covid-19]. With Artist Support Pledge, suddenly they had something that allowed them to survive. The feeling of solidarity is also important – to feel that you’re together [with other artists] is much better than feeling like you’re isolated.
Although created as a response to the lockdown, it’s clear from its success that ASP has an ongoing role to play for artists.
For me, being an artist is about getting in the studio and making work, full-stop. But how do you make that possible – that’s been a big problem throughout history, forever. Finding a way to have money always coming in is very difficult – very few artists manage that. Right at the start of Artist Support Pledge, once I knew it was working, I realised that it had almost solved that problem because although it’s a small market relative to the main art market, it gives artists the ability to survive through their art between shows.
What advice would you give to artists graduating this year?
‘Take your time’ is always my number one piece of advice to any graduate. Don’t be in a rush. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be diligent and work hard, but just don’t expect immediate results. Don’t even desire immediate results – look to the long game.
Interview by Chris Sharratt.
For more information on Artist Support Pledge, visit artistsupportpledge.com
1. Matthew Burrows in his studio.
2 3 4. Artists’ posts using#artistsupportpledge.