Q&A: Kate Hoffman, CEO of Spacey, on Breaking Down the Barriers to Investing in Art

Can the direct-to-consumer, online brand model work for buying fine art as well? Former TV exec Kate Hoffman has staked everything on it.

Kate Hoffman. Spacey Studios

If you’re not a comfortable multi-millionaire living in a refurbished Brooklyn brownstone, it can be hard to conceive of buying art for yourself, since everything available on the gallery and auction circuit seems like it sells for at least five figures. Kate E. Hoffman, CEO and founder of the art tech startup Spacey Studios, ran into just such a problem after she moved in with her boyfriend and found the online art-buying marketplace to be hopelessly decentralized.

Her business, which she started in March, is a platform that offers customers limited-edition prints made by artists who work with the company in temporary shifts that function rather like residencies. In essence, art aficionados are getting original work at affordable prices. Spacey Studios also holds the distinction of being the first art startup to be backed by the prominent seed-stage startup incubator AngelPad. On Tuesday, Observer got in touch with Hoffman to discuss how she envisions enthusiasts interacting with art going forward.

Observer: Tell me about the origin of the idea for Spacey Studios.
Kate E. Hoffman: I launched Spacey in March, but prior to that I was working in television as the executive director of creative partnerships at the independent TV production company Endemol Shine. At the time, I had just moved into a new home with my partner and we were looking to start investing in art. I had been lucky enough to collect from people that I knew until thenmy sister is an artist. I really wanted to look outside of the world that I knew to view new artists that spoke to me. In that process, I was hit with this really dated and overwhelming experience, and I could not get over it because I was so disappointed.

I love art; I studied fine arts and art history in college as well as being a marketing major, and so I started thinking about what the art world looks like right now. I realized that there were a few trends that have essentially shifted where art is, and that the institutions around the art world had just been left behind.

So, first, galleries have traditionally been the gatekeepers between artists and collectors, but recently, Instagram has become the number one platform for connecting them. So the traditional gallery model is just not necessary, and that is why I think 25 percent of galleries in Manhattan closed last year. Then, when it comes to value, until now, dealers have been really like the dictators of what value is for fine arts for centuries and centuries. But now, direct-to-consumer brands are redefining how we value and look at luxury goods. We expect to be able to buy luxury at an affordable price with transparent value, and that’s just not what art is offering us.

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And your business is also about demystification, right? Or maybe taking things away from such an elite space.
Yes, exactly. I like to think our brand is inspired by the modern shopper, but powered by modern tech. To your point, part of the reason the world has not evolved in so long is because lots of business areas choose the art world and in turn, it’s created this really stuffy environment in general. So now, we’re seeing this fresh perspective from young artists who don’t need galleries to connect with collectors, they can sell their work via Instagram, learn from collectors and continue to grow their brand. Essentially, Spacey offers museum-quality prints at an affordable investment level in the high-curated online world.

I was wondering if you could explain a little bit more about the gamified art education feature on Spacey’s site? That sounded interesting.
I can’t say too much about that right now, but essentially we will be launching a membership platform quite soon, and there are all these different features we’re busy testing right now. But you know, in just looking at the art world, what I try to do at Spacey every day is see how can we improve everything about it for both artists and collectors. So one piece of that is education; how are we going to get people not only to collect from us now, but feel like we’re a resource where they can continue to learn and feel connected with fine art? So we’re trying to make that as fun and exciting as possible.

It sounds like a really interesting way to reach out to younger people who are maybe wanting to become collectors on a global scale but see no point of entry, because there really isn’t one unless you have the means. So, this is sort of an on-boarding process that you’ve come up with.
Oh my gosh, yes. That’s exactly what we say internally, actually.

This interview has been lightly condensed and edited for clarity. 

Q&A: Kate Hoffman, CEO of Spacey, on Breaking Down the Barriers to Investing in Art