Visual Arts

Tim McElligott's Curator Engine Aims to Connect Arizona Artists, Art Buyers

There’s a new art commerce enterprise in town called Curator Engine, which seeks to connect artists with buyers. It's starting with ASU-affiliated artists, including students, alumni or faculty — but there are plans to expand and replicate the model with additional artists and perhaps expand to other cities once the service is well established.

Curator Engine was founded by Tim McElligott, who holds an MBA from Arizona State University and lives in Roosevelt Row, and Lane Nemeth, a California entrepreneur best known for starting the Discovery Toys company she eventually sold to Avon. 

Kara Roschi has come aboard as chief curator, and also handles some of the operations. She left Practical Art, the small business she operated for many years with Lisa Olson, at the end of May 2015. Roschi is enrolled in an MFA program at ASU and is well known for her arts activism.

Roschi met McElligott while working with Adriene Jenik, multimedia artist and director for ASU’s School of Art at the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. Roschi says Jenik’s model for connecting student artists with exhibition spaces, in which Jenik serves as a middle person, helped to inform the Curator Engine business model. 

At this point, Curator Engine is a free service offered to ASU-affiliated artists and potential buyers. Its key component is the website, which McElligott says it cost them $10,000 to develop and Roschi notes they’ll continue to refine over time.

McElligott expects buyers to include developers and designers working on new construction. Other potential buyers include medical and legal offices, restaurants and clubs, and small businesses eager to sport the localist vibe. Businesses also can rent works of art through Curator Engine.

Artists who’ve signed Curator Engine agreements can upload images and information about works of art they want to sell through Curator Engine, and buyers can contact Curator Engine to request particular types of artwork. McElligott says they've signed up about 40 artists so far.

The artworks don’t appear online. Instead, they’re part of a database that Curator Engine will use to match available artwork to possible buyers. Artists indicate the amount they want to receive for each work they upload through the site, and Curator Engine is free to sell the works for more.

McElligott says they’ll let artists know the selling price for their own works, although it's unclear at this point exactly how that will happen. Roschi explains that having the information will help artists get a better feel for what their artwork is worth in the current market.

They’re also hoping to analyze data that can become part of the larger community conversation about the value of artwork and working in the arts and culture sector, a topic they’ve discussed with Steven J. Tepper, dean for ASU’s Herberger Institute.

Both McElligott and Roschi says they’re working for free at this point, but will draw a salary once the profits are there to make it possible. Although they don’t have a brick and mortar presence, citing the costs involved, they are open to exhibiting works available through Curator Engine.
McElligott says they’re undertaking a slow rollout now, and planning for an official launch sometime this fall. Roschi notes that the Creator Engine website is very artist-focused at this point, but they’ll be making adjustments to assure it also appeals to potential buyers.

Find more information on the Curator Engine website.

Editor's note: Full disclosure, Lynn Trimble worked with Discover Toys in the 1990s.

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Lynn Trimble is an award-winning freelance writer and photographer specializing in arts and culture, including visual and performing arts
Contact: Lynn Trimble