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ARTiSTORY CEO and Founder Yizan He discusses his aim to change the way that art is shared and experienced through licensing.
Hi Yizan, it’s great to connect. To kick things off, how did you find your way into licensing?
Well, that all started with two young Singaporeans – my university classmate Christ Lim and me – back in 2003, when we brainstormed for creative business models that could unlock the untapped value of intellectual property.
We believed licensing was the right tool, even though Christ and I knew nothing about IP licensing at that time. We set up our first venture in Singapore in May 2003, probably one of the first licensing companies in Singapore at that time.
Time flies… It has been 20 years and I am glad that ARTiSTORY is a dream come true.
“ARTiSTORY wants to change the way that art and culture is shared and experienced.”
For anyone new to ARTiSTORY, how would you describe the company?
Well, prior to ARTiSTORY, I founded and built Alfilo Brands – a successful licensing business in China with sizable licensing and retail operations for the British Museum, the MET and the V&A in China. Alfilo Brands was the first player in art and cultural IP licensing in China and we unlocked the hidden value of art via licensing.
Art and culture transcends national borders and has universal appeal to a global audience. From day one, my vision has been to build a global art and cultural IP licensing business. While Alfilo Brands is designated for China and only China, I started ARTiSTORY in early 2021 with a focus on building a truly global player.
ARTiSTORY works with four types of cultural organisations, namely museums, galleries, science centres and libraries, mostly from the West. We currently have operations in Singapore, Shanghai, Beijing, Hangzhou, London, New York and now our new regional HQ in Raleigh, North Carolina – where I am based.
“Art and culture transcends national borders and has universal appeal to a global audience.”
How important is design to the success of one of your licensing programmes? Does a licensee’s approach to design influence who you partner with?
At ARTiSTORY, we emphasise two key aspects when we approach select licensee partners – design and storytelling capabilities.
Our museums offer us access to a vast collection of their artworks, but high-resolution images of artworks are ‘raw materials’ and they can’t be directly used on product designs.
How do you overcome that?
Firstly, our research and creative design teams in Shanghai, London and New York develop annually refreshed themes and design assets that are inspired by the original artworks.
In our recent afternoon tea project at the Fairmont Hotel, the theme is ‘Season of Impressionists’. In this theme, we feature the Sunflower, among many beloved paintings by Vincent van Gogh from the National Gallery in the UK.
Just like other painters at the time, Vincent painted many varieties of flowers, but he eventually chose a specific variety: the sunflower. Vincent wanted to be known as the painter of sunflowers. His sunflower paintings were colour experiments, as he resorted to various hues of yellow as a way to illuminate his inner world.
Executive Pastry Chef Yong Ming Choong and Senior Sous Chef Jacky Lai at Fairmont Hotel have developed a bespoke food menu and wonderful collections of pastry based on the theme and with a nice rendering of colour palette.
Yes, that looks fantastic. Why do you think art and afternoon tea make for such a creative collaboration?
People are naturally drawn to art, people are curious about culture and equally, we love to share our passion for art with someone we care and love. This is human nature; it’s in our DNA.
Season of Impressionists Afternoon Tea by Fairmont brings diners unique experiences and allows them to share their love for art. While there are many afternoon teas in the Singapore market, the Season of Impressionists Afternoon Tea is one of the first that’s inspired by Dutch Post-Impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh’s lifelong passion for art and is supported by the UK’s National Gallery.
ARTiSTORY is fuelled by our vision, which is to change the way that art and culture is shared and experienced. Thanks to licensing as a business tool, our partnership with Fairmont Hotel and the National Gallery, Singaporeans can now share our love of art over a wonderful afternoon tea session at Anti:dote – a stylish and modern cocktail bar at Fairmont Hotel Singapore.
More exciting art themes are in the pipeline as this is just the first in a four-part series of art-inspired afternoon teas that we will jointly launch in 2023.
We’ll keep our eyes peeled for future launches! As you mention, you’ve had success licensing artistic interpretations of classic pieces. Was it a tough ask convincing museums to allow their pieces to be reimagined in such a way?
Yes, the beginning was not easy as most museums are relatively new to licensing. But eventually, many museums witnessed the success of the licensing programs, not only in terms of revenue, but more importantly, how a global, younger audience has embraced the licensed products that are inspired by artworks.
ARTiSTORY is proud to transform the way in which museums may engage a younger demographic via wonderful licensed products and experiences, such as this Season of Impressionists Afternoon Tea.
There’s plenty of museums and institutions still untapped in licensing. What do you think an artistic institution needs to have in order to embrace licensing successfully?
Keep an open mind as they explore new approaches to engage the global audience. I am glad we have developed many successful licensing and retail programs in partnership with many of the world’s top museums and cultural organisations. Our licensing programs have been implemented in versatile product categories and also in many parts of the world, from Singapore to China, from the UK to the US.
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