After a two-year hiatus, the Art Business Conference returned to London in March, bringing professionals from across the art world together to listen to a number of fantastic speakers. Topics included the issue of sustainability in an increasingly globalised market, the booming international interest in contemporary African art and, of course, the emergence of NFT technology.

The day began with a discussion on the issue of working sustainably in a globalised market in which art is moved around the world in great volume. Chris Bentley from AXA spoke about the ways in which insurers can collaborate with clients seeking to ship artworks by sea, notoriously tricky but a greener alternative to sending it by air. Tom Woolston, Global Head of Operations at Christie’s spoke about the company’s ‘10 years to net zero’ programme and Imogen Prus spoke passionately about Convelio’s mission to drive sustainability in the shipping industry through their ‘Climate Care’ programme.

This was followed by an inspiring discussion of the contemporary African art market between an all-female panel of speakers, each dedicated to expanding the influence of African artists beyond the continent.

African art has been hugely underappreciated until recently. However, since their inaugural African art auction in 2017 realised sales of c.£2.26m, Sotheby’s have been forging the way with dedicated bi-annual sales and, although African art currently represents less than 1% of all global art sales, it is a category poised for explosive growth. As well as this traditional route to market, the rise of social media and of NFT technology has empowered local artists to connect with a new audience of local African collectors as well as the social media savvy Millennial market.

We heard from Touria El Glaoui, Rakeb Sile, Bimpe Nkontchou, Freda Isingoma and Hannah O’Leary about the initiatives they are leading to improve not only accessibility to the market for local artists but also of the improvements to infrastructure required on the ground to expand their reach.

Another all-female panel highlighted the existence of opportunities for innovation within the art market through tech and finance. Stacie McCormack talked about her app ‘FairartFair’, which she described as “the Tinder for art lovers”. The app puts artists in direct contact with collectors, bringing a new dynamic to the market. Anna Lowe introduced us to her hugely successful app ‘Smartify’, which allows gallery and museum visitors to access information about artworks via their smartphones, moving away from the old model of headset guides. The app also provides its partner galleries with data on their visitors and on the popularity of their exhibits. Rebecca Fine talked about combining her passion for art and finance in her business, Athena Fine Art, who provide loans collateralised by works of fine art.

Finally, Vivienne Chow chaired a lively discussion on NFTs and the future of digital art. We heard from Xin Li-Cohen, of TR Lab, who advised prospective buyers on the record sale of Beeple’s NFT, 5,000 days, sold at Christie’s New York in 2021 for $69 million.

Alex Estorick, founder of ‘right-click-save, and Joe Kennedy, of Unit London, spoke eloquently on a subject that many in the art world are grappling to understand.

We were also lucky enough not just to hear from digital artist Brendan Dawes about how the emergence of NFT technology has changed his career but to be gifted our very own NFTs!

It was a privilege to hear from so many industry leaders on such a diverse array of topics and to spend a day connecting with art market professionals in person. Hearing about the efforts being made to operate more sustainably, to expand the reach of contemporary African artists and to enable greater engagement with art through technology highlighted the work being done by so many forward-thinking individuals committed to ensuring that the market continues to thrive.

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