The .ART of the Interview - Swakara Atwell-Bennett from BetterShared

If 2020 was a disturbing year, it was also the year in which some incontested inequalities have surfaced and are now talk about more than ever before. The diversity- or lack thereof- in the Art World and the many barriers of entry for Black Artists and BIPOC, in general, have been part of many talks. Interview with Swakara Atwell-Bennett from BetterShared, a curated platform that showcases emerging artists from African and the diaspora!

Tell us more about BetterShared
BetterShared is the leading global art marketplace for some of today’s most exciting emerging artists from Africa and the diaspora. Discover and shop from a wide selection of prints, paintings, photography, and mixed media works from Africa and the diaspora. 

Your top 3 discovery of 2020 in the arts? 

  • Abraham Ogunlende, who creates pop-colour paintings that are full of joy, like his “The Sky is Always Blue” series which is a visual reminder that life always gets better, something we all need to hear, especially in 2020
  • Caroline Chinakwe, who creates beautifully layered pieces, they are really striking. Her background in fashion is evident and comes through in her artwork.
  • Yermine Richardson (Pop Caribe) a Caribbean artist that creates vibrant pieces, with touches of gold, that feels almost magical.

How do you find your artists and how do you work with them? What is your relationship with them?
I find a lot of artists on Instagram, online platforms and I would visit art shows and fairs (pre-covid). Once we’re able to travel again I’m planning to meet more artists in person. With emerging and early career artists, my aims are to help them learn, grow, and sell by providing the knowledge, tools and tech to do so. I’ve built some amazing relationships with artists and feel like a proud mum to all of them!  

What challenges and | or opportunities do you see with the current context? 
There are continued challenges for many, and I honestly feel for business owners with physical spaces and those in the events industry, who can’t operate in the same way online. For small businesses and independent artists however, the support has grown, and we’ve personally seen an uptake in sales from new art buyers. Social commerce and campaigns like ‘the artist pledge’ have democratised art buying and provided financial support for indie artists. There are also opportunities in the virtual space, we, like many others, launched a virtual gallery and although it was well-received, there is more that can be done to enhance the experience. My hopes for the future of art are that we can use tech to both enhance physical experiences and make it easier for everyone to access the art world, whether that is as a buyer or an artist. 

Neals Niat, LE YOR / KIWI, 2019

BetterShared will be 5 in 2021 – what are the most important lessons you learned during that time? How did BetterShared evolve in that period of time?
Five years have flown by, BetterShared began as a Youtube series and a blog with a goal to share the immense talent within the African diaspora. That goal remains, we have just changed the ways in which we reach that goal. When I started the blog, it began to gain popularity as a resource to find up-and-coming creatives and some of our first commercial opportunities came from brands using our platform to find creatives to work with on campaigns. 

Alongside the blog I was also hosting pop-up events with artists and photographers and the interest from collectors began to grow, at this point I realised I had to niche down and home in on art. The requests to purchase artwork grew as did the number of artists applying to showcase with us. We needed to scale, so in 2019 BetterShared relaunched as an online art marketplace, enabling artists to showcase and sell their work on a global scale. Giving collectors the opportunity to discover and shop from numerous artists on one platform and use a single checkout. 

The biggest lessons I’ve learnt are to; focus and simplify, be ready and know when to pivot and that you don’t need a huge budget to get an idea off the ground. 

What is next for BetterShared?
We are
continuing to onboard new artists and we are looking to expand our offering to give our buyers a larger range of art and collectable pieces to shop from. We have a few other things planned but that is all I can share for now.

Lambi Chibambo, We’re The Keepers

There has been a lot of talks, important ones, about the lack of representation of Black artists and BIPOC in general in the Art World – how do you think that this lack can be addressed?
Nepotism is still a huge problem in the art world. Diversity in leadership and ownership are the two things that need to change drastically for real change to happen across the art industry. This does not just stem from galleries but is ingrained in the entire system from education to gallery representation. 

You mentioned on your website that you feel that there is less and less of a traditional route in the Art World – what do you hope to see emerge from this rupture with tradition?
Th
e breakdown of the barriers of entry. We’ve already seen it with online platforms and social commerce, both enable artists to reach a global audience and interact with buyers directly. I’ve also come across more artists who are extremely talented and self-taught. For me, it’s about your skill and uniqueness, not which art school you attended. With the rise in affordable online courses, from both industry experts and institutions bringing art education online, we will start to see a new breed of talent enter the art world.

You choose a .ART for your domain name, why was that important to you? What are the reasons behind that decision?
It’s great to have a suffix that tells someone browsing exactly what we sell, instantly strengthening that connection between our brand name and art.

You are creating content for your platform, there is knowledge sharing within the content posted – why is this pivotal to you? What are the goals you hope to achieve?
Content has always been a huge part of our brand and our strategy. Alongside e-commerce, we also serve as a discovery platform and a source of information for collectors, artists and even institutions. We aim to be the go-to platform to discover, learn and collect art from up and coming African artists both on the continent and across the diaspora. 

What do you hope to see in 2021 in the art world?
My hopes for the future of art are that we can use tech to both enhance physical experiences and make it easier for everyone to access the art world, whether that is as a buyer or an artist.
The art world has been heavily dominated by the larger entities for the longest time, so I am excited to see smaller, independent platforms make their mark and shake up the industry both culturally and democratically. And for artists, the removal of the notion the need to be validated by a larger entity. If 2020 showed artists anything, is that you don’t need to wait for representation, awards, that ‘solo show’ or any other validation to launch your career. 

Affen Segun, Ayoola

Swakara’s 4 tips on how to partner with a curated art platform: 

  1. Find your style, work at it and create a collection. Galleries | platforms will want to see a collection or series of works. 
  2. It might feel daunting, but share your work and your process, you never know who is watching
  3. Be where your audience is. It is not about being on every platform but the right platforms, do your research and look at the kind of art they sell or their criteria and see if your work is a good fit.
  4. Reach out to these platforms and follow up, and if you get rejected try and find out why. Sometimes, we have to say no to artists because they aren’t quite ready yet or their work is great but not what our buyers are interested in, or sometimes it’s just timing, so don’t give up. 

  • The most significant influence in your life:  There is always something new to learn
  • An object you can’t live without Food. 
  • When I say “art”, what if your first thought? Beauty.
  • What’s your idea of happiness? Freedom. 
  • Your favourite art moment? Opening nights. Miss those! Also ‘Get Up, Stand Up Now’ was an amazing celebration of Black British creative pioneers and beautifully curated. 
  • A myth you would like to debunk? You need to be rich to be an art collector. 
  • What the art world should be more of and less of? More inclusive, less ‘Mean Girl’ vibes. 

About Swakara Atwell-Bennett

Swakara Atwell-Bennett is the founder of BetterShared, the leading global art marketplace for some of today’s most exciting emerging artists from Africa and the diaspora. 

Frustrated by the fact that African and Caribbean artists were largely underrepresented in the art world, London-based Swakara wanted to create a platform that accurately represented black artists. She launched BetterShared in 2016, enabling up and coming artists from the African diaspora to showcase and sell their work at scale. Praised for her innovation and contribution to the UK’s fast-growing startup scene Swakara has been named in TechRound’s #BAME50Under50. She has also been described as ‘a leader with a social heart’ by the Dots. Swakara is passionate about diversifying and democratising the arts. In addition to running BetterShared, Swakara is a creative business consultant helping artists market and monetise their creativity, through online training and workshops. 


The .ART is proud to be part of the process of diversifying the art world and create a more open environment, this is one of the reasons why our Fair Price Algorithm is important to us. Visit bettershared.art to discover the compelling work of many emerging artists from Africa and the diaspora, as well as to learn more about BetterShared and Swakara. Follow its  Instagram account @bettershared to stay in sync with new additions to the platform and news about BetterShared.

evlyne Laurin
evlyne Laurin
is a self-titled Creative Chaos Manager; people collaborate with her to investigate and analyze their overload piles of compelling ideas and concepts that she rationalized and polished until there is a final product with substance and style. She is also a seasoned art administrator & writer who loves colour-coding things and has a pigeon phobia. Connect with her on LinkedIn or Instagram.