Creative financing: Patti Pan’s RevArt deals with the serious business of art

“Awaiting” by Tomie Deng is an example of the work included in Patti Pan’s RevArt, a Darden 2020 VentureLab startup that connects artists with commerce for a mutually enriching experience. “Awaiting” by Tomie Deng is an example of the work included in Patti Pan’s RevArt, a Darden 2020 VentureLab startup that connects artists with commerce for a mutually enriching experience.

Art and business aren’t the most compatible concepts—some might even consider them diametrically opposed. Connections exist, however, and Patti Pan is seeking to find and expand upon them with her startup RevArt, a “global platform connecting artists” with commercial brands and with each other.

Pan, a 2020 graduate of UVA’s Darden School of Business, was thinking about RevArt even before attending grad school. Prior to moving to Charlottesville, she worked in Hong Kong, where she helped develop plans for a large shopping mall. The team installed an art gallery within the space, so that “people could shop and enjoy the artwork together.” When Pan saw the enormous success of the mall, which she says brought in 120,000 customers daily, she started thinking about the common threads between art and commercialism.

Pan wants to give a home to the creatives who need it most, she says, and who might not know much about the business aspect of the industry. “I want to disrupt the industry and make the art world more like democracy,” Pan says. To serve this mission, RevArt’s clients tend to be emerging, rather than established artists.

“Business is a pain for [artists],” she says. “They like creation…but they also want to make a living.” That’s where RevArt comes in. The startup handles IP licensing for its clients and helps them make commercial connections. Really, Pan says, the goal is to expose inexperienced artists to a profitability they might not otherwise reach. “The whole IP licensing market grows 10 percent every year. People don’t know that.”

The business is still young enough that something as drastic as the pandemic could potentially cripple it—but Pan says that hasn’t been the case. In her words, COVID-19 creates “the perfect artist lifestyle. I don’t mean that COVID-19 is a good thing, but it’s just super comfortable for artists…they can focus on creation.”

While her clients might be producing at a greater rate than usual, Pan concedes that the pandemic has certainly slowed the growth of RevArt and made communication more difficult. Artists based both in Charlottesville and in Hong Kong (where the startup’s two office spaces are located) have asked Pan to come to their studios in person as opposed to virtual visits. “People hate Zoom!” she says.

She uses the necessary shift to technology to focus more on RevArt’s potential “digital assets. People…are social animals. We still want to see the artwork. How to leverage technology to accomplish that—that’s the new challenge for me.”

Pan hopes that making artwork more available online will also have the effect of broadening its audience, a goal that returns her to the idea of “democracy.” The art industry, she says, is “very far away” from day-to-day life. “It’s being controlled by a few groups of very wealthy people. We want to make it more accessible to ordinary people.”

All of these plans are for further down the line. For now, RevArt’s main goal is that of any small business during difficult times: “to survive.”

It’s hard enough for a startup to make it in a “normal” economy, Pan says. She mentions her Darden peers taking Wall Street or consulting jobs rather than striking out on their own, but stresses that the security isn’t worth it to her. “I’m spending my savings to do this. But I want to do this, and I see value.”

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