In the Sydney Harbour-side apartment of Teresa and Andre Biet, artworks abound – but this is just the tip of the iceberg. “99 per cent of our art’s in storage at the moment,” Andre explains. “We’ve sold our house and are camping here.” While glamping is perhaps closer to the truth, the Biets are clearly passionate art collectors (“Our daughter says we need therapy because we don’t stop,” reveals Teresa). Then there came a point where collecting wasn’t cutting it. “We were buying art, meeting a lot of artists, going to studios, and it was just staring us in the face – these artists are not supported,” recalls Teresa.
Enter Art Incubator, a not-for-profit charity that takes an unusual approach to supporting emerging Australian artists. “We felt that while there are many prizes around they tend to be a handshake, some money and well done. That wasn’t enough,” Teresa says. The Art Incubator model awards an artist a financial grant of $5,000 (with no restrictions on its use), as well as a solo exhibition in an established gallery, and mentoring in professional practice. The Biets, already active in connecting artists with opportunities through their personal networks, are keen to extend the latter, citing examples of artists’ use of online media and financial management as potential areas for improvement. Teresa also feels that many artists allow humility to get in the way of professional development, and is working to change that.
Teresa and Andre acknowledge that galleries face a financial disincentive in exhibiting the work of emerging artists. Working an impressive art world rolodex, Art Incubator arranges commercial shows for selected artists, contributing to the gallery’s overheads and acquiring pieces from each show which are then loaned to corporate collections, increasing exposure of the artist’s work. Supported artists have so far included Emma Finneran, Kate Mitchell, and Will French among others.
“The problem with a lot of art philanthropy,” observes Andre, “is that it’s done by one individual or family [who] gets older, loses interest or passes on. Then this program, which had probably been wonderful for ten years, falls in a heap.” Along with four other couples, one individual, and the Macquarie Bank Foundation (which matched the support of one of its donor executives dollar-for-dollar), the Biets established Art Incubator as a self-sustaining model. Young founders were sought to increase interest in collecting and guard against age-related philanthropic fatigue. At the conclusion of each five-year program cycle, acquired works are auctioned off with funds raised going towards the next batch of supported artists.
The first of these gala auction events is slated to take place early 2018 at the Cell Block Theatre at Sydney’s National Art School (NAS), an institution for which the Biets have a history of support, encouraged by impressive student satisfaction levels and the early successes of recently-appointed director Steven Alderton.
It is through visiting graduate exhibitions such as NAS’s, studio visits, peer reviews and industry recommendations that artists are selected as potential candidates for the program. The Biets then keep an eye on these artists for six to 12 months before making a decision. “For Art Incubator it’s important to engage on a personal basis and I don’t think we could do justice to a portfolio assessment,” Teresa explains. The couple generally consider artists who have completed undergraduate studies in the past five to 10 years – “it’s very important for us to see that they’ve made a long commitment,” notes Andre.
The proof is in the pudding, with program alumni going on to achieve great things. This year ceramic artist Alice Couttoupes has exhibited at the Fondation Bernardaud in Limoges, France, and been awarded Highly Commended and People’s Choice in the Macquarie Group Emerging Artist Prize. Several of Couttoupes’ pieces have made the cut in the Biets’ current abode where the couple refer to them often during the course of our conversation. It’s clear that the support of artists is a consuming passion for this pair, which has been harnessed into a unique philanthropic model set up to stand the test of time.
This article was originally published in Art Collector issue 83, JAN – MAR 2018.