1xRUN is the future of art

In November 2015, 1xRUN (one-time-run) celebrated its fifth anniversary of delivering limited-edition time-released prints through its e-commerce store.

1xRUN is the world’s leading publisher of fine art editions and is an online destination for original artwork from the world’s leading contemporary artists. It is entirely democratic in its reach: prints are sold on a first-come, first-served basis, and the prints themselves are usually between $50 and $100 (originals cost more, of course). The works sold through 1xRUN appeal to a demographic rarely targeted by the stereotypical consumer-based art world – the street artists and the hip-hoppers and the streetwear brands and the singer-songwriters and musicians. In other words, the youth market.

Started as a side project by Jesse Cory and Dan Armand, 1xRUN has grown to employ 24 people, including graduates from the College for Creative Studies and BFAs from Michigan State University. They have moved from a tiny gallery space in Royal Oak, a suburb of Detroit, to a three-story, 10,000-square-foot fine art gallery in Detroit’s rapidly evolving Eastern Market district.

This new home, Inner State Gallery, opened in 2013 and serves as the base of 1xRUN’s production operations, as well as artist-in-residence studio and apartment space.

Through their artist-in-residence program, they have hosted over 100 artists from 40 different countries. More than 850 well-known and emerging contemporary artists from all over the world have been represented in tens of thousands of pieces sold through 1xRUN, which have expanded to include a variety of original works, books, and exclusives in addition to the limited edition prints.

1xRUN saw 100% revenue growth in 2014 and 50% growth in 2015. Cory feels they are on track to hit $5 million in revenue by the end of 2016.

At this point it is safe to say that their little e-commerce site is no longer a startup.

“Five years – that’s a good milestone,” says Cory. “The business has grown substantially. We have 24 employees and have started a retirement program that makes being an employee not just a temporary job but a livelihood, so they can raise a family and buy homes and cars. We’re creating these opportunities with the understanding that we’re no longer a startup. Failure is still always in the rearview mirror but we’re looking at it from a great distance in the overall view of what we have accomplished.”

The biggest struggle, Cory says, is understanding how to become profitable. “You can make a lot of money and do a lot of cool projects, but how do you understand the nuts and bolts of what business means? We’re really trying to implement systems and processes, all these things we had no idea existed in business. We started as just a heart and a dream!”

They also work collaboratively with other galleries and art shows all around the country and world to co-publish prints and help grow “the movement.”

Cory says, “When we’re talking about entry-level art consumers we’re talking about the global segment. How do we bring the joy of art, the age-old tradition of storytelling, to more people? That’s been a highlight for us, to grow it. Our contemporaries in the consumer-based art market are all about figuring out how to grow that market segment.”

By curating and selling the kind of work they like to the kind of people they hang out with, Cory and Armand have created a whole new collector base from an almost entirely untapped demographic, many of which are new to collecting or do not self-identify as “collectors.”

The brand continues to grow and evolve each year, reaching and building new audiences in innovative ways. Cory says the main thing they have done over the last two years was cement their global partnerships, referring largely to the POW! WOW! global mural festival, which started as a week-long event in Hawaii and has since grown to include events in Long Beach, Tokyo, and Taipei – all of which 1xRUN has been present at with pop-up shops.

“It made sense to grow our brand in the POW! WOW! segment because our focus is people who are fine art painters who are now in the public domain,”  Cory says. “Now we’re using their curators to bring artwork from Tokyo and Taipei to our audience, bringing all these contemporary Asian painters that people don’t know to our audience, then doing pop-up events in those cities with our brand.”

He refers to the evolution from “street art” to public art in the contemporary art movement. “As the street art movement continued to grow, contemporary fine art painters started painting murals. Now there is an explosion of mural festivals all over the world, and now people like ourselves can do it. Who’da thunk it?” he laughs.

This past September, 1xRUN/Inner State Gallery spearheaded Murals in the Market, a mural festival concentrated in Detroit’s Eastern Market that saw roughly 50 artists painting 40 murals over nine days.

“We always wanted to bring a mural festival home,” Cory says. “We wanted to bring the experience of what we learned in participating in POW! WOW! to Detroit, pairing local artists with international artists to paint murals in the public domain.”

They programmed nine days of events and activations, including barbecues and tailgates where the public could come out and meet the artists.

“We had people in their 50s and 60s from the suburbs who were coming down to experience the market again for the first time in 10 years. We did a whole series of announced and unannounced talks. I gave 250 people free walking tours, and mostly the demographic of those was older females who were interested in learning about public art. Then I walked into the gallery where we were doing a talk with Social Club Grooming Co., which is pretty much all young African American males. My heart just fluttered! We basically hit every sector of the demographics of our city.”

They also made an effort to present women and African Americans in the festival, aiming for inclusivity in this public art endeavor.

“We had a lot of female painters. Hebru Brantley painted a mural and there were young kids there who could see someone who looks like them who is an artist. The social impact was much greater than we ever anticipated.”

Murals are by no means a new endeavor for Cory and Armand. It all started with a mural on their Royal Oak building. They then moved on to Woodward Windows in 2011, a public art project that activated vacant storefronts along Woodward Avenue in downtown Detroit. Then, in 2012, 1xRUN made national headlines with the Detroit Beautification Project. They regularly work with their artists-in-residence to produce new murals and have also partnered with civically-minded students.

Murals continue to be a big focus of theirs and a means for them to continue growing their brand and realizing their vision. Over the last year they have focused on growing their client services, creating murals for corporate partners in Chicago, London, Amsterdam, as well as several in Detroit for clients like the Detroit Windsor Tunnel and Ford.

“We’re starting to ramp up these opportunities to work with companies to create public art,” says Cory. “We do campaigns that are slightly different than what they’re accustomed to, to dress up their offices or have art inside of their buildings. That’s one of the biggest components of our company now.”

But working with corporate clients does not mean they have lost sight of their mission to bring free art to the public. Last year they did a placemaking project for Quicken Loans, activating Monroe Street in Greektown for eight weeks through which a 16’x8′ mural was created out of 12″x12” squares. At the end of the project, all of those squares were given out to the public for free.

There is no denying that the art world is an extremely fractured and segmented one. On one extreme end are the social practice artists – the foundation darlings who get grant funding for socially-minded creative community engagement projects. On the other end of the extreme are the Larry Gagosians and Damien Hirsts.

1xRUN exists in a space not easily defined by the implied lines in the sand of the art world. Cory and Armand, as de facto arts organizers, promote public art while creating an ever-growing collector base. They blend commerce with community. They are for-profit yet for the public benefit. They have a global reach but are deeply committed to their local community. They are job creators in the creative economy and help artists earn a living with their practice through every RUN.

And they just might be the future of art.

Nicole Rupersburg has over a dozen prints and originals purchased through 1xRUN alone. It’s safe to say she is no longer a “startup” collector, and blames thanks Jesse and Dan for it.