The always-upbeat entrepreneur Toni Sikes was even more buoyant than usual when I caught up with her driving back to Madison from a Minneapolis board meeting. The cause of her good cheer wasn't just that her latest startup, the Art Commission, has raised $950,000 in venture capital; it was that the business model had already morphed into something bigger.
Sikes' website connects architects and designers with artists and craftspeople who create pieces for buildings and public spaces. This is familiar ground. Sikes published the print variation of this service for 24 years: the biannual Guild Sourcebook of Architectural and Interior Art. She's also done venture investing and was partners in The Artful Home catalog.
The Art Commission takes a page from LinkedIn and offers artists a free listing. Around 1,000 have signed up worldwide. Selling more expansive listings that provide multiple images of an artist's work is the moneymaking angle. Sikes' partner is Robert Maxwell, a former Baird & Co. investment banker.
"The original concept was to focus on artists, but now it's evolving to include the entire creative community," says Sikes.
That is, the site isn't just connecting commission-offering architects to those artists, but connecting the whole panoply of design professionals to one another: the architects, art consultants, landscape architects, interior decorators and liturgical space designers who collaborate and hire one another for projects.
The site, which launched Jan. 31, already has a staff of 15 and is hiring. The company recently more than doubled its office space by moving from the Tenney Building to the Cantwell Building, a half-block off the Square.