It’s one thing to create art; it’s another thing to know how to market and sell the work of your hands.What’s true for most artists is even truer for the more than 60 artists with special needs who are now part of the Israeli Art Association.Three years ago, Israeli businessman Shaul Levi was looking for a volunteer project for himself. As the owner of a strategic marketing consulting company, he wanted to set a good example for his clients.
“As part of the consulting to my clients, I always recommend that they contribute some of the profits to the community,” Levi explains. “I looked for a place where my skills could be useful for people who need it.”It was his wife, Orit, who made the connection with the Israel Art Association, which was formed five years ago when a delegation of 15 young Israeli artists and artists with special needs were invited to visit Jewish communities on the East Coast of the US. They created the association to help them market their artwork more effectively.When Levi joined the team as a volunteer, he analyzed the group’s business practices. Identifying its strengths and weaknesses, he helped the association more than quadruple in size in the past five years.Member artists create original designs using quality materials. Their designs are so eye-catching that manufacturers in China routinely copy the designs and produce them with cheap materials. A frustrated Levi lamented, “They copy the designs and flood the market at a price lower than our shipping fee.”The artists, who have a range of special needs, work out of their homes or in small workshops run by the non-profit organization Hameshakem. They are spread out all over the country, from Sderot in the south to Acre in the north.Levi is adamant that the association is not looking for donations or compassion. What it wants is exposure, so that more people will buy their products “if they like the item, not because of pity. The Israeli market doesn’t appreciate the craftsmanship of artists; they buy cheap imitations from China for a tenth of the price of the cost of the raw materials to the Israeli artist,” Levi explains. Providing raw materials is a constant challenge for the association.Whatever money is generated in sales goes directly into buying more raw materials for the artists to work with.“They have total freedom of creativity,” says Levi.“Some of them design and pass it on to someone else to create; others are designers who also produce their own designs.”The current bestselling item is called the Inbar Star of David. Its creator, Inbar Levi, is a former IDF soldier who works as a photographer in Tel Aviv. Raised in an artistic family, she designed her own Star of David. On weekends, she produces this item personally. According to Levi, the original Inbar Star of David has been copied hundreds of times, but only the Israeli Art Association sells the original design, handcrafted by the original artist.To help the artists sell their work and earn enough to buy more raw materials, Levi and his team built the association an English website (www.israeli- art.org) and a Facebook page (SupportIsraeliArt) which has 15,000 likes.“The existing website was built in an amateurish way, to see if it is effective. Now we are developing a more professional site to fit the growing dimensions of the artwork and the number of artists,” he reports.What started out as a small volunteer experience has turned into a passion for Levi. The artists know that he is devoted to helping them sell their work and they reward him with hugs, kisses and love.“My intention was to contribute to them, but in retrospect, I got so much satisfaction from them and so much love! I get much more than I give. If someone offered me a million dollars instead of this activity, I’d prefer to get the look in their eyes and their hugs than all the money in the world.”Any young Israeli artist at the beginning of their career, and certainly any artist with special needs, is welcome to join the association, which grows organically as people get introduced to the work they do. As the association grows, so does the desire to expose the handmade artwork to “Jews and lovers of Israel abroad in order to increase the sales.”All proceeds go directly to the artists to purchase additional raw materials.As a business consultant, Levi hopes to reach more of their target audience through forging connections with some of “the hundreds of organizations that raise funds in the name of Israel through hundreds of conferences and events around the world, to help us to expose our products to the people who come to these events.”