A New Sharing Economy for Art: The Art Library

Membership means you can have original art in your home without having to own it outright. Instead, try it on for size and then purchase it or swap it out for a new piece.


Luke Fraser opened the Oakland Art Gallery, which allows art lovers to borrow pieces from the gallery to take home.

Photo courtesy Oakland Art Gallery

Artist/designer Luke Fraser has a novel idea for sustaining talented Oakland artists: get their art easily into the hands, homes, and spaces of the people.

Fraser is the founder of the newly emerging Oakland Art Library, an art borrowing program that opened on April 18.

“The idea came from wanting to show my fashion designs,” he said, characterizing a trend often seen in museums but not galleries. “The galleries all wanted to charge me to show my designs, and I’ll do anything to get my work out there, except pay someone to show it.”

After listening to podcasts about the sharing economy and the millennial generation’s preference for experiences over ownership, a light bulb went off in his head: What if there was a library for a local community but instead of taking out books, people could borrow art?

So all winter, Fraser sat in his bathtub searching hashtags like #oaklandartist on Instagram and began contacting artists and informing the local community about his idea. “Every artist has at least one piece they can part with in exchange for the opportunity to gain some exposure,” he said.

He just needed a space to make it happen. Then his friend, Carlo Niboli, introduced him to Denise Chung, the owner of The Trending Inn on 12th Street in downtown Oakland. Chung offered him a dormant space on the ground floor to work with.

What exactly is his vision and how does he make it happen?

Here is how it works: Any artist can bring in a piece of art. Members then vote on the piece to either keep it or swap it for another to add to the collection, essentially creating a member-curated model. Monthly receptions introduce members (and their plus-one) to a revolving door of new work and make it available to borrow for up to three months from the gallery and/or purchase directly through the artist. Fraser had hoped that Square, a neighboring business in the community, would get involved to design an app to facilitate sales and to promote other future libraries, but the company declined. Fraser is currently using PayPal to process membership fees, which are $20 per month. Oakland Art Library receives no commission from sales but also assumes no responsibility on damage or loss.

Fraser said he is very transparent with the artists about the risks and rewards of showing their work at the gallery. A reception is hosted every third Thursday from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., and attendance requires an RSVP to provide an optimal experience for all. Fraser wants you to know it is a very bare-bones model, with no donors or corporate sponsors, though he has recently added a “Donate Here” button on his website to keep things growing and thriving. And he has had a lot of help from his friends.

“Risha Johnson works the front desk to receive art, and my friend Mike Hampton has helped me with all of the logistics and hanging the art,” Fraser said.

He credited Ale Carrasco-Zanini with keeping meticulous records on memberships and artists to keep that piece of the operation running smoothly. “And local high school art students have offered to intern,” he added.

The local community is catching the beautiful drift of Fraser’s vision, as it benefits both artists and art-lovers alike, even drawing San Francisco folks across the bay to check things out. The innovative model provides exposure for all manner of artists who might not otherwise have an opportunity to show their work.

“We have artists works from Vogue Magazine and The New Yorker hanging next to art made by inmates on death row at San Quentin,” Fraser said. “The breadth of the collection is really quite provocative.”

And the benefits of membership are the chance to have original art in your home without having to own it outright; participants can try it on for size and then purchase it or swap it out for a new piece.

“Galleries are going the way of the taxi,” Fraser said. “Art libraries are the future.”


For more information about Oakland Art Library, visit the website, OaklandArtLibrary.com.

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