Business Monday

Miami tech startup Blackdove on a mission to make art accessible

Blackdove, a Miami-based tech startup, offers a global platform and marketplace for digital motion art. Founders Tito Gaudenzi, left, and Marc Billings are shown with samples of the art. On the wall is “Urban Decay” by Kazilla; Gaudenzi holds “whtEyesRoses” by jon Cates.
Blackdove, a Miami-based tech startup, offers a global platform and marketplace for digital motion art. Founders Tito Gaudenzi, left, and Marc Billings are shown with samples of the art. On the wall is “Urban Decay” by Kazilla; Gaudenzi holds “whtEyesRoses” by jon Cates.

For those who believe collecting art is only for the rich, this Miami startup is on a mission to make art accessible for all.

Blackdove has created an affordable, global marketplace for works of digital art, with prices through its app ranging from about $10 to $100. To build a collection, users simply download the mobile phone app, browse, buy and press play to enjoy their motion art on smart screens or via media players including Apple TV, Chromecast, Roku or Amazon Fire TV. Some works are available free as part of the “Featured” collection.

With another tap on their app, users can easily change artwork or rotate their collections. For artists who already embrace the power of animation technology in their work, Blackdove has created a way to connect them to customers through technology, offering artists instant global distribution and royalties, Blackdove’s founders say.

“Art has been held out as an expensive luxury good that most of the world has been left out of. What has excited people is that this matches with the way world shares information. It’s not about holding information in the hands of the few; it’s about sharing this kind of content with the masses,” said Marc Billings, co-founder, CEO and the team’s tech wizard, who most recently was part of the founding teams of Boatsetter and Itopia. “Anybody, anywhere can consume art now.”

Blackdove released its free app for iOS and Android in September, and already has more than 1,000 active users in 25 countries. The Blackdove platform features about 50 artists and showcases nearly 500 works of art.

The company will be releasing a subscription model early next year that will allow users to enjoy 30 works of art a month, said co-founder and President Tito Gaudenzi, who has marketing and advertising experience and founded and ran a global event company. “We will rotate them every month so the cool part for the artists is the platform becomes a platform to showcase it. ... After that month, it moves into the marketplace where you can purchase it for your permanent collection.”

Blackdove is also targeting commercial clients, and the team said it has had interest from hotels, high-rise condos, restaurants and corporate offices. To make its offering more complete, Blackdove has partnered with Samsung on a commercial-grade screen, or “digital canvas,” that will come with Blackdove software and a lifetime subscription. For the canvases, the startup is running a “Blackdove” Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign now, which concludes Dec. 7.

In an interview in the Buro MiMo co-working space where the startup has an office — one of the three co-founders, Chief Curator Marisa Terrizzi, is based in New York — Billings and Gaudenzi are demonstrating how the platform works. “Every artist has a story. MarcPaperScissor is in Wynwood, and he had this art sitting on his hard drive — artists didn’t have a platform to distribute on. We are a marketplace and distribution platform for artists and collectors to connect. The artist on the wall right here, George Redhawk, he is legally blind,” said Billings, pointing out Gregoire Meyer Reflection by Redhawk, MarcPaperScissor’s Around the Track 8, Kazilla’s Urban Decay and whtEyesRoses by jon Cates. All the art can be previewed on the app, including the motion.

Kazilla was one of the first artists to join the platform. She was part of a small group of well-known Wynwood street artists Blackdove worked with last year to show what the platform could do.

“That my work can transcend the two-dimensional space and go into the three dimensional space was really interesting,” Kazilla said. “The paintings we chose have melty drippy elements to them, and to see them actually melt and drip made me so happy because that is how I see it in my mind, but I don’t have the tools to make it do that.”

MarcPaperScissor joined the platform in the past few months. “The whole concept of having artwork on a platform that can be easily changed and can change an environment really excited me,” said the artist, who is from Miami but now living in New York. “With the way the world is and screens taking over, the access of it is cool. ... and I love the movement.”

Now that the platform is built, the app available for downloads, and the Samsung partnership underway, the Blackdove team has begun its marketing push, much of which is through social media.

“We are not limited by the walls of a gallery, where if you don’t walk through the door you won’t see the art. We get to see what is most viewed, most liked. Every artist has his or her market niche, and we have all this data we can analyze,” said Gaudenzi. (Some of Blackdove’s Facebook artist spotlight posts have attracted tens of thousands of views).

For the team, the partnership with Samsung is a validation of their concept, which they have been working on for a couple of years. “It’s a major vote of confidence,” Billings said. The Blackdove Digital Canvas features Samsung’s 48- and 55-inch high-definition commercial display screens embedded with Blackdove software to provide consumers and businesses with an easy, intuitive way to enjoy personal digital art galleries. The screens may be mounted horizontally or vertically and can be remotely managed from anywhere in the world. The art is stored locally in the Samsung screen, allowing users to schedule their art collections to display during the hours they choose without incurring streaming fees. While the 48-inch display retails for $999, special pricing applies to Kickstarter backers.

“Samsung aims to lead through innovation, and working closely with Blackdove gives us the ability to drive a new wave of transformation for businesses and high-end homes through the digital display of extraordinary motion art,” said Ronald Gazzola, vice president of display marketing for Samsung Business.

What’s next for the young company? Blackdove will continue building out its commercial business, including hotels and restaurants, condos and interior designers. For these clients, Blackdove integrates with Samsung screens in 40 sizes and will custom-curate collections. For example, a South Florida developer will soon showcase a 70-inch Samsung screen beaming art via Blackdove’s platform, Gaudenzi said.

Blackdove will also continue to add artists to the platform and launch the subscription model for consumers, which will be priced under $9 a month.

“Now that we have built what we envisioned, we need to create the accessibility and adaption we want it to have,” Gaudenzi said.

Blackdove has been funded by AGP, Miami Innovation Fund and other local angel investors and is working with strategic investors to bring Blackdove to market. This week the company will be participating in industry events in connection with Art Week and will also have a booth at the technology conference Sime MIA on Wednesday.

“Artists are merging with software developers now and the future of where this art form is going will be transformative,” Billings said. “It is only just the beginning. The artists are pushing us forward.”

Nancy Dahlberg; 305-376-3595; @ndahlberg