SA+P graduate students Marwan Abou Dib, Kun Qian, and Tengjia Liu spent the bulk of their first semester at MIT preparing for their final project, a gallery of MIT student work that artfully reimagined major cities that are running out of space and land. After weeks of planning, the three students keenly awaited the gallery’s opening night.
“But there was one problem—no one showed up,” Abou Dib says. “Not even our classmates. We realized that physical exposure was a huge problem. We knew we needed to create another marketplace to showcase the artwork.”
Instead of having the artwork go unseen, the trio devised another plan, and staged a series of impromptu galleries throughout campus. But after a space-related objection from some MIT staff, the team split up each piece and placed them independently in studio halls in the MIT Sloan building. They affixed a QR code for anyone interested in purchasing the art, even though they anticipated most being stolen or thrown away.
“After a month, we had sold seven pieces,” Abou Dib says. “We added value to both the artwork and the space. We realized there was disconnect between artists and the space they need. Most artists don’t have the best venue to distribute their work.”
Learning from their final project, Abou Dib, Qian, and Liu created Tekuma, a recently-launched startup that connects artists with hosts to create curated galleries in non-traditional spaces, like rented apartments via the short-term lodging website AirBnB.
Earlier this year, the team was part of the MIT Martin Trust Center for Entrepreneurship’s Global Founders Skills Accelerator. As part of the accelerator, the students leased and rented two Cambridge apartments on AirBnB then furnished and staged them for an art gallery.
“After two months, we were able to fully fund our startup,” Abou Dib says. “We created a sales channel that showcases emerging art and connects them with AirBnb hosts. By hybridizing and curating the space into a gallery, we’re making art more accessible and helping democratize the art industry.”
Next month, Tekuma will showcase the artwork of MIT students at Art Basel Miami Beach, the annual festival that highlights some of the world’s most significant works of Modern and contemporary art. The startup will host a gallery titled “I Am Not an Artist,” which is cosponsored by the Council of Arts at MIT will feature MIT students from all five Institute schools.
“Most people don’t think or art when they think of MIT,” Abou Dib says. “We’ll have artwork from an investment banker at Sloan, plus 3D jewelry and art inspired by 3D scanning. The art coming out of MIT is so innovative right now, and we’re proud that Tekuma is able to showcase it.”
The MIT community is invited to take a private tour of “I Am Not an Artist” as part of Celebrate the Arts at MIT on December 4 at Art Basel.
The viewing will be preceded by an MIT reception featuring Leila Kinney, Executive Director of the Arts Initiative at MIT, and Music and Theater Arts Professor Evan Ziporyn. Register for the event on the MIT Alumni Association website.