In this episode, we sit down with the inspiring Kristen Brown, founder of Rela, a social venture transforming how people connect with art. By providing a platform and distribution model for local artists, Rela is expanding access to art while creating consistent revenue for artists.
Kristen Brown’s Entrepreneurial Journey
Kristen’s journey began when she noticed that her friends and business owners searched for ways to engage with art while artists sought display opportunities beyond traditional galleries. Recognizing a gap in the market, Kristen seized the opportunity to create a social venture that empowers communities to engage with art and support local artists.
Subscription Service for Art Lovers
Rela offers a subscription service for both commercial and residential spaces. Subscribers can choose the art they want on their walls or opt for a surprise selection, making it easy for anyone to engage with art and support local artists. Meanwhile, artists benefit from a free program that provides consistent monthly earnings for each month their work is on view.
Changing Perceptions About Art
One of the challenges Kristen faced while creating Rela was educating people about the value of art and breaking the perception that art isn’t work deserving of payment. She also had to shift the status quo by showing artists that Rela is a service that distributes and shares art and by convincing spaces to enroll and pay for art. Despite these obstacles, Kristen’s passion for her mission and vision, along with the support of the Columbus community, helped her succeed.
Advice for Aspiring Social Entrepreneurs
Kristen’s journey as an entrepreneur has been rewarding. She encourages others to take their ideas to organizations like GiveBackHack and explore the value they can create in their communities. She believes that everyone can start something like this if they see a need in their community and are positioned to help.
Empowering Communities to Connect with Art
Kristen’s vision for Rela is to expand the service to multiple cities and hire an artist coordinator and sales teams to grow the business and impact. She envisions Rela as a convenient and affordable way for anyone to experience art daily while supporting local artists.
Rela is a social venture that empowers communities to connect with art and support local artists. By delivering and installing art in subscribers’ homes and businesses, Rela removes barriers for those who want to engage with art but don’t know where to start. It provides a passive income stream for artists and a convenient way for subscribers to experience art on a daily basis. If you’re interested in learning more about Rela or have an idea for a social venture, we encourage you to listen to this podcast and get inspired.
To learn more, visit Rela’s:
Exclusive Columbus Giveaway: Win a Rela Subscription!
To celebrate this inspiring podcast episode, we’re thrilled to announce a special giveaway for the people of Columbus, Ohio! Don’t miss your chance to win a Rela subscription and experience the transformative power of art in your own space.
To enter, simply visit the link below and sign up with your email. Not only will you support local artists, but you’ll also enjoy stunning artwork handpicked just for you. Hurry – this giveaway is for a limited time only!
Sign up for the Rela Subscription Giveaway here!
Good luck, and remember to spread the word about this fantastic opportunity to connect with local art through Rela!
Read the Full Transcript
[00:00:11] Adam: Welcome to People Helping People, the podcast inspire greater social change. I'm your host Adam Morris, and I am so excited to be here with Kristen today, founder of Rela. She has been able to develop a business that shares art, at an affordable price while supporting local artists. So I'm very excited to dive in, Kristen, welcome on the podcast.
[00:00:32] Kristen: Thank you so much, Adam. I'm really excited to be here.
[00:00:35] Adam: Can we start, can you just tell us a little bit about Rela.
[00:00:38] Kristen: Yes, absolutely. Rela is a social venture serving as a platform and distribution model for local art. So we're expanding art access and creating consistent revenue for artists through artwork, subscriptions that transform any space into a local gallery.
[00:00:55] Adam: So I'd love to start off, what inspired you to start this?
[00:00:59] Kristen: I was just looking at my community and I saw friends, also people who are business owners looking for a way to connect with art, and they didn't know where to start.
Maybe they wanted to bring art into their business on a rotating basis, or they wanted to just purchase a piece for their home. They didn't know where to start, and I thought, how could we make that easy? And then on the other side of that, thinking about the artists that I knew in the community. Artists are always seeking display opportunities and if there's a finite amount of display space, like galleries, they don't always have space to display so that art ends up in their studio and it's just kind of collecting dust and it's not visible and it's not having an impact.
So I started that, started the wheels kind of spinning about, well, what if we. Experiencing art easy and what if we expanded visibility and accessibility for art to be more on view. So I put those pieces together, the needs of both of these stakeholders, which is a term I learned through, a lot of the experiences that I've had in the past year, solidifying this idea.
But early on I just thought of them as the people I'd be working with. Um, so those are subscribers, which could be commercial and residential spaces, just people, people in our community with walls, uh, empty walls, not sure what to do with that and that weren't interested in putting up mass produced wall decor.
You know what I'm talking about, that art know, no shame, no shame. But, um, the, there's an opportunity there for more meaningful connection. And then artists that are looking to get their work out. So I started thinking about those ideas and actually participated in GiveBackHack, which I'm sure you talk about a lot on this program, but it is so important.
It is so impactful. So yes, shout out to anyone. If they have an idea, take it to GiveBackHack, put it through the ringer, come out the other side. See what value is there. Because I think everyone is capable of starting something like this. If you see a need in your community and you are positioned in a way that you can help, why not give it a try? We realized that we could kind of combine those shared problems that they were in fact related. So you'll hear the word rela keep coming up over and over again cuz we kept saying they're related problems. So we saw that there could be this shared solution that we could deliver our experiences.
We make it more convenient for someone to experience art as a part of their daily life. So it's not a destination or an event, it's in the spaces where we live and work. That's how we can, um, restore art's power by putting it on view and expanding impact for both people who wouldn't otherwise be engaging with art and artists that we work with.
[00:03:44] Adam: I love it. Did you always know that you'd be an entrepreneur who started a company?
[00:03:48] Kristen: No, I, I love that question. I consider myself a really reluctant entrepreneur. When I first started to see this problem in Solution fit that we were just talking about, I tried shopping it around to other arts organizations and I said, you should do this. Take this on like, Please take this away from me. And they all, are doing such incredible work already, that they said, we just don't have the bandwidth for this. And so I spoke with a really supportive friend who said, you can do this. You know, um, use the resources that are available in our community, like GiveBackHack, like Sea change, and learn and grow.
And you might not have all the skills you need right now. But that's what life is about, right? You're constantly growing and improving and iterating, and that's exactly what a business is too. Or a social enterprise though. You're growing and iterating and, um, I'm all about self-improvement, so I thought maybe yeah, I can do this.
So just start at the trail head, see how far you go and ask for help along the way. And yeah, it's been a journey, a really fun journey.
[00:04:52] Adam: That's cool. So walk me through the journey what's led to actually getting off the ground.
[00:04:57] Kristen: Yes. So as I mentioned, GiveBackHack, I took this kernel of an idea, um, that was, it was a skeleton. It wasn't completely fleshed out, but we had some of the main structural pieces set up and the way that works, you, you pitch on a Friday, they spend the whole weekend kind of cranking out that idea with a team of people.
So getting other people involved in the concept was a huge milestone in our journey. Being able to, um, get, gather those insights, different ideas, different perspectives, that's what it's all about. Once we had those other people who were inspired by our mission and vision, it was such a huge motivator cuz when you get that validation that yes, this resonates.
Let's push it next step. So we really fleshed out that skeleton over that weekend and learned about, you know, big ideas that are the long-term vision that of course, you know, let's put that over here on the shelf. We'll keep looking up at it, but we're not gonna touch it for a while. And then, um, the more actionable steps, let's, let's put this out into the world.
So I think one of the other milestones early on was getting an ugly MVP out into the world. It was very hard for me to do as a, uh, you know, in, in, in progress. Perfectionist. I'm trying to move away from perfect and find good, good enough. Um, so yeah, getting an MVP out there to get even more validation from the most you, you know, the people that are gonna pay for this thing that's critical.
Uh, and then moving that forward and refining learning, listening to people doing that listening tour. And taking all the feedback, you're gonna get bad feedback. That's okay. That means that it just gives you an opportunity to improve it before you're further down the trail. So, that feedback was great.
And then just, The incredible support of the Columbus community for both, so social enterprise and also startups. Uh, I have been able to ask a number of people out to coffee, just a cold email, and I've never been turned down. So that is a huge statement of the support network that is at your fingertips if you're willing to reach out for it.
So, um, yeah, a lot of milestones along the way and a lot ahead of us as well. It's a, it's not an overnight success. It's a journey, so, yep.
[00:07:19] Adam: I, I love that point that you made about Columbus just being very accessible where you can reach out to people and they'll sit down for coffee. I think that's so helpful when you're starting something just to be able to connect with people and share and get their.
[00:07:32] Kristen: Mm-hmm. We have the, the talent here, but we've also, it's steeped in that Midwestern kindness, which I love.
[00:07:38] Adam: Now you built up, Rela as a social enterprise. Um, how do you deliver that social impact?
[00:07:44] Kristen: We do that by empowering the community to act on their desire to connect with art while consistently supporting local artists. So we're making it simple for anyone to engage with art. It's not a destination. It's not an event. We're delivering it literally . We are delivering and installing the art.
So we're removing the barriers for the community who wants to engage with art but doesn't know how. So those are barriers, like high costs, right? Art can be prohibitively expensive for some folks. Um, it's also the logistics of it. How, how do I get it to my house? Am I gonna hang it myself? I'm not confident with that.
And then sourcing time and effort, it takes time to. You know, go to open studio events or galleries and find something that resonates with you. Some people just don't feel comfortable in that environment as welcoming as they can be. Um, or just don't have the time for that. If they're a business, it's not a good use of their time in that way.
So we can remove those barriers by delivering art as a service. For those spaces. And you don't know joy until you've seen office workers, you know, taking a break mid-afternoon to debate the merits of a work of art that we just installed in their space. And you're like, we're making it part of daily life.
So that's very rewarding, to be able to bring art into a space that people otherwise would not be. They just wouldn't be engaging with. At all. Uh, we we're especially proud of our work with community centers bringing work into those spaces that, you know, brightening those spaces and making them positive and optimistic and motivating.
And then again, because we have double-sided impact, we're also focused on the artist impact. So for many artists, the cycle of payment can be a very feast or famine cycle. We wanted to have another revenue stream for artists that's more consistent. So when artists share their work through Rela, which is a completely free program for artists, it's also non-exclusive.
Any work that, they are receiving consistent monthly earnings, each month that their work is on view. So it's passive income for artists. Um, it's one more path to success. We all could use another boost, but they're seeing in real time, um, the community supporting their work. So yeah, we see it as a really interesting way to connect people.
[00:10:03] Adam: That's fantastic. So people sign up for a subscription and then they get the art in their house or business. And the artist gets a commission off of that every month.
[00:10:12] Kristen: That's right.
So our purpose is baked into our business model. It's completely linked. The more, uh, profitable we are, the more impact our purpose has. So it's profit sharing. There's a lot of other ways that you can structure a social enterprise, like, buy one, give one.
I'm sure you, you know, more other methods of, of doing that, but ours is profit sharing on each of our subscriptions.
[00:10:37] Adam: And what does rather look like today as a business?
[00:10:40] Kristen: Yeah, today we are excited about the future. We are looking to grow. Um, we're building out our org chart and looking to, we're hiring an artist coordinator to help grow those relationships. And, looking at sales teams, like really just seeing how far we can expand this because one of the other milestones says you are only one person.
There's a finite amount of hours in the day, and we were seeing the traction in what we were doing. The limiting factor was me. So I knew that the next step would be to get more people. People are excited about our mission and vision. Let's help them, let's have them help us execute our strategy. So, um, yeah, I'm looking to to grow and be able to expand our impact.
[00:11:27] Adam: So what sort of challenges have you faced growing this?
[00:11:31] Kristen: Yes. Good question. We are, making a new market. So some of the elements that have been difficult are education. At first most people, this idea resonates pretty quickly, but there are some people who, it's not going to make sense to them because they don't necessarily come from a place of valuing artists' work.
Um, that's gonna be a really hard shift to shift that status quo for those folk. And that's okay. That's just, that might not be our market. That's fine. Um, there are. Far more people who do see the value in art and, the time and effort, of that creation, that, that art is work and artists deserve to be paid for it.
So we've had just a couple of incidences where, people think, oh, artists, it's so fun. If you know anyone can do it, it's not work. They shouldn't be paid for. That's okay. That's, that's been one challenge. Another little kind of sad nugget I guess that I saw was that artists thought when they were applying to our program, they said, okay, so how much is this gonna cost me per month?
They thought it was a subscription for them, and we said, no, no. It's free for artists, we want to help you. So shifting that status quo of, of explaining that no, we, we are here to distribute and to share. So it's really showing the current state of the art market that there can be some really predatory organizations out there that would have that relationship with artists.
So we're trying to shift that. So it's kind of flipping that. So yeah, I guess spaces that want to enroll, love what we're doing, but don't wanna pay us. We've only had one or two of those, but um, but yeah, that was a little difficult, difficult conversations to have around the value of art.
[00:13:15] Adam: Interesting to learn that and adapt to, Hey, here's what people need and how to deliver
[00:13:19] Kristen: and
here's why it matters, right? Look, look at what this does for wellbeing. Think about visitors to your space, your employees, customers, when they see that you have this connection to local art, that you're a supporter of the arts in a real and meaningful way. Because each month you are directly actually supporting artists.
It completely changes that dynamic. So we wanna help people, uh, be able to do that for their spaces.
[00:13:44] Adam: All right, cool. Now, do people choose the art that comes into their space or, is it a kind of a rotating thing where it's what you get is what you get?
[00:13:52] Kristen: It can be either. And we let people decide that at the beginning of the journey. We have an option where we can, we measure your walls or you measure your walls. You can either instantly subscribe on our website right now at rela art slash subscribe and, and pick whether it's very simple. Small or large walls, that's the only delineation.
So if you have a tape measure, you can subscribe, uh, so you instantly know which one of those categories your wall falls into Each wall functions as its own subscription. Um, you can launch that directly on our website and you can even. Select the art that you want on that wall. You can keep it up as long as you want, totally up to you.
Um, or you can switch it out every three months. And if you're ready to switch that out, you just fill out the refresh request form and pick the artwork that you want or say surprise me. And it's been really fun to see how many organizations have, have enjoyed this surprise me option, because it's like Christmas morning for adults like.
They walk into their office space and I wanna do a candid camera someday of them go, oh my gosh.
it's really rewarding, or, you know, for spaces that aren't ready to do that and they would prefer that we, it's more of a, um, joint collaboration early on, we can. Schedule a site visit, especially spaces that have multiple walls, that they'd like to enroll.
We can come into that space, walk it with the subscriber. This is usually for a commercial space, but, we do that for residential as well. And we can make a whole proposal, with all the measurements of each wall and then a couple of artwork options, and you can select the art as well. So yeah, it's really meant to be a collaborative experience.
[00:15:30] Adam: Fantastic. What's your vision for the future?
[00:15:33] Kristen: Mm. Love that. We see this as an awesome service. That could be in any community, like anyone can be a part of this movement. It we're making it easy. You don't have to previously be connected to the arts, or have that connection. You don't have to. We're your art friend. That is your connection to the art community. So, it's really easy to get started and we think that this could be something that could be in, in any city. So because every community deserves a service that connects them to the arts,, we envision, Rela locations in multiple cities in the future.
[00:16:06] Adam: Got it now, how long have you been up and running?
[00:16:09] Kristen: We started onboarding artists in 2021 just to see, you know, if it's a supply and demand issue, you need to know that that supply is there and. The artists are our stakeholders. We're trying to serve them and so we needed to make sure, that this model resonated with them. And it did.
We were able to onboard, I think 25 artists within that first year, and we've onboarded more since then. And then we built the model and launched two subscribers in January of 22. So it's been, over a year now, and now we're working on refining all of the processes, because early on, like I said, it was an ugly mvp and it was like, yeah, you can do this.
You have to email me or, you know, it wasn't as smooth as it is now. So yeah, about two years technically.
[00:16:59] Adam: And that seems like a big, big, shift for you because I see the wall behind you. Um, you know, that's all planned out with a calendar
of like every month for the year. And then you, you were telling me earlier about this hypothetical wall on the other side, which is just filled with crazy post-it notes.
[00:17:14] Kristen: totally hypothetical. It doesn't exist at all. It's not, yeah. Planning is important. I know. No, I'm a planner.
[00:17:22] Adam: yeah. You like to plan and. What I'm hearing is that through this process, you've just had to say, Hey, no, listen, we're gonna try this, and get started and then develop from there.
[00:17:33] Kristen: Yep. Exactly. Yeah. And, and you can always have your vision for the future. Like, man, I've got ideas, let me tell you about them. There are more services, more products. We're ready to go. But, um, you have to lay that groundwork in advance. Like launching is, there's a whole lot that happens before launching something.
So, that effort before takes time, but it serves you in the long haul. Because you've already done the research. You already have your why, which is your gasoline for the whole journey. And you, um, you have your answers for when people might offer feedback and say, well, why didn't you do it this way?
And it's like, well, you know what? We actually tried that and it didn't work. So we didn't move forward with that launch. And we shifted gears. You have to just, uh, plan it out, but also, Yeah. Yes, I'm definitely a planner, so that's why this feels like such a gosh, like ideal role for me that I just kind of carved out of having this love and passion for arts.
You know, my background is in fine arts and, I. Consider myself an artist as well, although that's, that's such a emotional area for me because I'm not making in the same way I used to make, I still feel, I feel like this is almost my art at this point, that this is what I'm working on making and producing and bringing into the world that didn't previously exist.
Yeah, my background's in fine art and um, history of art. I teach at Columbus College of Art and Design, um, history of art and visual culture there, and. Yes, I have that aspect, but then I also have this really strong planning organization structure drive. So having the space to marry those two interests has just been, it's been a joy.
It's a lot of work. Not gonna lie, I'm not gonna sugar coat it. It's work, but it's, it's been incredibly fulfilling.
[00:19:24] Adam: Well, I, I think being an entrepreneur is like being an artist cuz you're, you're creating something that didn't exist before, and that's takes a certain element, of. Being able to bring something into the
[00:19:36] Kristen: Mm-hmm.
[00:19:37] Adam: that's
[00:19:37] Kristen: Vision. Yeah. And confidence. Sometimes naive, confidence and, and, um, a little bit of like, Hey, we'll try it and if it doesn't work, we're gonna shift gears. And it so that flexibility and that flow. I think artists are really good at flow, getting into that, that focus, but it's also a focus that can shift and, and move as as you need to.
Cuz it's not gonna be a straight line.
Entrepreneurship is anything but a straight line. I actually used to work at a gallery that was called Zigzag Gallery and they were like, yeah, it's not straight. It was great. Great. Check it out. They're still around
[00:20:17] Adam: So two years. How's this changed you as a person?
[00:20:20] Kristen: Ooh, such a good question. Okay. For both good and bad. I have learned so much. I mean, I have stuff that I didn't wanna learn. I have no interest in learning QuickBooks, but gosh darn it, I know that now. And, but also just so much personal growth. You know, at the beginning of that journey when I was this reluctant entrepreneur, I'm, you know, I still feel like I'm at the beginning of the journey.
And that incredibly supportive friend was like, you can do this, you'll figure it out. You'll figure it out along the way. And we've been figuring it out. That has proven to be true. So, uh, I feel like, that's been a huge confidence booster. And, and internal personal growth that you're not this fixed thing.
You as a human, no matter what it is that you're pursuing, you are meant to be growing and developing in all areas of your life. Right? The wheel right. Um, over time. So, so seeing that and working that every single day has been incredibly reward. It's, it has been very hard. So, um, it is really hard to, to make those lines of work life balance. Uh, I definitely take my laptop on vacations. I don't know that that's healthy, but, but you need to, I mean that, sorry, that's startup life. I don't necessarily subscribe to the, notion that you need to be working crazy, crazy, crazy hours sleeping two hours a night killing yourself.
But I mean, it's a good night if I close my laptop by 9:00 PM we have a new, like no laptop in bed rule, but yeah. Right. So you have to start drawing those boundaries and, and that's, so that's been an area that I'm. A change in the last two years that I'm not as pleased with. It's hard to maintain relationships and focus.
So definitely drawing those, those boundaries early on would be something I would advise new entrepreneurs to do. Don't get sucked in.
[00:22:21] Adam: I love that though, and it's really cool. I love what you're doing and I love where RELA is
[00:22:25] Kristen: Thank you. We're really excited.
[00:22:28] Adam: Yeah. How do people find out about Rela.
[00:22:30] Kristen: So follow us on Instagram's, just rela.art r e l a, we are available via email, which a lot of people are comfortable with at, uh, info nfo rela.art, and check out the website again. rela.art. Easy to remember. So it's just r e l a. Um, and we'd love to collaborate whether you're , an artist, a potential subscriber, a sponsor, a nonprofit space looking to get art.
I mean, we, we have a lot of different ways of collaborating with, local Columbus spaces.
[00:23:04] Adam: And if you're listening and you don't regularly purchase art, check them out because I think, you know, it's a great way to say, Hey, wait a minute, here's something really exciting that could liven up
[00:23:13] Kristen: Mm-hmm.
[00:23:15] Adam: and maybe it's, you know, not something that has crossed your mind before cuz you've imagined it's like, okay,
this is what Unattainable.
[00:23:23] Kristen: for the elite. Nope. It's, it's meant to be for everyone. It's made for everyone, artists, for everyone. Yes. We do have a real-time inventory of artwork on our gallery, so just head to rela art slash gallery, um, or shop on the, on the website. And, everything is instantly available for purchase.
We offer local pickup, delivery and installation. We make it.
[00:23:46] Adam: Wonderful. Well, Kristen, thank you so much, for being on today.
[00:23:49] Kristen: Thank you for having me.
[00:23:51] Adam: I love it. And if you're listening, check out the show notes. We are launching a giveaway in conjunction with rela.art, giving away a subscription, and we're very excited. So we'd love for you to enter and get a chance to get some beautiful art up on your walls.
[00:24:07] Kristen: That's right. We are, giving away an option to win a small wall subscription launch. This includes delivery and installation of original artwork. Uh, anyone can select artwork from our gallery or opt for curation. It includes the first month of display that directly supports the artist on view. So if you have a small wall, again measuring four feet or by four feet or less.
You can visit rela r e l a.art/people to sign up. One Lucky Columbus listener will receive a complimentary artwork display launch.
[00:24:43] Adam: That is so freaking awesome. I love it.
[00:24:45] Kristen: Yes,
[00:24:48] Adam: Well, thank you again and thanks for listening.
[00:24:51] Kristen: absolutely. Thank you.