By Soha El Sirgany
Budding art consultancy Adsum is the first homegrown firm that aims to help art buyers and enthusiasts acquire art works and compose collections. Community Times spoke to founder Saida El-Harakany on how it started, what Adsum offers, and some features of the local art market.
Finding the Finance in Art
It all began, as many great things do, with a career shift when Saida El-Harakany decided to quit her corporate job two years ago.
Always holding an interest for art and having briefly studied it as a minor, El-Harakany turned to it for her next move.
Her brainchild Adsum is the Middle East’s first independent art consulting firm, where her years of experience in business and strategy consulting converge with her passion for the arts. “About ten years ago, when I was still working in corporate strategy and management consulting, I started collecting art. I went to exhibitions and galleries, building relationships with artists, at first randomly, then having a more specific taste in my collection,” El-Harakany told Community Times.
The quest for what she could offer to the art scene led her to Sotheby’s in London, one of the world’s largest fine art brokers, where she took a course in executive business for the art world. “It was very eye opening as you get to see in a developed market all the different players, to understand the landscape, who does what, what are the different options. It helped me fine-tune what I want to do, and how I can add value to the region especially in Egypt where the market is very underdeveloped,” she said.
Channels and Collaborations
Adsum is for those who are interested to buy art, but don’t know where to start in a market that has no transparency or clear rules and pricing, not only in Egypt but globally.
“Whether we work with individuals, corporates, hotels, or interior decorators, we are on the buyers’ side. We are neutral, objective and unbiased, making it easier for us to work with everyone,” El-Harakany added.
The firm offers services in three main channels: consulting, educating, and supporting. Consulting can be provided to either individuals or corporates or independent entities, offering them market research and analysis to aid them in articulating their taste, or to help them plan for an art collection. “Together with a client we spend some time understanding their taste, motivation, and budget. On that basis,we come up with tailored recommendations and look at what’s available for them,” she explained.
The educational aspect at Adsum is presented through holding workshops and seminars, some running over the course of a few days, others just a few hours, in addition to exhibition tours and artist talks. “These center on what I call ‘the collector’s identity,’ as well as understanding the art market structure, defining it and understanding who the players are, what are the relationships between them, the difference between price and value and so on,” she elaborated.
Thirdly, the supporting aspect offers consulting to businesses in the art world, drawing directly from El-Harakany’s background in business. This aspect aims at developing the art market by supporting the institutions as well.
“We consult for galleries, not-for-profit institutions, or investors who want to start an art related business,” she noted. “For example, some art institutions are very good at grant writing, but don’t know how to generate revenue to cover expenses, and manage rent and salaries, so we help them with that.”
Adsum also consults for other regional consultants, including one in Dubai and another in London. “I work with a consultant in London who seeks to buy art for his clients with a certain budget, so there’s a lot of options for him to buy from Egypt.”
El-Harakany further collaborates with the galleries to hold previews, or curator-guided tours and walks between Zamalek’s galleries. She collaborates with everyone from writers to photographers, and is currently collaborating with a researcher to chart the economics of auctions and prices, and trying to find historical prices from around 40 years ago as archival data is scarce.
Specializing in ‘The Now’
Though El-Harakany deals with all types of art, Adsum’s prime focus is on emerging and mid-career contemporary art. This is where Adsum gets its name, the term in Latin meaning ‘present in the here and now.’ “It ties beautifully with what I’m interested in and the ‘art of the now’ that I want to focus on,” El-Harakany elaborated.
The contemporary market can be challenging though, with a rising abundance of progressive mediums with digital artwork, video art and installations that aren’t viewed as sellable. “The art world is used to buying paintings, drawing and sculpture. Video art is mostly acquired by museums, and corporates, no one would place it at home. Therefore, some mediums are more difficult than others. But I’m pushing for video art in the corporate direction, and I’m currently negotiating with one of my corporate clients for them to buy video artwork to place in their headquarters,” she adds,
“Some people didn’t know they could buy video art. Another market I think has potential here is the Limited Editions.” Limited Editions is widely unfamiliar to many local art buyers: high quality re-prints of artworks that are artist-approved and signed, but sold for lesser price. It hasn’t picked up here yet, but some artists are thinking about it, and buyers should know that this option is not a fake, it’s a global practice and there are even auctions specifically for Limited Editions,” El-Harakany assured.
She studied in London, but El-Harakany was sure to know the specifics of the art market in Egypt, which differs than the regional market, and the international one. Adsum’s workshops take that in consideration, explaining how the international market operates then delving into how it works locally.
“More and more you find Egyptian artists that are international. Egypt has a very developed heritage and strength of art production, but the market, the institutions and the buyers haven’t developed in line with the art itself. So we have the art but not the channels to develop the scene.”
El-Harakany further explains how knowledge of both markets is important for understanding the bigger context. “For instance, you could find artists with an international price list and a local one, so it’s important to have regional awareness at least, which has an impact locally,” she revealed.
In Egypt’s undeveloped market, El-Harakany sees so much potential and so much to do, making Adsum’s services fill a market need. Yet what every market has in common is that art is a luxury, and in difficult economic times, luxuries are the first things people forsake investing in. El-Harakany however, with a birds-eye business view of the bigger picture, sees an upside to this challenge.
“Because artwork in Egypt is less expensive compared to the rest of the world, it offers a good alternative for people who want cheaper options, so there’s an opportunity there if you can bridge it,” she explained. In fact, Adsum truly is a bridge. As an independent firm, she has the flexibility to experiment wherever she sees a need she can fulfill.
“If I could pinpoint one thing I would bring to the art scene, its really that spirit of collaborating. Let’s all work on this together, if there’s ever a chance to collaborate on anything I’ll do it,” she concluded.