By Michell C. Clark
Everette Taylor was buying paintings by the likes of Hebru Brantley, Lina Iris Viktor, and Miles Regis for his own collection. During the process, the entrepreneur couldn’t help but identify a frustrating set of rules and customs that made the fine art industry notoriously difficult to navigate — especially for artists of color.
A 2012 study found that 77.6 percent of people who make a living from art are white, a statistic that is only perpetuated by economic barriers to entry, such as the steep price tag on many art schools and the high likelihood that young people pursuing art and design-related jobs receive financial assistance from their parents. And while the advantage of having access to financial capital when seeking to start a career in any industry is significant, it’s even more pronounced in the fine art industry.
Would-be consumers of fine art reckon with similar barriers — the fine art market often outperforms the stock market, but unspoken rules dictate who can take part and who can profit. Given that an artist often needs representation from either a gallery, agent, or some kind of manager in order to truly break into the art world, it can sometimes feel impossible to connect with clients and pursue your dreams.
Taylor’s personal experiences visiting galleries and purchasing art allowed him to see inequities and inaccessibility within the industry that hurt artists and prevent potential customers from finding quality artwork. So the Richmond, Virginia, native decided to launch ArtX, a new platform that will provide visual artists with resources, tools, and software to help them to elevate their careers. The company is currently broken into three different parts: a media platform to help artists get discovered; a technology platform to help artists and creatives with business structure; and a community platform to provide scholarships for artists in need and inclusive events in the art space.
Taylor says he uses the lessons he’s learned from his other companies to better inform his new ones. Under an umbrella known as ET Enterprises, he’s launched PopSocial, a social media automation tool called that grossed more than $2 million in revenue in its first year; Millisense, a marketing firm with clients such as NASA, Microsoft, and Miller Lite; the Southside Fund, a charitable foundation dedicated to providing opportunity to youth in his hometown of Richmond, Virginia; as well as the companies Hayver and GrowthHackers. Now, he’s focused on channeling his expertise and resources into ArtX with the intent of helping artists connect with clients and thrive.
MTV News spoke with Taylor about how ArtX will impact the world, the advantages and disadvantages of having a large social media following, and the principles that guide him as an entrepreneur.
MTV News: Your newest company, ArtX, is a departure from your focus on tech and marketing. What led you to launching the company?
Everette Taylor: For my whole life, I’ve had to kick down doors that were closed in my face. I want to kick down more doors with ArtX. I find the art industry to be very unfair — it has some deep rooted traditions that hurt or limit the people who actually create art. The people who own multi-million dollar art collections off of the backs of Black artists aren’t Black. There are a lot of gatekeepers that hoard art for themselves, and the industry has created a world in which people who don't fit into a certain mold don't have access or opportunity. That’s an issue to me. ArtX will break down barriers limiting access within the art world.
MTV News: How does ArtX work? What do you hope to achieve with the company?
Taylor: ArtX helps people without access discover artists. A lot of people don’t know how to find quality artwork that they can purchase for themselves. You might go to a museum and see a Kehinde Wiley painting that’s selling for half a million dollars. Most of us can’t afford that. A lot of us own street art, or artwork from people we know or run into — but there is no place to easily discover artists. ArtX is filling that void.
I believe that being able to make a living off of artwork that you create is an incredible opportunity. It’s also one of the most difficult ways to make a living, because there is no roadmap to success. You can go to college, get your accounting degree, and stand a good chance of getting a job with a solid salary. Artists typically have to take a different path. I want to provide tools that artists can use to more efficiently provide themselves and grow their businesses.
MTV News: What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced in this new space?
Taylor: I’m a young Black man who doesn’t look like the people in these spaces. I would walk into galleries and people wouldn’t even speak to me. Almost no one would take me seriously, based on my appearance. It’s difficult to find mentorship, because there aren’t many people who look like me. I’m also dealing with the learning curve that comes with being in such an unfamiliar space. There’s a lot to learn. I’m keeping a humble heart and mind and staying committed to the process.
MTV News: Why was it important to you to play a more active role in supporting artists, rather than buying a painting or two?
Taylor: I decided that I wanted to directly support artists after I started to collect art and didn’t see anybody in those spaces who looked like me. I know a lot of people in my peer group with discretionary income to invest that don’t know about the art world due to its exclusivity. I don’t just want to purchase paintings for myself — I want to give people access to a space that’s normally unavailable to them.
I also want to directly support artists on a large scale. Will we turn every artist into a millionaire? Absolutely not. But if we can help artists to thrive and be able to take care of themselves financially and have a business side of things and be able to get discovered and be able to sell their work and get the recognition that they deserve, I'm happy with that.
MTV News: You’ve consistently leveraged your social media following to draw attention to your companies, but you’ve also been vocally “anti-personal brand” — why is that paradox important to you?
Taylor: The older I get, the more I’m able to see what social media is — to me, it’s a great tool for business. I use social media to communicate with my audience, push products, and hopefully offer a bit of inspiration based on what I’ve experienced. But I refuse to play into this constant need for social validation. I’ve fallen into that trap before. I’ve posted the courtside pictures on IG stories, just so people would know where I was at. I decided to stop devoting energy to validating anything online.
I’m anti-personal brand because brand building is rarely vetted or authenticated. Anyone can get online, call themselves an expert, and tell you to sign up for their e-course. It feels like the loudest voices online are accomplishing the least. I see a lot of people that are building brands, while using inspiration as the drug. I want to put positive energy out into the world; I want it to be real, though. I don’t want to sell dreams.
MTV News: Is there a benefit to having such a large social media following? Is there any downside?
Taylor: The biggest benefit to having a large social media following is the money that you can generate by leveraging your audience. Social media influencers get a bad rap but people don’t understand that influencer marketing is an incredible way for people to finance their lives and take care of people that they love. I’ve seen a lot of people saying that influencer marketing will die because of Instagram suggesting that they’ll be hiding likes on people’s posts, but I feel like people who have genuine audiences will be fine.
The downside of having a significant social media following is that you start to feel a constant need to live up to what you believe people expect from you. You always have to be “on.” I used to feel comfortable going to the airport wearing anything, but now I have to plan for the significant possibility that somebody will know who I am, want to have a conversation, and potentially ask for a picture. It starts to feel like an invasion of privacy.
MTV News: You’ve been an entrepreneur for ten years. What keeps you motivated?
Taylor: Initially, my motivation was strictly financial: I wanted to provide a better life for myself and my family. I would launch my own companies while simultaneously working as VP of marketing for one company and CMO for a different company. I’ve taken on fewer roles over the past couple of years, and started to prioritize peace of mind more consistently. I know that a certain level of financial security and the ability to do what I love will bring that peace of mind.
ArtX is something that I love. I’m working towards getting ArtX to a point where it’s sustainable and progressing consistently. I want to find peace, and subsequently bring that level of peace to others. I want to positively influence the world through my work. At the end of the day, when I’m dead and gone, if I can say that I’ve truly changed 25 people’s lives on a deep level, I’ll die a happy man.
MTV News: What’s the most important failure that you’ve experienced as an entrepreneur, and what did it teach you?
Taylor: In 2014 or 2015, I was juggling two companies — I was the head of marketing for Qualaroo, and the co-founder of Growth Hackers. I was also running a whole marketing firm. I was doing too much, and I got to the point where my work started to suffer. I started losing clients and users, and my companies weren't growing as fast. I had a breakdown and realized that I wasn't taking care of myself.
I wasn't happy, my businesses weren't doing well. I had to have the ability to trust other people. You're not going to be able to build any business if you can't trust people to help you build.
The thing about creating something successful and then moving on to trying something else is one of the most emotionally, physically, and mentally draining things that you can put for yourself. For me, wanting to leave the world better than I found it pushes me to live up to my full potential. I grew up in Southside Richmond, where I was around a lot of people who might never get the opportunity to live up to their potential. As someone who has so much opportunity to actually live out his potential I feel like it would be disrespectful to those who do not.