Ekaterina Kouznetsova BS’16 is making her mark on the local and international art scene as the founder of ArtMail, a subscription art service she conceptualized and launched just months after graduating.
The Russian-born Dallas resident serves as both creative force and personal curator at the company that mails subscribers museum-quality prints of new works from emerging international artists.
Kouznetsova parlayed the skills she learned in the University’s marketing, global business and art history programs with immersion in the local arts that began her first year in college.
“When I was just a freshman, I started getting very, very involved in the Dallas arts scene, and it became apparent that that was the industry I wanted to work in,” she says.
As a freshman, Kouznetsova landed a position at a local art gallery, followed by a fashion editor gig for Dallas-based magazine THRWD.
From there, she was asked to manage marketing for Dallas designers Susie Straubmueller and Lucy Dang, and was soon brought on as the international art editor for Nakid Magazine, where she reviewed the work of eight to 10 new artists each week for two years.
All this exposure to the arts industry started to add up, she says, noting that “patterns began to emerge.” Kouznetsova observed how talented artists from around the world were facing similar challenges, namely a lack of both exposure and sustainable income.
“So often, [the art industry] comes off as a very sterile, unwelcoming place,” she says. “And I thought, there’s got to be a better way to fix all these issues.”
In her final semester at UT Dallas, Kouznetsova was taking 21 hours while also working as Nakid’s international arts editor — the same semester she decided to start building her new business.
“I’m one of those people that unless I’m overwhelmingly busy, I feel like I’m wasting time,” she says with a laugh.
In 2016, Kouznetsova spent the summer abroad exploring the international market, primarily in London, as part of her global business studies. Following her August graduation, she drew from her expanded knowledge of art curation and launched ArtMail to the public later that year with a roster of 20 artists.
Kouznetsova used Instagram and a website to market the new business, which earned her a hat tip in the visual arts section of The Dallas Morning News.
The goal, she says, was simply to craft an open atmosphere for artists intimidated by traditional galleries, while also making emerging art and decor accessible to the general public.
“I try to ensure a steady stream of income for the artists so that they can keep on creating work,” she adds. “Each artist receives a very, very generous commission that is higher than any other printing company by far, on both prints and originals.”
Kouznetsova explains that most galleries and curators will keep as much as half of a work’s selling price, but she takes “much less.”
The subscriber receives a certified giclée print guaranteed to last 150 years, along with an artist interview and certificate of authenticity.
“I work to promote the stories behind the art and to create multicultural connections between artists and clients,” Kouznetsova says. “This creates an extra level of connection and education between the collector and artist; it’s not just going to a store and buying a random print.”
So how does it all work? Kouznetsova says art lovers can sign up online, where they are prompted to pick their favorite paintings from a menu of options. The process, which takes about three minutes on the subscriber’s end, provides Kouznetsova with enough information to curate a customized selection of artists and prints.
Prints are matted in specially designed environmentally sustainable frames “made of recycled biomatter with a clear light acrylic on the front with UV coating,” she says.
The bonus: They’re incredibly light.
The company also offers original works for purchase, ranging from $1,000 to $10,000.
As for the future for ArtMail, “We’re building a neural net,” she says, “an AI as an experiment in art curation.”
“We’ve actually already built it out in print data, with tens of thousands of referral points. For now, it’s been surprisingly accurate, predicting pieces that I personally curate.”
Kouznetsova hopes to eventually release the technology, but for now, all works are selected by the entrepreneur herself. Her stake in the international art scene is expanding.
Kouznetsova reports that she recently began a collaboration with curator Deve Sanford and the Ritz-Carlton in Abu Dhabi.
“ArtMail is creating connections between an artist in Thailand and a software engineer in Dallas,” she says. “I’m very glad that I live in a world where I’m able to do that and facilitate those connections.”