Spencer Powers, BC ’07, often meets his sister Liz at a Harvard Square pub called Grendel’s Den, where food is half-priced after 9 p.m. The siblings met at the pub on Dec. 1 with other members of the ArtLifting team, just two days after the startup’s launch. The waiter recognized Powers and his sister-they had just been there the night before.
It is from this small eatery that Powers and his sister run their new startup, ArtLifting, which works to sell the artwork of homeless and disabled individuals who are involved in art therapy in an online marketplace.
“We’ll work sometimes at night, through midnight, over in Harvard Square,” Powers said.
Powers and his sister, who graduated from Harvard University in 2010, have experience investing their time in service to others. The siblings grew up in Wellesley, Mass., and their father, Richard Powers, a CSOM senior lecturer, often brought the siblings to mass at St. Ignatius Church or St. Mary’s Chapel when they were in high school.
“We have always been very much entwined with the BC community,” Powers said, adding that the Jesuit value of serving others was a part of his family life.
During her time at Harvard, Liz wrote a thesis on art therapy as a healing tool. She was inspired to found a startup called City Heart in 2011, which Powers joined in 2012. City Heart is an annual art show in Boston that features the work of artists involved with art therapy, but the siblings quickly realized that City Heart was not able to do all they wanted to accomplish.
The City Heart show was held this past May in the Prudential Center Mall. Powers said that customers would excitedly approach them at City Heart and ask when the next show would be, expecting it to be in a month or two. He and Liz repeatedly had to tell customers that the show would not be for another year. Although the siblings will still produce City Heart each year, Powers said that they were inspired to launch a new idea that would meet the demand of their customers and expand the assistance they could provide to those in art therapy. That motivation resulted in ArtLifting, which launched on Nov. 29.
Powers said that it is often difficult for homeless or disabled artists to sell their own work. On snowy days, for example, he worries about how hard it will be for artists to sell their artwork on the street.
ArtLifting tries to alleviate such problems through an online marketplace, ArtLifting.com, which allows customers to view high-resolution images of original artwork created in art therapy. As a low-profit, limited liability company, money from the sale of artwork goes in part to the artist and to the art therapy program in which that artist is involved. The sale of one art piece allows ArtLifting to provide enough money or materials to an art therapy program to create two more works of art, according to a press release. ArtLifting’s major products include art prints and iPhone cases.
Powers and his sister are also hoping to raise awareness about homelessness in general. “Many homeless people are working actively to heal themselves and improve their situations,” Powers said. “One of their tools is art therapy.”
The two hope to extend the reach of ArtLifting to other communities, and to strengthen its place in the Greater Boston area.
Kristen Mabie, A&S ’17, is an intern at ArtLifting intent on helping the startup reach out to local colleges.
A member of BC’s sailing team, Mabie found out about the opportunity to intern for ArtLifting through her coach, Greg Wilkinson, for whom Powers was an assistant coach for two and a half years after he graduated from BC. Mabie said that Wilkinson told her to take advantage of opportunities presented to her outside the immediate BC community.
Her plan is to spread the word about ArtLifting by communicating with smaller segments of the BC community in the hope that word will spread from there, and she is currently reaching out to other students in her dorm and to other athletic teams.
Like the Powers siblings, Mabie is a Massachusetts native. “I already have such a passion for the city of Boston, but I’m from the South Shore,” Mabie said. “Getting to learn a lot more about a city that I grew up near is a lot of fun for me.”
Mabie explained that she feels a strong connection to ArtLifting’s mission because of her own relationship with art, as she is in a Drawing Connections class with Sheila Gallagher of the fine arts department. The only freshman in the class, Mabie said that being surrounded by artists of greater experience has helped her to develop her craft more quickly. “It’s turned out to be an incredible experience for me to create better work and have a better identity as an artist,” Mabie said. “So I have a strong connection to the company just because of that.”
Powers said that he is confident in Mabie’s ability to spread the word at BC, and that the University will be an especially good place to promote ArtLifting. “We really think the BC community will be very much interested in supporting ArtLifting, because BC is centered on advancing social justice,” he said.
When not meeting at Grendel’s Den, the ArtLifting team gathers at Liz’s apartment, which is attached to Lowell House at Harvard University, where she works as a residence manager. Currently, ArtLifting houses its artists’ work in extra closet space that Liz made in one of the rooms of her apartment.
“Liz and I have very different personalities, but that’s an advantage in our work for ArtLifting,” Powers said. His apartment in Beacon Hill is technically the legal home of the startup. “Liz is very much the artist between the two of us. I focus on the operations and getting the technical and the boring stuff done, like building the website and working with the banks.”
Powers said that his sister is particularly good at forming relationships with the artists, and that many of those involved in ArtLifting are artists with whom Liz formed bonds through City Heart. One such artist is Randy Nicholson, who has been involved with art therapy for many years.
On the day that he joined ArtLifting, Nicholson told Powers and his sister that their interest in his work made him feel validated. “Not ‘validated as an artist’ or anything like that,” he said in a press release. “Just validated.”
“One of the things that he wanted to make sure was very clear to Liz and me was that the interest that he’s received because of his art enhances his confidence and his trust in his future,” Powers said. “Not because people are liking his art and because he feels better as an artist, but because he’s working toward healing himself through this endeavor.”