An exclusive interview with the CEO of ShinyArt, which turns TV screens into fluid works of art

by Knowlton Thomas | Startups

You've probably seen them before.

They're here and there in public spaces, like subway and SkyTrain stops, reception areas in office buildings, and the like. In fact, there's probably one—if not two or even three—inside your house. Possibly even the very room in which you read this!

Fortunately, I'm not talking about cockroaches or rats (though they're quite common, too). I'm talking about televisions. Particularly HD flatscreens—although who really has those clunky cube TVs these days?

Televisons are great for a lot of things, but they do spend a lot of time being idle. For many hours of the day, your wall-mounted plasma acts as little more than a black, rectangular painting. Wow, boring, eh? Probably didn't think to turn it into an artistic centrepiece, did you? 

Well, doing just that is Kristy Phillips and her company, ShinyArt.

KT: Kristy, explain to our readers what exactly ShinyArt is.

KP: ShinyArt is a service that rents video art for display on HD or regular flatscreens for public and private spaces. HD screens are now mounted everywhere in public and commercial spaces; they tend to display branding or other types of text-based information. When not being used for programming, flatscreens in private homes are blank boxes that take up a lot of wall space. ShinyArt transforms these screens into canvases for moving art.

The art that we rent—called video or media art—isn’t simply a conventional painting digitized for a flatscreen. Video art is moving image art.

It is composed with a video camera and often combined with experimental sound, with the intention of being displayed on a screen.
With its intersection of technology and creativity, video has been important to the development of contemporary art for about 35 years. Today it is usually restricted to specialty galleries or museums, but with the growing popularity of public and private flatscreens, we feel there is a unique opportunity to bring more of this art into the mainstream.

KT: Neat. How did this idea come about?

KP: The idea was really born in my sister’s living room. She lives in Toronto and a few years ago she and her husband tore down their old house and built a new one on their property. 

In their new living room, they wired and mounted onto the wall a fantastic 46-inch HDTV right above the mantle. As we were growing up, the space on and above the mantel was for photos and artwork. In many ways, the fireplace and the mantel were the main focus of the room. But now here was my sister, in her newly renovated living room, with this huge screen in that space.

This got me thinking about the screen as canvas. When it is not being used to watch TV, it should be used to enhance the overall aesthetic and mood of the room. I began to notice other flatscreens mounted in prominent places in homes, but also in public and commercial spaces like restaurants, bars, hotels, lobbies and community centers.

I’m an art historian by training, and although video art is not a “new” kind of art, most people outside of the field have very little exposure to video artwork and less idea of how meaningful and engaging it can be. I like the idea of turning galleries and museum “inside out” so to speak, so that everyday environments can be enriched by the experience of viewing contemporary art. Video artists are increasingly interested in the public accessibility of their work, and are using technology and social media strategies to appeal to viewers outside of traditional venues. I want to connect these artists with new audiences, so the choice to focus on dynamic video art for these ubiquitous screens to me was a natural one.

shiny art example
KT:  Very interesting. Is ShinyArt self-funded or did you wrangle in outside investors?
KP: We a very small company with few resources and we realize that we are selling an abstract product. Not a lot of people are familiar with video art… yet! So our choice was, do we spend time educating investors on video art and how it can improve the design, aesthetics and overall feel of a space, or do we spend time and effort educating customers?

We took the customer route and the response has been fantastic. In under two weeks of finishing the website and signing up our initial artists, we lined up our first beta customer. We’re continuing to try to line up beta customers and work with them to better understand their needs and work out the kinks in our business model.

All these beta customers are paying so we are starting to line up revenues that will help with some further growth. If this idea really takes off, and we look to scale quickly, we may look out into the market to raise some capital.

KT: So there are plans for expansion?
KP: Oh, we definitely have plans for expansion! Video content is a hot market and we’re finding that people are looking for different ways to use their screens. They may not necessarily think of video art at first, but when we show them what we have, many are immediately impressed, or at least curious, about the idea.

Right now, we are distributing video art via DVD, very similar to the Netflix model. Our goal, however, is to make ShinyArt entirely video-on-demand, so you would go to the site, choose the artwork that most appeals to you, and then stream it directly to your flatscreen. We’re in negotiations with some potential technology partners now and hope to have that capability available in the fall/winter timeframe.

We’re also working to get more artists. Right now we’re working with ten artists and our goal is to double that in the coming months. We feel that with more artists and more choices of artwork, with a strong video distribution partnership and an easy VoD experience for the end-user, and by incorporating some of the recent data from our beta customers, we’ll be in a position to aggressively market and build the business.

KT: Where was ShinyArt founded?

KP: ShinyArt is really a collaborative effort than spans the U.S. and Canada borders and draws deeply on the varied talents of artists around the world. I’m from Toronto initially, but I’m now based in Silicon Valley and have been in the U.S. for almost 15 years. I did my doctorate work in art history in the U.S.

But on the development side, Faisal Anwar of Digital Dip in Toronto designed and built the current service. Faisal is also one of our featured video artists. Pete Mish is an American filmmaker now living in Toronto and in addition to also being a ShinyArt artist, he helped with some of the strategy for our service.

I’ve also been drawing on the C100 here in the Bay Area for mentorship and contacts. One of the companies we’re speaking with to help expand our video distribution capabilities is Canadian and we met them through the C100. So even though ShinyArt is based in California, a lot of its heart and soul is in Canada.

KT: Contemporary video art displayed on an otherwise idle flatscreen television is certainly a conversation piece and ambient mood-setter. Thanks for the interview.

ShinyArt, LLC
Toronto, Ontario, Canada

ShinyArt rents video art for flat screen televisions in public and private spaces. more

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Knowlton Thomas

Knowlton Thomas

Knowlton is the managing editor of Techvibes and author of Tempest Bound. Based in Vancouver, Knowlton has been published in national publications and has also appeared on television and radio. Previously he was an editor for New Westminster weekly The Other Press and served on its board of directors. When not working, Knowlton enjoys hiking, tennis, and martial arts. more

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