I recently have had the opportunity to join a nicely executed online art gallery and portfolio website called Culturehall. The creator and founder of Culturehall, David Frey, found typical online gallery sites lacking when he was searching for his own needs. With a vision in mind, he spent 6 years learning the ins and outs of web publishing, and then focused his energies on building the site he was looking for. Culturehall is fairly new on the web scene, launched in June of 2008. The site is targeting serious early and mid career artists that are looking for an active art community and an online portfolio. The interface is clean and sleek, and I have had an easy time of setting up my own pages and creating a nice web portfolio. There is a critique feature that I really like, where artists can discuss specific aspects of artworks. I think we all could help ourselves by helping each other.
I've had a chance to converse a bit more in detail with David via email about Culturehall. He had some interesting things to say. Our online interview went as follows:

CC: Every artist who spends a bunch of time uploading work to a website wonders what advantages this will give them. What work gets done behind the scenes @ Culturehall for publicity? What online artist sites (not blogs) have been especially cooperative in terms of networking?

DF: Beyond the website itself being a great tool for artists to gain an audience, culturehall presents artist's catalogs and other materials submitted by members at various venues. In the past year we have participated in the Fountain Art Fair both in Miami and New York. Culturehall also took part in Conflux which is a festival exploring psychogeography - the intersection of technology, art and public urban space. Members also are contacted regarding the occasional call for artwork that we receive for events and things like TV shows.

CC: Competition for online galleries has to be high. There are so many of them. I feel as tho I end up porting most of my things from flickr to the various art sites, and I have to admit it feels tedious to do this. At first, I signed up for everything I was offered. But at this point, I don't have that kind of time and I must remain choosy. What things can an artist find at Culturehall that they cannot find elsewhere?

DF: Unlike most other art portfolio websites, culturehall is curated and selective about what is included. We offer an online portfolio community to the artist who often has recently finished his or her studies or is a few years out of art school. The majority of the Artists presenting work on culturehall are invited. While we are open to applications, each applicant is considered not only for their current body of work, but for their overall portfolio and fit within the community. The way an artist can display work is also unique to culturehall. The system was built from scratch to be as friendly as possible for presenting all forms of art, whether it be paintings, performances, videos or audio works. Artists can choose to mix different kinds of media together (images, video and audio) to not only describe an artwork, but its context, details, etc.

CC: I notice your site has only one major banner ad. What are your opinions about advertising on a social site? Are you opposed to advertising on Culturehall? Are any plans in the works to add the ability for artists to buy ad space?

DF: Ideally Culturehall and other social networking sites would be free of advertisements. Unfortunately there are real costs associated with keeping these environments going and sponsorships or advertising is one method of generating income. Culturehall is selective in the sponsor based content included in the website. It is a concern to us not only to keep the look and feel of culturehall inline with our ideals, but the products or events that are being offered need to be analogous with our mission. We do not use automated advertising and work with sponsors to make sure their presence on culturehall is harmonious with what our artists present. We are open to the idea of allowing artists to sponsor Culturehall, but we have not been actively promoting this feature.

CC: I really like the toolbox, and the fact that you can immediately see the hits on your works. I think it's a great tool to help artists figure out which works are the most popular. I have not seen any critiques on my work yet. But I understand it's difficult to sit and seriously critique work. Without the benefit of facial features, it's hard to be sure your comments come across as constructive, and not judgmental. Do you have any feedback on the critique feature? Is there a way to promote more discussion?

DF: For me, having the critical feedback of my professors and peers was one of the most valuable parts of studying art and something that I really miss after leaving school. Critiques on Culturehall are meant to be a way to share ideas and pose questions. Often it is very difficult to find someone with a similar vision to share ideas and one of the Internet's great strengths is how it can connect people with similar and very focused interests. In many ways I think the term "critique" is a bit too formal for what this forum attempts. But we felt it was necessary to differentiate the intent of this format from the usual "comments" sections which often devolve into "Love the color!" postings. While it would be great to have artists write paragraphs about each other's work, critiques are meant to be a few sentences long. Long enough to intelligently convey an idea or pose a interesting question. An important side note about Culturehall critiques is how it allows members to promote their work. The member posting the critique has the option of promoting one of their works to the top of the "browse" list along with the critiqued work as if these works had just been added. Artworks appearing on the first few pages of the "browse" section are seen many more times.

CC: I have series of works and a lot of time they are in groups. While putting up my images, I didn't see any kind of feature for saving sets of work. It would be nice to be able to give an explanation about your thoughts regarding a series... Is there a workaround for this? Or am I totally missing something?

DF: When initially developing Culturehall, I wanted to concentrate on artworks individually. Generally artworks do exist within a series or other context, but for implementation it was a balance of how best to present an artwork and at that time keeping each freestanding made the most sense. A few ideas are under consideration about how to present series or groups, but we will be giving them more thought before adding this functionality. Regarding a workaround, some artists are using one artwork as a series and then adding multiple media pages to the work, with each page acting as an individual piece of art in that series. I'm not opposed to this solution, but it is not ideal for the artist as this system does not allow each of the works to be presented when visitors are browsing Culturehall.

CC: I have 2 websites, 3 blogs, and I post on flickr. In addition, I belong to a few other artist gallery sites. I would love examples from other artists on how they use your site to benefit their publicity or art career. Have you received feedback from artists on how they use Culturehall to promote their work?

DF: I feel your pain! Culturehall is meant to be a very specific forum for artists. An easy and efficient way to promote their artworks online in a professional manner with other like minded individuals. Directly I know that a few artists have had success with being included in shows from curators finding their work on Culturehall. Also one of our artists was the subject of a documentary short which was a direct result of his membership. Many of our members use their Culturehall portfolios as an effective way to drive traffic back to their private portfolio websites since they can add links to their Culturehall pages. We also have members who do not have their own websites and are using their culturehall portfolio as their primary artistic presence online.

CC: Any special plans for the future of Culturehall?

DF: Nothing specific, but I would like Culturehall to become more involved with our local community. I don't really see the website being an end in itself, but a great way to bring together people who have an interest in contemporary art.

If you think Culturehall may be a good fit for your artwork, I encourage you to visit the Culturehall site.

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