Debut Contemporary co-founder, Samir Ceric, reflects on three years in business and what’s to come for this Notting Hill artistic powerhouse
March marks your third anniversary Samir – are you planning anything special?
We surely are. Once a year, we do go to town and put on a massive show. This time we will have DJ Cullum spinning tunes, amazing gin-based cocktails provided by Sipsmith, and a special art performance by an award winning artist Anastasia Nadia Papatheodorou, who is flying over from Greece, in collaboration with an award winning new art venture called ArtFix and their founders George Neris and Zaferienia Brokalaki, also West London residents based in Holland Park. It is very important to me to do these events and reflect back and share the success achieved to date with all of our friends, supporters, protégés and local residents of West London.
What do you feel you have achieved in the 3 years to date?
I feel we have achieved a great deal. Being innovative in the art world is not something one wakes up one day and decides to do very lightly. However having successfully co-founded Wolf & Badger, which won us very prestigious industry awards in the fashion industry within a few months of its launch, I felt the art industry (and practising artists most importantly) could really benefit from this ‘crazy’ vision and mission of mine to empower creatives and fully equip them with the business know-how, and in the process assist them in turning their creative practice into viable and successful careers.
As you can imagine, my vision and my concept were received with a great deal of scepticism as the concept entailed artists having to invest £411 a month or £5,000 a year through Debut in order to access regular weekly workshops, 1-2-1 mentoring and strategizing on what they want to achieve in their careers and how they’ll get there; creation of PR and marketing strategy to get the right kind of exposure in the media (online and print) and much more as well as receive a 70% commission on all sales procured by Debut in a very transparent manner where the ‘deal’ would be fully disclosed to the artist and all other parties. Hence it’s not really the recent award we won, as one of the top 10 innovators, pioneers and visionaries in art and design, that makes what we do successful and gets me up every morning at 6am and allows me to often work 12-15 hour days; it is artists’ feedback that we’d ‘changed’ their lives; we’d improved their chances of success; that we’d helped them become financially independent and able to live off their creativity and artistic career; that we had improved their standard of living on many different levels, which makes me feel satisfied, fulfilled and excited about what the future holds for Debut. That makes me more ambitious and more determined to assist the art industry and the artistic community to create more success stories, share knowledge and understanding how it all works and what the principles of success entail and why they can be taught and learnt by anybody who is seriously interested in learning, developing and advancing in their career and in their life.
When I gave a talk at Central St Martins’ last week to their MA programme of one of their design courses, the final question asked by their head of course was ‘How does one deal with fears of failure, fears of rejections, fears in general?’ I guess I could spend some time giving you my opinion. Perhaps another time. And I feel having recently worked with the British Council, having delivered talks and led panel discussion at the London Business School, the European Business School, the Hospital Club, Soho House, the Lecture Club and my TED talk at the Royal Geographic Society is what makes me think our mission, our passion, our vision is being shared and appreciated across the board. And if I manage through my business to empower and encourage more people to look at art as something they appreciate, value and engage with not to make money but to ‘consume’ cultural food we all deserve at no cost or at small cost that will not break anybody’s bank; if I convince a small percentage of the society to embark on a journey of creative entrepreneurs (artists) by initially buying their work and then following their careers; if I prove to these people that buying a limited edition print for £100 or an original work of art for £500 or £1,000 constitutes their own investment into small creative businesses hence the creative industry as opposed to major brands such as IKEA that also sells posters for £20-£50; and if I manage to convince the investment community to invest in artists as creative entrepreneurs and not presume they know nothing about business, I feel I will have done something useful and beneficial for the industry and the society at large.
I am fully aware that this road is very long and I am fully aware that it may take me (and many others) 10-20 years to get somewhere (not even there); however I am personally prepared to stay on this course and this road until I/we get there. I’d like every household in Britain to genuinely own a piece of art by 2030 as it owns a car on average. When we reach that, we will be a healthier and happier society.
Looking back, were you always planning on opening on Westbourne Grove?
I have lived in and around Notting Hill for the last 10 years and Westbourne Grove was always the street I found inspiring and interesting enough to set up a retail space and trade from. Our part of Westbourne Grove took some time to develop, but with SCP, BoConcept, Aveda, Domus Nova, and Artisan du Chocolat, a lot has changed. In June 2016, it will be 10 years that we have been at 82 Westbourne Grove and that feels quite nice. Having launched pre-recession and remaining around post-recession does feel quite an achievement in its own right.
Is the local community a very creative one?
It is indeed and we have so much creativity still undiscovered. Quite recently a number of local interior designers, architects, design stores and galleries including Debut Contemporary launched an initiative to create an alternative to Chelsea Harbour Design Centre and ‘shout’ more about what one can find in our neighbourhood. There are so many talented and successful local creative businesses that ought to be highlighted and exposed that it’s a real pleasure to be a part of the focus group making all these things happen. Four years ago we initiated something called First Wednesdays of West London which went well for a year or so and then we’d run out of steam and had to put it on hold. Then a year ago, Bayswater BID launched it again in association with us and a number of other Bayswater businesses and it’s slowly starting to pick up again. I am a great believer in the power of local community and as a local resident and the parent of the kids attending local schools, I make sure we make a significant contribution in our local area.
Last year you won a HCLUB.100 award – what does that kind of recognition mean to you?
As I mentioned earlier on, I never set up this business with the view and ambition of becoming an award winning business. However I would be lying if I’d told you that it did not mean anything to me. Of course it does mainly because it is nice, reassuring and motivating to be recognised by your peers and this award is exactly like that. To just be up against the major establishments such as Tate, V&A, Fine Art Society, Turner Prize winners and nominees, Richard George Rogers, the famous British architect is a great honour, let alone ‘beating’ some of them. It just feels we are on the right track and we seem to be going the right kind of recognition.
You recently held a talk at Central St Martin’s and will soon be hosting an exhibition for Year 8 boys from Wetherby Prep – do you enjoy dealing with the artists of tomorrow?
I love it and I can’t get enough of it. I learn a great deal from artists as I hope they learn something useful from me. Today we had an incredibly inspiring talk and workshop led by Barry Martin, an established and critically acclaimed British artist who shared his journey and his successful career with a dozen artists from Debut Contemporary. It is wonderful being surrounded by talent and seeing talent grow, develop and succeed. I could not have thought of a better vocation in the world.
What else can we expect to see at Debut Contemporary in the months to come?
Quite a bit… We will be improving our e-commerce platform as we’ve started shipping works of art all over the world, purchased online. We will continue strengthening our relationships with Harrods which sold another art chess set by a Debut artist Darren MacPherson only last week in collaboration with Purling London and its founder Simon Purkis as well as engaging in further conversations with Selfridges and other London and international department stores; and possibly a launch of another retail space either in Mayfair, or closer to ‘home’ as well as initial decision whether to scale internationally and if so which major global location(s) by end of 2014. In addition to that, we will be releasing some exclusive wallpaper designs and a number of other exciting art/luxury product lines including art backgammon as one off pieces of art as well as playable game. Last but not least, we are planning fashion illustration workshops with Veronica Rowlands at Debut for the locals and will continue with regular weekly yoga classes.
Debut Contemporary, 82 Westbourne Grove W2 5RT; 020 7221 1651; debutcontemporary.com