Before the COVID-19 pandemic unleashed unprecedented growth in the digital and eCommerce sectors, Israeli entrepreneurs Sarah Peguine and Michal Freedman were already fielding requests from members of the international art community to buy Israeli art without physically being in the country.
The dynamic duo behind Art Source, an online platform offering advice to potential buyers interested in Israel’s best contemporary artworks, was looking for ways to meet the increased demand.
“Even before COVID, we really saw a demand from the community. We saw that people who were interested in being part of the Israeli art world, supporting Israeli artists, and collecting Israeli art, needed an avenue to do so without traveling here,” said Freedman.
Their newest endeavor, an online shop and website devoted to Israeli design named Handle With Care, was created to help buyers get to know the burgeoning Israeli design scene and give them the opportunity to add it to their collections.
The website officially launched two months ago.
“We started seeing this demand for Israeli design. There’s this global trend that’s been going on for years, where the lines between fine art and functional design have blurred. We see a lot of ceramic art and all of these bespoke items that are functional items but also design pieces. We started seeing more of a demand for that. We wanted to give Israeli designers the same platform and opportunity that we were able to accomplish with Art Source,” Freedman tells NoCamels.
The idea blossomed before COVID-19 but then the pandemic hit and the pair had to pause for a moment. “We had to readjust and so that postponed our plans quite a bit, but it also really reinforced the concept because everyone can agree, you know staying at home we’ve seen an increase in online shopping and putting an effort into the aesthetics of the home. So that was, again right place right time because we already started working on it,” she adds.
Handle With Care offers a number of unique pieces that blur the boundaries between art and design. There are plush toys, cushions, wall hangings, and other home decor goods from Tel Aviv’s Studio Nama, an indie textile design studio founded by designer Na’ama Ben Moshe in 2017. Designed and crafted by hand, these bright and whimsical designs in cheerful colors bring a “pop of joy” into the home. There are vases, bowls, mugs, and other pieces inspired by ancient Middle Eastern motifs produced by Avi Ben Shoshan, founder of ABS Studio. One of them is intricately crafted to look like a female figurine. The online shop also has art jewelry and other bold statement accessories including bags, socks, scarves, and quilts from designers like Gily Ilan, Tal Drori, and IOTA. They also offer a number of high-quality original prints as well as prints from Israeli illustrator Cookie Moon. These limited-edition prints make art accessible to those who might be able to afford a larger painting or sculpture.
While the goal is to expand the reach of Israeli design internationally while serving as a place to discover and support Israeli creators, Peguine and Freedman also wanted their shop to include designs that address creating positive changes to social challenges.
“One of the things that was important for us with Handle With Care was to have a social impact brand,” Freedman says, “We are honored to collaborate with Kuchinate [a collective of African asylum-seeking women living in Tel Aviv who design and crochet products for sale.] We work with them in a completely non-profit framework where all the proceeds from their sales go directly to the non-profit that benefits female asylum seekers from Africa here in Tel Aviv.”
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The online shop also features from brands such as IOTA, which promotes women in low-income communities worldwide, providing them with mentoring and training programs and Mekomit, which promotes women in the arts, with a portion of all sales donated to the Association for Women’s Art and Gender Research in Israel.
Something for the locals
Both Handle With Care and Art Source, Freedman and Peguine say, also offer up something for the locals who may not know how to navigate the art world, or were not able to visit their favorite galleries during the COVID-19 crisis.
“We reached new audiences — local audiences — during COVID,” Peguine explains, “I think because people were missing the gallery and they wanted to have this artistic experience while they were at home. And also, they wanted to find new pieces of art to connect to.”
The making of Art Source
For Peguine, creating Handle With Care and Art Source was a new way of promoting the idea behind Oh So Arty, a blog and platform she created in 2008 to make Israeli art more accessible. The platform, which today helps art aficionados arrange tours with local guides in cities around the world, was first established in Israel after she left her job at Dvir Gallery in Tel Aviv. It was while she was giving an art tour in Tel Aviv that Peguine met Freedman, then manager of Gordon Gallery with whom she quickly developed a connection.
“After the tours, people would contact me again when they came back to Tel Aviv after a few years, but there was never a continuation in that way. So Art Source really made sense… you can have a community and that community can go back and see and explore Israeli art without even coming to Israel. So this was positive, in a sense, during COVID for us. And also now that they [visitors] haven’t been here in a year. More than a year. But we expect tourism is going to be stronger.”
Art Source, founded in 2018 as a platform to provide exclusive access to contemporary Israeli art from leading and emerging artists, has an online English-language website, magazine, and podcast with exclusive content as well as a strong social media following.
Handle With Care’s website includes the online shop as well as a journal featuring interviews with Israeli art and design experts like Israeli curator and fashion historian Yaara Keydar. Handle With Care’s Instagram following is nearly as strong, but both Peguine and Freedman are excited to watch their community grow.
“I am happy we were able to build something during a super challenging time. A lot of people are telling us that this was what they were waiting for. People want to support Israeli creators and Handle With Care — because it is design items and the prices are more affordable and more accessible than prices for fine arts — has helped us to expand our reach to even more audiences,” says Freedman.