“…the online art market plays an important role in educating and introducing new generations of buyers to art collecting.” Hiscox 2019 Online Art Trade Report.

The recent launch of an electronic World Trade Platform (eWTP) with Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed and Alibaba Group co-founder Jack Ma has opened an avenue for exponential opportunities to grow small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) with access to myriad markets. Ma said, “…the small business in Ethiopia and its young people will help to flourish the digital market in the country in the near future.” Naturally, my mind is on the artists and overall art industry in Ethiopia. According to Robert Read, Hiscox’s Head of Art and Private Clients, “The online art market plods on with steady growth. Although there was a significant spread of growth rates among the different online art sales platforms in 2018, the estimated aggregate online sales figure of $4.64 billion shows an increase of 9.8% from last year…”. Now add these statistics to the potential market of 55 African countries in the African Continental Free Trade network, on an integrated Ethiopian eWTP… the future looks good and green. This is not only a win for the artists but for the development of the art industry and all the subsequent sectors of society that benefit when art thrives. With the caveat that these numbers are not reflective of our reality, we can still check out stats to help us forecast and even make sense of how an Ethiopian eWTP would revolutionize our art industry.
Scores of social media and tech savvy Ethiopian artists already use digital platforms to sell and/or promote their art hence eWTP could be transformative, especially when designed FOR US and BY US. “Instagram, (IG) continues to be the art world’s favoured social media platform, with 65% of survey respondents choosing it as their preferred social media for art-related purposes, up from 63% in 2018,” reports Hiscox, the London Stock Exchange listed international insurance group. The Hiscox 2019 online art trade report goes on to say, “…55% of the online art buyers surveyed said they were likely to buy more art over the next 12 months, up from 52% in 2018, however, the outlook among younger art buyers (aged 35 and below) is more muted year-on-year, with 56% saying they were likely to buy more art online, compared to 63% in 2018.” They also compare Offline vs. online declaring, “More art buyers express a preference for buying art online as opposed to offline purchases. 29% of millennial art buyers said they preferred buying art online, compared to 14% a year ago.” Finally the forecast on E-commerce and Next Generation Buyers, “General retail e-commerce grew an estimated 18% in 2018, and online spending habits are also benefiting the online art trade, with 73% of art buyers saying they purchased other products in a similar price range prior to buying art online, up from 68% last year. Next generation Among millennials, 23% said they had never bought an artwork in a physical space (e.g. gallery, auction or art fair) prior to buying art online, up from 18% last year – signaling that the online art market plays an important role in educating and introducing new generations of buyers to art collecting.”
Again, these reports rarely reflect Ethiopian much less the Continental situation, but with a growing middle class in Africa with growing disposable income and taste for collecting art, eWTP is essential. Ethiopia is the second eWTP introduced in Africa, Rwanda was the first launching in October 2018, which means we can learn from best practices while honing our respective path, then we can share with the next country and so on. My hope and work, as usual, is the recognition of art beyond aesthetics in this discourse; emphasizing the economic and social impact, in convergence with Ethiopia’s self-proclaimed art loving eader’s vision, Dr. Abiy, for “Ethiopia to become one of the five African middle-income countries within ten years’ time.” This sentence may be lengthy but achieving transformation through the art industry need not be, with applied good will and paralleled capacity.
Finally, Ethiopia’s Innovation and Technology Minister, Getahun Mekuria expressed the following aspirations at the eWTP launch, pointing out, “better logistics and services (will) enable the nation to penetrate the global market with its export products… transforming the market, especially our cross-border trades, targeting SMEs and helping them easily access the global markets. It will also serve as a center of excellence in training young entrepreneurs.” These are reasonable and attainable goals. If Ethiopia stays focused, stepping up attention to incredible game changing tech start-ups, while keeping an open mind towards the role of art in this context, we will see economic and social change. Reflecting on the lyrics of Bob Marley’s song, Them Belly Full, “… a hungry man is an angry man…” well art is here to help us end the poverty of the pocket and the mind.

Dr. Desta Meghoo is a Jamaican born
Creative Consultant, Curator and cultural promoter based in Ethiopia since 2005. She also serves as Liaison to the AU for the Ghana based, Diaspora African Forum.