Aarhus Makers: The artists’ co-operative for creatives in Aarhus

By Ben Culpin, photos by Guki Giunashvili

Aarhus Makers is an online Platform Co-operative, the first of its kind in Denmark, founded in June 2017. They encourage artists and designers from the city to become co-owners in the company, providing them a way of selling their work via an online marketplace. They are holding a pop-up market on February 24th at BART and a crowdfunding campaign in the near future. The fundraising plan includes perks for those who support the initiative and the option of becoming an ambassador to Aarhus Makers – giving access to unique products and benefits within the community.

Co-founder Juan Jose Rodriguez and CEO Emma Holtet offer an inside view of how Aarhus Makers began and what their plans for the future are.

Jutland Station: What is Aarhus Makers?

Juan Rodriguez: The idea behind the project is to develop a start-up inspired in the traditional form of a co-operative: organising the making and distribution of products and managed by its members for mutual benefit. From there, we are adding a digital layer with the intention of selling those products via an online platform.

Alongside this online platform we will host physical events where the artists involved will be able to showcase their wares to prospective customers. The first of these is a pop-up market on 24th February at BART, details can be found here.

Emma Holtet: By working together and having a say in how the company is run, there is already a strong feeling of community and togetherness amongst the Makers. The ultimate goal of the Aarhus Makers is to bring success to people who work in the arts, design and craftsmanship. We want to put Aarhus and its talented creators on the map, not just in Denmark but all over Europe and even beyond.

Kate Antonas, co-founder Juan Rodriguez and Timi Juhász are three of the Aarhus Makers board, involved in managing events and curating the marketplaces (photo: Guki Giunashvili)

Jutland Station: How did the project begin?

Juan Rodriguez: I have worked as a freelance photographer for many years and know first-hand how difficult it is to market oneself. The kind of issues which independent creators like myself face, such as ‘who do I produce prints with?’ and ‘who can help me get my name out’ were the motivation for starting this initiative. The idea of a jointly-owned partnership came from the frustration at global, online marketplaces which often take a large cut of freelance artists profits as a charge for selling on their website.

The power of the Aarhus Makers lies in working as a community: other artists suffering the same frustrations and concerns can meet to share ideas and advice, and work towards a common goal.

The idea of a widespread platform co-operative gathered momentum with co-founder Dan-Vlad Cobasneanu, alongside Emma Holtet and Timi Juhász who studied with Juan on his Bachelors degree course in Innovation & Entrepreneurship at Business Academy Aarhus (BAA).

Jutland Station: What has the response been to the project so far?

Juan Rodriguez: Unlike many start-ups, which initially struggle to find their feet and identify goals, the feedback and response to the Aarhus Makers has been positive from the beginning.

The project started as an online portal for artists specifically located in Godsbanen after Juan and Dan partnered with Godsbanen to develop and scale the project. On the recommendation of Godsbanen, the user base was widened to cover the whole of Aarhus and to allow anyone who was making, constructing or creating products to get involved in the co-operative.

All creators from artists to artisans are encouraged to join the co-operative. There are currently around 25 makers involved with the organisation, who meet regularly (photo: Guki Giunashvili)

Emma Holtet: Aarhus is the biggest ‘production’ city in Denmark – supporting not only large companies but hundreds of small, independent creators. All these artists have the same issues with selling their products, as well as the desire to talk with others about what they do to overcome such issues. There was a need for a means of communication and collaboration between the creators, which Aarhus Makers has provided. To ensure that all makers are on board with the aims and ethos of the platform from the start, each person is given a one-on-one initial interview, allowing them to ask questions about Aarhus Makers and for the board to introduce the concept. Total transparency, trust and communication on all sides are the key motivations for us.

Jutland Station: What are the plans for the future?

Juan Rodriguez: The primary goal for now is to launch the online platform, which is anticipated to take place in February. Based on the audience and media response to the pop-up market at BART, the Makers will be able to look to the future in establishing their next steps.

Another longer-term goal is to scale up the number of creators, artists and artisans involved. At present this stands at 25 and in the next year the figure is hoped to rise to around 100. This is seen as a maximum amount, enabling the co-operative to maintain and manage a close base with all members able to interact, have their say and be deeply passionate about the project.

For those interested in seeing the creations of the Aarhus Makers, you can follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

Those already involved include illustrators, painters, sculptors, textile-makers, photographers and artisans working with leather, wood and jewelry. If you are interested in getting involved with the Aarhus Makers as a creator, you can fill in a form and apply here.

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