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ArtistaMundo.com helps artists network

In case you missed it in Monday's paper, below is a story I wrote about a Miami-based social network for artists, ArtistaMundo, which just gained a new partner in Spain:

ArtistaMundo.com helps artists network
By BRIDGET CAREY
bcarey@MiamiHerald.com

Becoming a successful artist is hard work. But Cristina Figueredo Zizold has been on a mission to make it easier.

She's the founder and creative director of ArtistaMundo.com, a bilingual social network for artists to showcase their portfolios of work and connect with other artists around the world. And as an artist herself, she knows first hand the challenges visual artists face to get exposure.

''There are so many roadblocks,'' Zizold said. ``You have to find something really unique to stand out. You have to be able to communicate. You have to know a network of people. It's a complex system for an artist to get to where they are within the galleries, and very few really get there.''

The 30-year-old University of Miami graduate student has been working on ArtistaMundo.com since 2003 with her family, and they are about to take the 1,500-member site to the next level. This week, the company announced a partnership with eBDSoft, a Barcelona-based software designer and manufacturer of Web applications for businesses, which is investing more than $200,000 in site improvements. eBDSoft had been contracted before by ArtistaMundo to do work on the site, but now eBDSoft will be owning 15 percent of the company.

FAMILY ENDEAVOR

ArtistaMundo has been quite the project for the Cuban-American family. Zizold's father, Fernando Figueredo, was with her from the beginning as co-founder and chair of the board. He is chair of the Department of Advertising and Public Relations at Florida International University and previously worked as a vice president of corporate communications at AOL Latin America.

Zizold also works on the site with her two sisters: Annette Figueredo, 33, who manages marketing and sales, and Alexandra Figueredo, 27, who is an assistant vice president at Gibraltar Private Bank and works as an financial councilor for the site.

Fernando said investors have estimated the value of ArtistaMundo.com to be somewhere between $3 million and $5 million, and they are speaking to two major Internet service providers about potentially becoming their arts channel. The company is projecting that it will reach 11,000 members in a year and 300,000 in four years.

''We're at the point where we have investors who are interested and proposals that we've been asked to submit,'' Zizold said. 'A venture capitalist I spoke to this week said, `If you have a few more members, you can come talk to us,' so that's not too bad.''

Jeremiah Owyang, analyst at Forrester Research, said he's seeing niche social networks like this being made for every single type of variable and interest group. But he says to do one that's global in nature can be a challenge.

In a 2008 survey, 35 percent of U.S. adults said they used a social network in the past 30 days, Owyang said. But each culture is different. In Europe it's 16 percent.

''Technology and culture impacts adoption. A single strategy to approach each culture the same is not an effective way to do it,'' Owyang said.

ADDING LANGUAGES

Right now the site is in English and Spanish, and a Portuguese translation is in the works. The company also owns the domains artistamondo.com and artistemonde.com for the option to build niches for Italy and France in the future. Zizold said the company is still figuring out which direction to take when it comes to expanding to more languages. But language hasn't been a factor for some members from other countries.

''We have artists from Korea and from Japan, and you can tell their English is not great,'' Fernando Figueredo said. "But they managed to find us and build their virtual studio in English.''

NEW DEVELOPMENTS

Future plans include adding a commerce feature so artists can sell their work -- something Owyang said is rarely seen within social networks. Zizold hinted that there might be a way for users to trade with others, but she wouldn't give too many details about how it would work because, ''my older sister won't allow me,'' she said with a laugh. "We're still working on different things. It wouldn't just be an eBay store. It would be different.''

The company also plans to add a strong educational component, such as artist webinars and collaborations with local universities.

''From working in a museum, I found that one of the more important aspects of art was the history of it,'' Zizold said. "What about the artist? Where did they come from? What are their ideas about it?''

STUDENT INVOLVEMENT

Miami Dade College, University of Miami and FIU have expressed interest in getting students involved in using the site, Zizold said.

''If there's anything we can do to help those artists get there or to make a sale from any place in the world to exhibit their work, that is something that is very satisfying to me and makes me feel very passionate to keep on working harder every day,'' Zizold said.

She knows quite a bit about Web design, which comes in handy for showcasing her artwork. She studied Web development as part of her undergrad degree at Florida State University. But things weren't as easy for her peers. Artists who depended on Web developers had websites that weren't updated often -- sometimes not for years -- and keeping a portfolio current is important to an artist's success.

''I see a tremendous frustration in people because they need quick turn-around time. They need their stuff up to show to a gallerist,'' Zizold said.

In 2003 she began tinkering with an idea of an online global artist community. Studying art gave her the idea to create an online guild -- much like the idea of guilds in the Renaissance -- to protect and promote artists.

''I started creating this idea on a very basic level,'' she said. "But it started to become a piece of art in itself.''

And with many peers asking her for help with building their websites, she was confident that there was a definite need for a site like ArtistaMundo.

''I knew it was going to be a challenge from the beginning, just because the two things were at opposing ends: technology with the arts and the traditional arts,'' Zizold said. "It's a beautiful thing to see those two things come together.''

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