Swizz Beatz talks No Commission and the importance of building a space for creators to create

KC Orcutt

 // Dec 11, 2017

Kadeem Cobham

In the midst of the colorful, multidimensional and overall frenetic chaos leading up to Miami's annual celebration of the arts—a series of events organized in tandem with Art Basel—Swizz Beatz is straight coolin'. He's got his sunglasses on and his roller skates on deck, with a Cuba Libre at arm's reach. The sun is shining and the view of the ocean from his beachside condo is looking particularly inviting these days. To put it simply, the recent Harvard graduate is exactly where he wants to be: at a place where, in his own words, the sky is just a nice view, not a ceiling. There are no limits and inspiration follows him everywhere like a shadow.

The 39-year-old has once again found himself in the eye of the storm, returning to this year's Basel weekend to celebrate the 2-year anniversary of his and the Dean Collection's one-of-a-kind partnership with Bacardí and the launch of their collaborative traveling art exhibition, No Commission.

Real Talk | How Swizz Beatz advocates for artists with his 'No Commission' platform

Breaking into the art world hasn't been an easy task, nor has it come without its fair share of criticism and hesitation from others. However, the beauty behind Swizz Beatz as a person and polymath alike is the fact that his visionary thinking is his strongest suit, with his advocacy for the artists themselves being the driving factor behind the very platform he's building and every risk-taking move he's making. As a result of his hard work and his unwillingness to compromise when it comes to making sure artists receive 100% of sales for their work—something that was integral while structuring his partnership with Bacardí—No Commission has seen great success, touching down in London, Shanghai, the South Bronx, Berlin and, of course, Miami, where it all started.

As someone who has been collecting art for over a decade, establishing The Dean Collection as a way to build a future museum for his kids alongside his wife Alicia Keys, Swizz Beatz has not only been manifesting his work with No Commission for years, but he's been putting in some serious man hours to help further prepare for his transition from avid collector and enthusiast to activist, curator, advocate and trailblazer. With his platform passionately following a mantra of being "by the artists, for the artists, with the people," Swizz is not only sparking a dialogue regarding how the art world needs to change in order to further allow the creators to create and make a sustainable living simultaneously, but he's showing how those positive changes are possible.

Kadeem Cobham

"We started No Commission at Basel and we traveled the world because I wanted people to understand that No Commission is a platform and lives on its own," Swizz explains, speaking candidly in conversation with REVOLT. "We live outside of Basel, we live outside of Frieze, we can pop up anywhere in the world. Marc Spiegler, the CEO of Basel, is a great friend of mine, and when I first came up with the No Commission concept, I went to him to actually get his advice on certain things. I respect what those guys have done even though my platform is a totally different platform than what they are doing. For me, it's still celebrating art."

This year's event in Miami is themed around the idea of "Island Might," curating works that focus on the strength and vitality of the Caribbean, with artists such as Derrick Adams, Stefan Bondell, Deborah Anzinger, Elizabeth Colomba, Renee Cox and more participating.

"For me, I have no segments and levels," Swizz continues. "You have artists that are in museums, you have artists that are on their way out, you have artists that are in the finest galleries, you have artists that are in no galleries, all hanging on the same wall so it's not like this is the fine art section, this is the street art section. No, this is the art section. Period. That's how my shows ran. I just think it's a breath of fresh air."

Kadeem Cobham

For its three-day takeover at Soho Studios in Wynwood this year, No Commission has curated a vibrant display of works and installations, making for an interactive and welcoming space for like-minds to enjoy experiencing art in a way that is authentically supporting the artists and, in turn, supporting the future of the artistic community at large.

"I think where my place came in was just being an artist myself and wanting to change things that, as an artist, I had problems with," Swizz explains. "I felt that, in a lot of different shows, the fairs win, the collectors win, the galleries win, and the artists got to find their way home and get the short end of the stick even though it feels like a big celebration going on in a lot of these different places. It was just like, as an artist and as an advocate for artists, how can we create an environment that truly celebrates the artists to where it's by the artists, for the people?"

As the conversation unfolds, and Swizz laughs while saying he could talk about this stuff all day, he also explains how rewarding it has been to see so many success stories come from No Commissions, especially with artists being able to keep progressing to new levels in their careers after participating. In line with his visionary spirit, Swizz has a lot of ideas about how to affect real change in the art community—which he refers to as the conductors of the world—so that artists don't win and lose at the same time while creating, showing and selling their work.

Kadeem Cobham

"If you have a win, you should keep that win," Swizz says. "Not just on the status of, 'Oh, I won because my work is here.' Okay... but did you win? After the smoke clears and the event is over, everything like that, how can you evaluate how you won? Did you get paid properly? Were you able to advance to five more steps or three more steps from that? How are you evaluating your win? I want artists to evaluate their win because it could be a lot of smoke that people get caught up into. I know this from music, for sure, and in the art world as well. I personally feel that art should have publishing."

In the music business, for example, musicians get a continuous percentage of revenue when a song that they've created or worked on is licensed and those royalties last throughout the duration of a contract, often resulting in further profit for the musician years after the song was released.

"If you're an artist and you've sold this work to me for $10,000 ten years ago and the value of that work goes up to $100,000," Swizz elaborates. "Say if I wanted to sell that work and make a profit from it, shouldn't you participate in that? At least 5%? I feel like, artists should have more than 5%, but imagine if artists had 5% of their works that they get paid off of throughout the duration of life. I get goosebumps talking about it. It's just simple mathematics and the whole key is not to be greedy. People just want to be so greedy that the artists can't even retain some rights. I know there are situations out there where you can get this or you can get that. But it's not really enforced. I'm talking about make it the thing."

Kadeem Cobham

In addition to helping advocate for artists to be treated better by the business aspect of making art, No Commission also places an emphasis on accessibility, education and inspiring others to explore an interest in art, as well as art collection. Considering 70% of the buyers of the work featured during No Commission are new buyers, creating an entry point where people can buy and invest in art that is in accordance with their own budget is also especially important to Swizz.

"In art, you get one shot, you get paid," he continues, visibly fired up. "You get in a museum or this or that. I feel like everybody else is winning. But when you really look at it, if the artist retains some publishing on each transaction going forward, imagine like an artist got 100 works out there that they have publishing on. Every time this sells, that sells, you just have income coming in. That's fueling artists to be able to create more art, fuel more artists… This should be something that goes on and on and on as long as the art is growing, that person that was behind that art, is growing."

Swizz also explains how this type of work brings him joy, allowing others to join him in being hopeful for the future of creators. It's a topic that he spoke about in-depth during a panel on Thursday (December 7), alongside Virgil Abloh, Anne Pasternak (Director of the Brooklyn Museum), Kimberly Drew, Hyphen-Labs and Nora Khan.

"I am doing this for fun, but in the middle of having fun, we are here to correct a couple of things, right?" he concludes. "It's going to take the artists to notice those things. I'm an artist myself, right? It's not like it's an us/they thing. I'm talking about us all collectively."

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