Every year, lakhs of tourists visit the city of Varanasi (then called Banaras) on the banks of the holy Ganges, which has a rich cultural heritage and picturesque ghats. While those from faraway lands take back souvenirs, an internet start-up now offers everyone an artsy slice of the ancient city, sitting in their own living rooms.

Three youngsters from Varanasi smelt the business opportunity that led to setting up of Shuru(A)rt, an online venture that sells paintings made by students of the Faculty of Visual Arts, Banaras Hindu University (BHU).

Good tidings

The venture that kicked off in January this year by Udita Dhruv (28), Neha Vashistha (31) and Gaurav Tiwari (31), two of them from BHU, aims to make art a financially viable, full-time vocation for students. At present, the portal has paintings by 15 BHU art students, priced from $100 to $150 each. It has sold five artworks till date.

“November to February is the peak season for foreign tourists. We want to facilitate this market throughout the year via the online medium,” says Gaurav, the tech-geek behind the start-up. The team is targeting the US market, especially the Indian diaspora. For marketing, it is in touch with the Indian community organisations, family members and friends abroad, apart from stepping up its presence in social media.

Low overheads

“Our operating costs are low and we expect to break even in a year,” says Gaurav. The portal is registered with the Malviya Centre of Incubation, Innovation & Research at IIT (BHU) Varanasi. Once a student submits a painting, the selected work is photographed and posted on the website and its price quoted by the artist, an art appraiser and an in-house art specialist. Once sold, 70 per cent of the proceeds go to the artist after deducting framing/shipping charges.

The team has tied up with a local manufacturer for customised frames. “We aim to get bulk orders so that transportation costs can be brought down,” says Udita. At present, the trio is working on formalising the transaction process and plans to open it up for artists from other colleges.

“The plan is also to focus on other tier 2 cities, such as Patna, which is home to Madhubani art. Even if we can target 500-odd art students from all colleges in Varanasi, we are looking at a big supply pool,” says Neha.