A specialist in cultural IP licensing, ARTiSTORY was co-founded a year ago by industry trailblazers Yizan He and Natasha Dyson. Over the past 12 months the company has secured major partnerships with some of the world’s leading cultural institutions, including the National Gallery, London; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Dunhuang, China, and the Brooklyn Museum, New York.

We caught up with Natasha ahead of the company’s appearance at Brand Licensing Europe this week to talk about how arts and culture licensing works in practice, and the company’s plans for 2022.

You’re a fairly new business. Can you give us a bit of background on you and Yizan and why you founded ARTiSTORY? 

We are indeed, we’re celebrating our 1st birthday at BLE.

Both Yizan and I have been working in the licensing industry for many years, gaining experience that compliments the other. I have a varied background working for agencies and brand owners, as well as my own consultancy, covering all sectors and age groups for the EU market. In fact, this year is my 20th anniversary in licensing.

Over the last 18 years Yizan has developed award-winning licensing programmes across Greater China and North America. He was voted one of the top 250 IP Strategists in 2011 by Intellectual Asset Management Magazine and regularly sits on the judging panel of the Premier Asian Licensing Awards and China Licensing Awards.

There are two key reasons that Yizan and I decided to set up ARTiSTORY. Firstly, art and culture licensing is one of the fastest growing sectors in the global licensing space at the moment.  Secondly, Yizan has spent the previous five years building multimillion dollar licensing programmes for the V&A, British Museum, National Galley, MFA and the MET in China, but his dream was to expand globally. When Yizan and I reconnected just before the start of the Covid pandemic, the idea to set up a business in Europe was born. This rapidly expanded into becoming the global business that we are today.

Can you explain how ARTiSTORY operates? What are your core areas of business? 

ARTiSTORY is a master licensee for our museum partners.  Our license provides us with an extensive range of product categories, everything from fashion to home goods, through topop-up stores and themed hotels, which we can sub-license to retailers, brands and manufacturers.

There are three core pillars to our business: creative development, licensing, and content developer.

ARTiSTORY invests in developing usable artwork that transforms “Artefacts to Merchandise” and appeals to our core target audience: Gen Z and Millennials, art fans and overseas audiences. We have an extensive team of creatives including researchers, designers, content writers and immersive experts, who not only create beautiful designs but ensure that we tell the story of each artefact or artwork though the content we develop.

Once the creative assets have been developed, we license these to global retailers, brands and manufacturers. Our licensing partners have access to exclusive pre-approved artwork that is delivered as layered files to allow customisation, and can immediately be used on products and packaging, thus reducing the time that licensees need to spend on the design and approval process.

Finally, we support our licensees by creating various forms of content such as narrative, live streaming from museums, short-form videos and social media challenges on TikTok. Licensees and retailers can break down the content to use for packaging, swing tickets, in-store POS and for digital marketing purposes. We also work with retailers and brands to create in-store immersive experiences.

Why do you think heritage licensing is such a strong sector at the moment? 

A key appeal to brands and retailers is the longevity and security that art and cultural licensing provides. The global pandemic has sped up the digitalisation of the museum and cultural sector and this digital shift is changing the way that younger demographics engage with art and culture. At ARTiSTORY we are designing digital, sharable tools and engagement strategies which are opening up the cultural world to entirely new audiences.

ARTiSTORY produces twice-yearly theme launches. Can you give us a sneak peek of what’s up and coming next year?

We have four trend led themes for next year:

Botanical Affairs – Taking inspiration from flora and fauna, the harvests from our land; bringing the outdoors in, we engage all senses, to appreciate the natural world around us.

Gathering of the Greats – With over 8,000 years of history within our museums, we catch a glimpse of some of the most creative, innovative makers of the art world.

Let’s Play – Theatre tickets ready, parties to celebrate, dancing across the floor and imagination galore… Entertainment is back, the 2020s can begin, Let’s Play!

Dunhuang – A UNESCO World Heritage site where spices were traded for knowledge, silks for imagination.

What would you like to achieve from BLE this year?

We’ve taken a stand (B219) to ensure we are visual to those who have read about us, but not yet met us. Our focus is on securing licensing partners, retailers and brands that can not only benefit from our having access to our exclusive designs, but also the content we provide for digital marketing.

We’ll be announcing our first licensing partners in the next month or so. I can’t give away too much now, but I can tell you these are multi-territory partners for us across apparel and home electronics. And we have some exciting new artist collaborations coming soon, so watch this space!