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Thursday, May 20, 1999 Published at 16:17 GMT 17:17 UK

Business: The Company File

The art of e-commerce

The Internet gives artists a global market for their work

Two of the strengths of the Internet are as a business tool and as a means of bringing together a community.

One small business in the north-east of England has found success in both these areas since first going Online in late 1997.

Gallery owner Mark Prior on the value of the Internet
Priors Contemporary Fine Arts & Crafts had been trading for a decade before the chance to develop an Online presence came along. It is now a big part of the gallery's business, and has also provided a showcase for many local artists.

"We were offered the opportunity to have a Website built as part of a very interesting project about e-commerce," explained gallery owner Mark Prior.

"It was something I was fascinated by and having a background in the visual arts I wanted to learn more about it."

[ image: John Degnan's work is among that displayed on the site]
John Degnan's work is among that displayed on the site
The chance came through a scheme designed to open up the global marketplace to rural businesses. It was set up by the local Training and Enterprise Council using European Union funding.

Many larger art galleries have long had a presence Online, but for Mr Prior it was a fairly steep learning curve. However, his site now enables browsers to look at the works of more than a dozen artists at a time, with prices ranging from a few pounds to 1,500. It gets up to 5,000 page views a month.

Among the artists features is John Degnan, who lives near Barnard Castle and specialises in etchings, ceramics and watercolours. He is happy that his traditional works have found a place on the most modern method of communication.

"It's just a tool - I am mainly a producer," he said. "It doesn't matter to me that it's high-tech, because I'm very low-tech. My inspiration is from the pastoral, and there's still much to learn in that direction."

[ image: Mark Prior: Internet is winning new converts]
Mark Prior: Internet is winning new converts
As well as showing a selection of each artist's work, the Website includes a biography and a statement of their inspirations and motivations.

"I see the Website as an extension to the gallery," said Mr Prior. "It enables me both to show the pictures off to a wider audience and to display more work than I have room for in the gallery.

"Despite the fact that the site commands a world-wide audience it is existing customers, many of whom live in the north-east, that use it the most. We are breaking new ground here but the Internet is winning over new converts all the time and is definitely here to stay."

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