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'The iTunes of art'

ASHLAND — Art Authority, a nifty, artsy app created by Ashland software developer Alan Oppenheimer, has a new face and a new galaxy to explore.

Pooling the expertise of art, printing and digital partners, Art Authority has acquired the digital portfolio of Seattle-based 1000Museums. The online 1000Museums holds licenses to reproduce hundreds of collections around the world, while supplying prints for museum gift shops and custom orders.

Seeing the future with a whole new palette of color, Oppenheimer renamed his Open Door Networks operation to Art Authority, and in recent weeks he combined with long-time collaborator Jim Teece and a trio of newcomers to Ashland: Kirsten Söderlind, founder of 1000Museums; Stanley Smith, head of imaging services for The J. Paul Getty Museum; and Image Collective founder Mac Holbert.

Oppenheimer said visual art has trailed other artistic disciplines in adapting to the digital age.

"Music has gone from CDs to downloads," he said. "Music, photography, movies and books have done it, but art is behind a lot of these trends. Museums are somewhat more traditional. You're never going to experience it like you can standing in front of a work of art, maybe not 100 percent, but you can 90 percent."

Söderlind launched 1000Museums nine years ago, creating connections with museums around the world from the Guggenheim in New York and the Louvre in Paris to museums in Seattle and Australia.

"We didn't think anyone could leverage the assets the way we could by combining with Art Authority," she said. "Our primary work was selling wholesale prints to museums, but what this is all about is making art more accessible."

Combined with 1000Museums, Art Authority's new role is positioned for rapid adoption. Even though the enterprise is a new entity, it's not starting from scratch.

"We had a core business, and this gives us a huge jump start," Oppenheimer said. "We're not just reaching art teachers, art students and art lovers any more. We can now actually source museums and their artists."

Although the app hasn't changed, the world it reaches has grown immensely. Given his track record of hundreds of thousands of Art Authority apps via Apple, Oppenheimer is already dreaming.

"We could be the iTunes of art. We could be the Amazon of art," said Oppenheimer, co-creator of the AppleTalk Network System. "In books, there is not just one winner. We could be a billion-dollar industry. The museum services industry is not just the prints, but the experience, and this expands the community. There are 10,000 cultural institutions with a local community of millions. We're looking at a worldwide community with billions of people. All of a sudden, it's a bigger industry with more economic impact."

Until last week, 1000Museums outsourced its production work. Now the majority of the prints are produced in Ashland. Printing spurred by orders from museums and individuals has begun in Ashland. Framed orders are being handled by Houston's Custom Framing & Fine Art of Ashland.

The Art Authority app was introduced in 2007. Its iPad version is a one-time $9.99 purchase with free upgrades for life. It started with access to 20,000 art pieces and now surpasses 100,000.

"The year it came out, university classes began using it right away," Oppenheimer said. "Now there is a K-12 version, and Apple liked it so much that it did its own lesson plans utilizing part of our plan."

Oppenheimer posits museums generally cater to a community within a 100-mile radius, augmented by tourists and business travelers.

"What we're doing is leveraging the tools out there to expand the community to the whole world. Twenty-first century e-commerce tools mean we're not just selling apps to consumers. We have this huge worldwide market of museums."

In announcing the 1000Museums acquisition, Oppenheimer drew an artistic parallel.

"If Art Authority were a traditional art institution, we might well be announcing that we had obtained a rare painting by a renowned artist like Rembrandt or van Gogh," he said.

The twist, however, is that organization obtained 1000 museums worth of art.

When he began Open Door Networks in 1995, his was the geeky domain of internet security.

"I didn't see what I'm doing now coming, not at all," Oppenheimer said. "I knew I'd be around the internet. I realized things change so absurdly fast, but I wouldn't have said this is where I'm going."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31


Image Collective founder Mac Holbert looks at a freshly printed work. Photo by Larry Stauth, Jr.