Overlooked Victims of Covid-19: The Starving Artists & Creators

May 31, 2021
October 12, 2020

Last week, a story made headlines when a businessman and art collector asked Ali Leblebici, a professional artist in Istanbul, to create a custom portrait painting of his wife.

Leblebici recalls, “We talked on the phone about the pandemic, the situation in the art market and that sales have slowed down. He said that the price of my work was high in this context and that because I am an independent artist, I should not keep my regular rate.”

Leblebici said the collector’s remarks “hurt me like a dagger”; yet, agreed to give him a 50% discount.

“Of course, what the collector could not foresee was that I would only give half of my work. I cut the work in half, packaged it and sent it. After a few days, he called me in great panic and said that half of the canvas was cut. His voice was trembling. I summarized why I cut the canvas - ‘The art market is not good, sales are at a standstill, I do not have a gallery where I am represented, I am an independent artist and the pandemic of course.’”

Although Leblebici refunded his client, the story shines a light on an overlooked crowd during the Covid-19 pandemic - creators and artists. While the airline, restaurant, and hospitality industries suck up most of the media juice as it pertains to the harsh consequences of Covid, independent creators (who often rely on traditional means for exposure, such as galleries), have been hit especially hard, with a decline of sales of more than 40%.

Of course, artists are adapting and moving online more than ever before. The platform, a place where consumers connect with artists, has seen its artist registration increase by 400% since the dawn of Covid.

Below is the experience of Schaun Wolf, a full-time teacher and artist on MadeMay.

As a teacher, I went home for spring break one day in March, only to find out that we would not be returning to school any time soon due to Covid-19. I had to teach my students virtually instead of in person. It was definitely a learning experience.

I felt like I wanted to do something special for the children since we did not get to have an end of the year party. Being an artist, I thought I would paint portraits of each student as a thank you for sticking with me through the pandemic.

I painted each child and then contacted their parents to let them know a special gift would be arriving. They were all overjoyed with their paintings.

Once I shared the portraits, they went viral. Suddenly I had orders from all over the United States, and even queries from other countries, asking about my artwork and how to purchase custom portraits. It was such an exciting time for me as an artist.

Many people expressed to me that my paintings helped them feel joyful during a time of uncertainty. I am glad something good could happen from this. I love the feeling of helping others through my art.

Founder of, Rei Llazani, says “It has been great to provide a platform to such an amazing community of artists, allowing them to get connected with consumers from all over the world, especially at a time like this. Many custom art requests that our artists receive usually carry sentimental value, such as getting a portrait painted of a family member, puppy, important location, significant item, and so on. It makes us feel good to make such an impact, because not only are we providing artists an extra revenue stream, but we’re also giving thoughtful consumers a way to get personalized, meaningful, and hand-drawn products.”

Although a startup, MadeMay's community of hundreds of professional artists has gone viral, amassing over 1,000,000 views on TikTok, YouTube, and Instagram. MadeMay brands itself as the premiere place to request & order custom paintings, and is soon expanding to multiple categories, such as custom-made marble sculptures.

When jokingly asked if any of their customers have received any half-torn paintings, Llazani laughs, “No, but after the Sotheby shredding incident of Banksy’s painting in 2018, maybe damaged artwork is the new cool thing around town and perhaps we’ll start seeing crazy requests. We’ll definitely keep you updated, so stay tuned.”