Nonprofit matches personal photos with professional artists

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Burnsville business owners Lonny and Robin Kocina launched the nonprofit

Burnsville business owners Robin and Lonny Kocina conceived of their latest project several years ago and resurrected it this year before the coronavirus pandemic hit.

It seems the times have caught up to the project, a nonprofit called that custom matches artists and buyers online. Buyers post cherished personal photos. Artists peruse the photos and paint the ones that interest them.

They post the finished artwork and an asking price. The provider of the photo can buy or reject it, in which case the artist is free to sell it to another customer.

“It’s really good timing because artists can’t get to their art fairs. They aren’t doing art fairs this year,” Robin Kocina said. “But we can still be matching them up to people who are looking for artwork.”

The Kocinas are founders and owners of the public relations and marketing firm Media Relations, which has been located in Burnsville’s Gateway Office Plaza since 1999. After selling an event business and elevating two longtime employees into senior management positions, the couple — who lived in Burnsville for two decades before moving to New Prague last fall — have a little more time on their hands.

Lonny, a painter, conceived of five or six years ago, and the couple built an early version of the website, Robin said.

“My husband is an idea, visionary guy,” she said. “But when you’re building a business, you can’t run after every idea.”

He suggested reviving the idea and donating proceeds to Hands of Freedom, a Christian nonprofit that supports small churches, micro-lending, fresh water well projects and education in India.

Robin said she got involved with Hands of Freedom through a client, and her company built its website.

“They do such great work,” she said. “There’s so much need, but they also have touched so many lives and changed lives.”

Users of pay $10 for every photo they post, all of which goes to Hands of Freedom.

The fee ensures users “weren’t just posting with no intention to buy,” Robin said. “You aren’t going to post just a bunch of pictures for fun.”

Posters designate the size, shape and preferred medium of the finished painting, and also a preferred price range.

“Usually when you commission an artist you’re paying thousands of dollars,” Robin said. “This is a few hundred dollars.”

Stillwater artist Keith Grove, who does wildlife and nature paintings, has used the service to drum up business, she noted.

Posters’ photos thus far have included “a little bit of everything,” Robin said. “A lot of animals, I was surprised by. But people love their animals like they love their children, I think.”

With people spending more time at home these days, she hopes to help them enliven their walls with art.

“I just think it’s perfect timing for this,” Robin said.

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