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Apps / Arts / Good Works

This developer’s side project is a fan favorite among NoVA art lovers

Steve Roberson developed an app to help art patrons take home a “steal” during the Art League's annual fundraiser.

The Alexandria, Va.-based Art League has its own "dating app" for art. (Courtesy photo)

Steve Roberson has been building software for a long time but he’s never had a crowd cheer for his work before.
Until last February, at the Art League’s annual fundraising event called the Patrons’ Show, when the show’s emcee announced him as the creator of the Art Thief app.
“It was a blast,” said Roberson, 47, of Vienna.
For the last 49 years, the Art League, a visual arts organization Alexandria, Va., has collected art and sold tickets for the show, where art is given away by a drawing. Last year, nearly 800 people attended and claimed over 600 pieces of art, according to Art League Executive Director Suzanne Bethel. The only problem? It’s become too difficult for so many people to keep track of so much art. Some would even devise elaborate paper systems to do so.
That’s where the app comes in.

Before Art Thief, patrons devised elaborate paper systems to keep track of art

Before Art Thief, patrons devised elaborate paper systems to keep track of art. (Courtesy photo)

The iOS app, which Roberson demoed at the OpenHack DC meetup, downloads pictures of all the donated art from the Art League’s Flickr album. Users can then give ratings to their favorite art using a five-star rating system. As art is given away during the drawing, users can mark off their favorites as “unavailable,” and at the end, they can vote for the best art. The app also helps users narrow down their choices with side-by-side comparisons.
“In some ways it works like a dating app for art,” Bethel explained to us over the phone. “Like a social experiment to see what people gravitate towards.”
The app has been downloaded over 400 times, with an estimated 200 patrons using it during the Show, Roberson said.
Roberson is the president of the web development shop he founded, Zurka Interactive. He developed Art Thief as a “fun project” in his spare time. He first released it in October 2015. Since then, Roberson has continued to tinker, using input from the Art League.  
For more, watch the app walkthrough Roberson posted on Youtube.
Last year, the Art Gallery gave away over 600 pieces of art

Last year, the Art League gave away over 600 pieces of art. (Courtesy photo)

Roberson named the app “Art Thief” for when a patron nabs something from the top of their list, and it feels like they’re getting “a steal.”
However, Roberson wasn’t so sure a gallery would want anything with “thief” associate with their art.
“When I demoed an early version it to the Art League, the name was something I worried about,” Roberson wrote. “But they loved it. They’re fun, creative and supportive people.”
This year’s annual drawing will be around February 19, and according to Bethel, will include snacks and at least as many people as pieces of art.
“It’s basically a big tailgate party for art,” said Bethel.
Tickets ($200) for the next show won’t be available until January 2017. But pictures are already being uploaded of donated art, so download the Art Thief app to pick your favorites.


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