Tech, art and design of ‘smart’ cities converge through Wisconsin company

By Tom Still


Six weeks ago in the art-conscious town of Santa Fe, NM, a somewhat eclectic group of technologists, architects, city planners, fabricators and artists of all persuasions got together to talk about the future of art and how it can transform public settings.

Given that southwest city’s affinity for all things creative, perhaps that’s not surprising – except the gathering of about 170 people from around the world revolved around CODAworx, a young Madison company.

Co-founded by serial entrepreneur Toni Sikes, CODAworx is becoming the Amazon of the commissioned art economy. By connecting artists and designers with opportunities that range from private building projects to public works of art to specialty commissions, CODAworx is matching talent and utilizing technology to streamline an often-complicated mating dance.

“I really think this is the most important thing I have ever done in my life,” said Sikes, who built other arts and publication companies in the past. “There has always been commissioned art, but there wasn’t an organized, tech-based way of bringing together the supply with those who had the demand. We’re the hub, the connectors, for all types of people within the industry.”

CODAworx is short for the “collaboration of art and design,” an apt acronym for a company that touches about 17,000 artists and 10,000 possible buyers and people with a stake in the industry, which includes consultants, city planners, architects and museum directors.

The presence of people who care about the importance of art in planning buildings, parks, urban spaces and cityscapes is a major part of what makes CODAworx tick. The company’s leadership advocates for what artists bring to the world, of course, but they’re especially passionate about how art in all forms creates value in otherwise hum-drum or even dangerous settings.

“Art in our public and private spaces helps us fight ordinary buildings, ordinary streets, ordinary cities. We celebrate the extraordinary,” reads a passage from “CODAworx Manifesto.”

Sikes takes it a step farther when she talks about the use of all types of technology to create works of art around light, sound, artificial intelligence and other interactive effects.

“The traditional arts world has, for the most part, overlooked what’s happening with technology enabled art,” she said. “It can have the effect of raising the value of real estate. It creates spaces where people love to work, shop and live. You can even place the right art in crime-ridden spaces and it can transform them.”

The business model for CODAworx is tiered. It is free for artists who want to list up to three published projects and to review requests for proposals; $500 per year for artists who want to expose more of their works and dig deeper into commission opportunities; $1,000 per year for industry members; and larger contract amounts when people who commission art want CODAworx to handle the nitty-gritty of executing a project.

The latter category can happen when city planners and others decide they want to commission art but aren’t experienced in screening potential artists, negotiating terms and executing delivery.

“Cities are realizing, as they do economic development, that art is critical,” Sikes said. “When we do manage a project, we try to anticipate all of the pain points.”

It’s not just major cities or big companies that commission art. Projects touched by CODAworx over time have included cities such as Janesville, Eau Claire, High Point, N.C., Suwanee, Ga., and St. Mary’s, Md. Those cities and more might have been limited to a few choices of artists in the past but can cast a wider net by using the CODAworx database.

Founded as The Art Commission in 2012 by Sikes and Terry Maxwell, CODAworx today has 15 employees and 6,000 projects accessible through its website. For Sikes, that’s just a good start.

“Artists are some of the original entrepreneurs, and they’re increasingly banding together in companies,” Sikes said. “We want to help them grow.”


Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. He is the former associate editor of the Wisconsin State Journal.

Originally published in the Wisconsin State Journal