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People Profile: Yizan He, Founder and CEO of ARTiSTORY image

People Profile: Yizan He, Founder and CEO of ARTiSTORY

The global licensing community is powered by an incredible group of professionals whose diverse backgrounds and creative energy drive innovation and excellence. Each week we profile one of these professionals in this ongoing series.

How did you get into licensing (or how did licensing find you)?
It is totally unplanned, but I’m glad it happened! After years working in licensing across both fashion and movies since 2004, I stumbled upon museum and cultural heritage licensing back in 2016. I had an eye-opening meeting with the British Museum during Licensing Expo in Vegas. Compared to the short lifespan of movie properties, the longevity of art was an attractive point, plus their collection of eight million objects blew my mind. Thanks to my talented team and the museum’s partnership, the British Museum’s licensing program in China is now one of the largest in the world. As a founder, I always dreamed of building a truly global IP licensing company, so in 2021 I founded ARTiSTORY. Today, ARTiSTORY has offices in Raleigh (NC, USA), London, Singapore, Shanghai, Beijing, Hangzhou, and the Middle East, and we now partner with over a dozen institutions like the National Palace Museum, Centre Pompidou, British Library, the Smithsonian, and Cambridge University Museums.

What’s a “typical” day in your current position?
My day kicks off early in the mornings with meetings with my U.K. creative team to discuss artifacts, themes, and style guide development. Then I find myself in back-to-back meetings with my American teams and potential licensing partners to discuss exciting new collaborations. I usually take a brief rest in the late afternoon and in my evenings I meet with the ARTiSTORY teams in Asia. It’s a dynamic, ever-evolving role that keeps me constantly on the move!

What’s your biggest personal or professional accomplishment?
Building a museum licensing program from scratch for the British Museum, the V&A, National Gallery, and the MET in China, and now founding and growing ARTiSTORY into a leading force in global cultural licensing is my greatest professional accomplishment. Under my leadership, we’ve secured high-profile collaborations with prestigious institutions, engineered industry-first crossover deals, put together licensing programs with many top consumer brands, and we will soon launch the first-ever touring exhibition for the University of Cambridge in China. When I’m not busy, you can find me scuba diving, riding ATV, or carving down snowy slopes. For me, I need the work-life balance, blending ambitious entrepreneurship with a passion for the outdoors.

What are the most significant trends or changes that you’ve seen in the business in recent years?
In recent years, I’ve witnessed a surge in global appetite for unique and culturally inspired products, especially in the U.S., Europe, and Middle East. Consumers crave ever-more unique and meaningful products and consumer brands are hunting for fresh ways to engage shoppers.

What keeps you up at night? What’s your biggest challenge these days?
Navigating millions of artifacts in museums’ collection, selecting timely themes, and producing inspirational style guides for the evolving consumer trends are the challenges that can keep me up at night. As we cover multiple markets and a wide range of licensed product categories, it’s a delicate balancing act but one I’m learning more about daily.

In your opinion, what is the top skill every licensing executive should have in order to succeed?
The museum and heritage IP licensing sector is a dynamic, rapidly evolving space. To thrive here, an executive must first possess a solid and versatile background in art and culture. Secondly, they must have the ability to transforms yesterday’s art into tangible product designs. And supporting licensees with compelling narratives is also key to success.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received, or what’s your favorite quote?
I’m often inspired by quotes and advice that emphasize the value of patience and perseverance.

What is your favorite licensing deal of all time? (It doesn’t have to be one that was signed by you.)
I always love to use our own licensed products and carry them whenever I go. Among them, my most favorite is a travel suitcase. It is from a stunning travel suitcase series named “the Voyage Collection” with a total 5 SKUs, each inspired by the V&A’s art deco travel posters. When you can transform timeless cultural treasures into functional, emotionally resonant products, that’s when the magic of licensing shines.

If you weren’t in licensing, what would you be doing now?
Actually, I don’t know. Maybe I’d be running a different kind of business or working creatively in another field.

The last licensed product I bought was…
The last licensed item I purchased was a puzzle during my visit to D.C. not long ago. It is inspired by the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum.

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