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Arts & Business Partnerships Beyond Mere Aesthetics (from The pARTnership Movement)

A dramatic impression greets Conference Board visitors at reception with the bold and expressive colors of Yuko Ueda’s “The Trees #14.”

A dramatic impression greets Conference Board visitors at reception with the bold and expressive colors of Yuko Ueda’s “The Trees #14.”

When I was asked—strike that—begged, to sit on our in-house committee to renovate our offices, it was explained that someone was needed to bring my department’s voice to the designing table. And knowing to play to my vanity, I was told, “Your artistic eye is sorely needed.” Yet even so, I reluctantly agreed. “Besides,” it was confidentially promised, “the weekly meetings would only last for about six months.” That was 19 months ago…

Once on the committee, I was assigned to the subcommittee affectionately called, “Look & Feel.”  Then, while on this subcommittee, I was volunteered to a yet smaller sub-subcommittee called simply, “Artwork.” Including myself, this sub-subcommittee numbered one! So I in turn volunteered two others to help me out.

We were asked to, “Put some art on the walls…” The request was later improved upon: “Some original art work…Not too expensive.”

I knew enough to ask the obvious question, “What’s the budget?” The answer: “Present us with some figures.” Okay, I could do that.

In fact, I was surprised with how many artists and gallery owners I knew. Pieces started in the low hundreds and went into the six figures. I felt pleased my work was completed so early and speedily. Little would I realize that when I turned these figures over to the larger committee, you would hear crickets in the room. I was thanked for my efforts and invited to try again.

That’s when I thought of the Art Students League (ASL). I was very familiar with the League. I am a self-taught representational artist and as early as six years ago, I was told to take classes there to broaden my scope and introduce myself to the community. However, the class I wanted didn’t fit into my schedule. So, with a goal of finding original art on a lean to bony budget, and no idea whether such a program existed or not, I called up ASL. 

The saying goes that beauty is in the eye of the holder. That idea is taking on new meaning in corporate settings all over Manhattan. Beauty is now literally at the tip of one’s nose.

Thanks to ASL’s Exhibition Outreach Program (EOP), many corporations have introduced artwork into their workplace. Since its inception in 2006, EOP provides emerging artists experience entering their work in competition, preparing for public display, and marketing their art for sale to welcoming audiences.

Led by former League student and curator Leah McCloskey, this nonprofit program began seven years ago when the League’s executive director was walking through a midtown office building lobby where its art collection was displayed. He asked the company if they would welcome young artists to show their art there as well. The company agreed. From there, the idea caught fire. And since that time until today the League has not had to advertise its program, which EOP director McCloskey says, laughingly, is terrifically busy despite.

I asked McCloskey to help me better understand the significance of the art and business partnership, because it is more than mere aesthetics. As it was explained, the program in a business setting creates a more formal interaction between artist and the people in that space.

The central stairs are enlivened by the dramatic 50” x 50” frames of Dee Solin’s (from top left clockwise) “In Dreams I Wish,” “Shadow Magic,” and “The Source.”

The central stairs are enlivened by the dramatic 50” x 50” frames of Dee Solin’s (from top left clockwise) “In Dreams I Wish,” “Shadow Magic,” and “The Source.”

Hosting companies enable artists to meet and interact with company employees at an open house held very soon after the installation of artwork. These “meet & greets” break barriers between the art, the artist and the viewing audience. We have to remember this may be the first time some staff members meet a recognized artist.

Currently there are some 27 pieces ranging in size throughout the house, representing six artists. This is done so that as the visitor moves within the office, they will get a sense that moods are changing as a result of the art. This mood change is not so drastic that the overall appearance is cacophonous or strident. Each artist’s work relates within the whole of the series by that artist, which ASL selected, and this selection works within the overall schemata of the other artists. And yes, when we sat down with the League the very first thing they asked was what experience did we want the visitor to come away with from their visit to our offices? We set suggestions for what we wanted our new office space to inspire, not simply for visitors, but especially for the staff who will live among the art. And the result has been overwhelmingly successful.

I have been approached by some who have said what a wonderful difference the art makes in the space. I’ve received passing congratulations for brightening up the workplace. I’ve heard compliments from colleagues with a marked artistic flair. I’ve heard from those whom I’ve never interacted what a thrilling space we now work in and from those for whom I would have sworn their closest rapport with art was on a beer bottle label saying, “Great job!”

The art will rotate out at a set time. For us, the art will be replaced by new works on a six-month basis, unless there are pieces that staff become especially fond.

Some artists represented in our space are novices, some are currently receiving notoriety, some are veterans. Remember, ASL has been around for over 130 years. It is an atelier emphasizing the importance of artistic creativity, education, and exploration, where anyone who wishes to pursue an art education is welcome.

As a result, many famous artists who have shaped the vocabulary of the art worldwide have been instructors, lecturers, and students. Included in that group are Alexander Calder, Helen Frankenthaler, Georgia O’Keeffe, Norman Rockwell, Winslow Homer, Jackson Pollock, Robert Rauschenberg, Romare Bearden, Roy Lichtenstein, and Cy Twombly. Thus on a daily basis, my colleagues are immersed in a realm where around almost every corner they may come upon a soon-to-be luminary of contemporary art.

The League’s EOP program is always looking for new sites to host exhibitions. Other EOP partners and exhibition spaces include PricewaterhouseCoopers, Grace Institute, Ogilvy & Mather, and the Manhattan Borough President’s office.

To date the program has placed works by some 500 artists in some 75 exhibitions, increasing exposure and appreciation for art among the general public.

Increasing still further the chance that beauty will be in the eye of many more enthralled beholders.

(This post is one in a weekly series highlighting The pARTnership Movement, Americans for the Arts’ campaign to reach business leaders with the message that partnering with the arts can build their competitive advantage. Visit our website to find out how both businesses and local arts agencies can get involved!)

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