Museum meets office space

By
From the August 2014 issue of Columbus CEO

The Columbus College of Art and Design fields more requests from businesses seeking to acquire local art than the college can accommodate. CCAD provides short-term loans of student and faculty art to the offices of Governor John Kasich, Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman and other prominent civic offices, but is unable to accommodate the many requests from Columbus-based firms seeking to begin or add to their private corporate collections.

“While we’ve tried to be good citizens with some of our elected officials, we’ve tended more often to refer inquiries from smaller businesses in particular to our career-services office (or) to our online registry, and in that way, put these companies directly in touch with these young artists who are hungry to get their work out there,” says Denny Griffith, the just-retired former president of CCAD.

Building a corporate art collection is no simple process, Griffith explains. For art consultants and galleries that curate corporate collections, the process entails determining the sort of work suitable to a given office space, finding and gathering the work, framing, producing signage and, finally, installing the work.

“Getting it all installed can take weeks and weeks and, frankly, costs hundreds if not thousands of dollars in man-hours,” Griffith says.

Despite the effort and expense, businesses often reject generic office décor in favor of cultivated art collections. Curating an original fine-arts collection is a means for organizations to enhance the work environment for employees, brand themselves to clients and exhibit their commitment to social philanthropy in the art realm.

“It’s a proclamation, I think, of quality and of appreciation for the fact that the arts embody the pursuit for human excellence,” says Griffith. “It says, ‘We’re committed to the civic realm even as we’re committed to the core business that we do.’”

In Griffith’s 36 years as a Columbus-based artist, he’s worked with galleries and consultants who have placed his work in places like Huntington Bank, the Capital Club, the Columbus Metropolitan Library and the Hilton Columbus Downtown.

Griffith sites the Downtown Hilton as the “best example” of how local companies are using fine-art collections to enhance their places of business. The hotel’s permanent collection includes 225 original pieces of art by approximately 130 Central Ohio artists. The collection includes a wide scope of the Columbus region’s most celebrated artists, including Griffith, Aminah Robinson, George Bellows, James Thurber and Ann Hamilton. The entire collection is catalogued online at hcd-art.com.

The collection was built on a budget of roughly $1 million, slightly more than the typical decorating budget for a newly opened Hilton, says general manager Christian Coffin. But, Coffin says, the hotel has something to show for its investment.

“There’s some marketing aspect to it. There’s some good business aspects to it. It just creates something special,” says Coffin. The collection brands the hotel with a sense of place, connecting it with local residents and visitors, he says. “Unlike your typical Art Package 101, this collection will actually grow in value.”

The Franklin County Convention Facilities Authority, which owns the hotel, didn’t want visitors to have a “typical” experience. Coffin credits FCCFA executive director Bill Jennison, board member and Director Emeritus of the King Arts Complex Barbara Nicholson, and Columbus Museum of Art Executive Director Nannette Maciejunes with pushing for an original, locally focused art collection.

The FCCFA contracted with Reese Brothers Productions to procure, install and market the art collection. Michael Reese, a partner in the consulting firm he operates with his brother James Reese, put together the speculative collection of local artists that won his firm the Hilton contract.

“Within (their) budget, we acquired the art, we had the art framed, we installed the art, we paid for the insurance,” produced an online catalogue and delivered the project under budget, says Michael Reese. He says he was able to negotiate fair prices for the work with galleries and individual artists. “They didn’t realize they could get so much great art at a very reasonable price.”

The brothers work for a flat fee, and the process of negotiating art prices for their corporate clients is “very clean and above board,” says Reese. The pair found great success in corporate art-consulting after founding Reese Brothers Productions four years ago; they previously provided services under the banner of their parents’ Bellville-based Castle Door Gallery.

In addition to the Downtown Hilton, Reese Brothers Productions has built collections for the Columbus Partnership, the Ohio Hospital Association, the Rhodes state office tower and GBQ Partners. Each client comes to the firm with a different procurement budget and unique goals for the organizational collection.

“We talk with them about what their vision is, what they’re wanting. Then we show them a sampling of beginning artists, mid-career artists, prices between the $3,000-$5,000 range,” says Reese.

The contemporary décor of GBQ Partners’ Arena District office is accented with a collection of nearly a dozen pieces curated through Reese Brothers Productions. While most of the pieces were purchased from local galleries, the collection features works by out-of-state artists.

“I think it livens up the space, certainly,” says Darci Congrove, GBQ’s managing director. “I think it brightens up and creates some interest for the people who sit around some of these (pieces), especially the more unusual ones.”

Like others curated by the Reese Brothers, the GBQ collection features a variety of styles and mediums. “When you think of art, it’s very subjective. Some people like contemporary, modern, cubism. Think of how many styles there are through art history—that’s how many opinions there are,” says Reese.

“So far with our clients, it’s never a goal to make an investment. This is not investment art. But you can get lucky and ten years down the road, one of them could hit it big,” says Reese. Two of his clients have had art appreciate significantly in value, though that appreciation can mean an added security burden for an organization or business.

The valuation, purchasing and collection management processes are often daunting for art-market novices. The Greater Columbus Arts Council is considering reviving its art-buying workshops for businesses and individuals interested in entering the local-art market. “Anxiety—perhaps about what to look for when you buy art or what the value is—that can permeate all levels, from the CEO down to (private collectors),” says Jami Goldstein, vice president of marketing, communications and events for the GCAC. “There’s extra pressure when you’re a CEO or someone buying for a public space.”

A distinctive collection can imbue a business with a “sense of pride and place,” says Goldstein. “As a corporate entity, you have all these employees who have made their home away from home your office. You want them to feel a connection to the place. I think a corporate collection can serve that purpose, particularly if it has local representation.”

Goldstein cites public initiatives, such as the state’s Percent for Art Program, as encouraging organizational participation in the Ohio art market. Passed in 1990, the program allocates one-percent of public building projects over $4 million for the allocation, commissioning and installation of artwork. The program is administered by the Ohio Arts Council. Since its inception, over 100 projects featuring public art have been completed across the state.

Small businesses (like those in the Short North) and mid-sized professional firms are also jumping into the arts market, furnishing their offices with collections from local galleries and individual artists.

The walls of the Downtown law offices of Thompson Hine are adorned with the works of several Columbus-area artists. The collection was selected by an in-house art committee working with the office’s design firm, Design Collective, and Bexley’s Access Art Gallery. Thompson Hine’s collection of roughly ten pieces was curated during the firm’s transition to a new, contemporary space in 2008. The art was chosen with an eye towards generating discussion among employees, clients and the guests of firm-hosted events.

Among the more distinctive works in the collection are two oil-on-canvas paintings of Short North street scenes by artist Curtis Goldstein, which hang in the firm’s conference room and common lunch area. The firm’s previous décor was more like branding than art, says office administrator Joy McKenzie. McKenzie helped steer the art-selection process. “Law firms were known, in the past, to have a very set perception of what art should be. We were trying to push the envelope.”

Since 2009, law firm Barnes & Thornburg has amassed a collection of the nearly 50 pieces hanging in its Downtown office. Several early pieces were purchased from the Columbus Arts Festival and the Worthington Arts Festival, though the majority of the collection was purchased in 2012 when the firm moved to its current space.

The art budget was “slightly less than one percent” of the firms’ total redesign budget, says Bill Nolan, managing partner of the firms’ Columbus office. He, attorney Amy Ita and an informal employee committee worked with Reynoldsburg-based art consultancy Idecora to select and purchase the bulk of the collection.

“After an initial look around, we often get a comment to the effect that the space is different from what people expect from a law firm,” says Nolan. Each of Barnes & Thornburg’s regional offices feature work curated from artists in the communities in which they are based. The firm’s Grand Rapids office features Great Lakes-themed works by local artists and students; the firm’s Minneapolis office hosts rotating displays of student and faculty art provided through a partnership with the Minneapolis College of Art and Design.

Former CCAD president Griffith finds it an encouraging sign that, as major corporate art investments have tended to wane in a tough economy, more and more small and mid-sized firms are channeling their design dollars towards local art markets, galleries and individual artists.

“My gallery, which is Hammond Harkins, has placed a number of pieces with area businesses in the last six months,” says Griffith. “So clearly the market is picking up.”