Partnering with the arts can give businesses of all sizes a way to develop a unique identity. Artistic collaboration can also provide solutions for branding and business promotion. With an overarching theme of how businesses can set themselves apart, the last ABAE Creative Academy of 2018 invited three business owners and a city representative to give short presentations on how engaging with the arts world can foster growth. Kelly Johnson, ABAE executive director, Mitra Gruwell, ABAE board member and creator of the ENVIA Fashion line at St. Vincent de Paul of Lane County, and City of Eugene cultural services director Isaac Marquez facilitated the event.
Josh Docherty, owner of Level Up arcade, where the event was held, spoke first, followed by Bonnie Glass, owner of Euphoria Chocolate Co., and Justin Bauer, a commercial property owner who owns a downtown building adorned with murals. Each speaker had wisdom to share on the intersecting themes of identity, branding and promotion.
Marquez gave examples of how large businesses like Red Bull and the City of Eugene collaborate with the arts. Red Bull hosted a contest to design art for a cooler. He spoke about how the City fostered the 20×21 mural project, and at the end of the seminar, he led the participants to see two murals located nearby. Collaborating with an artist to design a wine or beer label, a t-shirt or other promotional item is a way to invite community involvement into your business while also helping an artist develop his or her own name.
One of the most freeing things about art is that there doesn’t have to be any rules. There is no “should” or “shouldn’t” in art, no right or wrong. And there’s no right or wrong way that businesses can collaborate with the arts, either. Finding a unique way to collaborate will achieve the goal of setting your business apart.
Gruwell provided examples of how businesses can engage with local artists, including hiring photographers and graphic designers to create good images for websites and social media and the right logo to support your business. Marquez emphasized the concept of left brain-right brain balance. As a business owner, your right brain might be dominating. Engaging with an artist could provide a creative approach that could balance your business and push it in the right direction.
Businesses that have ideas for how they might improve their storefront, including their sidewalk or signage, but lack funding, can speak with Aaron Doreen, a business loan analyst for the City of Eugene. Doreen spoke briefly about the City’s arts loan programs, which is a funding source that can be used for a variety of things. The loan is there to cover any funding gaps that businesses may have for events or performances they want to host, new signage or murals on the side of a building or creative storefront improvements, such as lighting, placemaking or sidewalk scaping. Business owners who want to commission art for their walls can also use the loan program. “We look at the artistic merit and, if it aligns with the goals of the loan program, then it is funded,” Doreen said. “We’re very proud of it and I’m looking forward to doing more with this loan program.”
Prior to opening Level Up seven years ago, Josh Docherty worked in computer information technology with an undergraduate degree in computer graphics. As he focused on his career, Docherty came to feel that he had to choose between being an income-generating, responsible business person on one hand and an artist on the other hand. In his adult years, he began restoring and selling arcade games as a hobby. He took the step to open the arcade in 2012, and came to realize that his work with video games was actually touching people’s lives and developing connections in the same way that art does.
Docherty confessed that he did not feel that his work renovating video games qualified as “art,” but he came to accept that it did. “My vision for art is not through a traditional medium,” Docherty said. “I was doing historic preservation that ties into pop culture, but that didn’t feel like art to me, not what I thought of as art. Don’t put yourself into a box. I’m a business person and I’m an artist. Whatever you are doing, that is your art, and I’m an example of that.”
For Bonnie Glass, the biggest reason to partner with an organization is if their goals align with hers. Glass currently partners with Eugene Ballet and Ballet Fantastique and Oregon Bach Festival because those are all art forms that she enjoys. It’s important to her that her support feel like a partnership. If an organization is just interested in getting a donation of chocolate or a check, she says no. “Because what I’m looking for is not going to happen,” she says.
She’s also looking for unique partnerships where she’s not providing the same service to one organization that she does to another. For instance, she makes a signature dessert for Eugene Ballet, and doing that for another organization would dilute her efforts for both. “There is no value to that relationship if you peddle the same thing to everyone,” she said. When her goals are aligned with an organization, everyone benefits. “I get to give their audience a product they can taste and hopefully when they decide to buy gifts, they’ll remember me because I support something they also feel is important,” she says.
Justin Bauer, a commercial property owner in Eugene, owns the building that houses Falling Sky on East 13th Avenue. Graffiti tags on his building have gone way down since he worked with the City’s 20×21 project to install murals on both sides of his building. One unexpected outcome is that the geisha mural by Hush on the side of Falling Sky directed the attention of taggers to a nearby wall that had no mural on it. In order to remove the temptation to tag that building instead, Bauer and the owner of that building used their own money and painted a mural of their own design on to that wall as well.
With the success of the murals on his building, Bauer’s now on a committee to help the City find new building owners willing to host murals. “The unintended benefit of the murals is the pride I’ve seen in the tenants,” he said. “I have a canvas in the public domain that I can provide to artists that has no admission fee.”
Bauer says on an almost hourly basis people drive by to look at the murals, walk by and look or take selfies with them. “Literally everyone looks at that art, from my delivery people to homeless people and I think that affects people in a positive way. There are zero negatives.”