This is the push-back against the white wall workplace.
No more sterile offices, heartlessly lined with cubicles and blank walls or generic framed prints.
This is a new kind of workplace carefully curated to spark creativity, conversation and even job satisfaction among employees, while simultaneously supporting local artists.
No longer is custom art curation reserved for art galleries and museums. It’s a new but growing movement in Boulder. Businesses talk with art experts and outline the kind of art they want (the medium, the message, the size), and then the experts track down the original artwork that best matches the requests. It usually takes about three months to put together and display a temporary custom exhibition.
But unlike purchased, permanent artwork, these displays rotate, typically quarterly, to keep employees from growing too used to them (and to keep the art from being taken for granted and blending into the environment).
And unlike art displays you often see in coffee shops and in some restaurants and breweries, the artists are paid up front to hang their work; payment does not depend on sales.
“A part of our bigger mission is to try to change that. Artists shouldn’t be expected to show their work for free,” says Chelsea Pohl, of Boulder, a co-founder of CauseART, a local curatorial consulting firm. She runs CauseART with Ingrid Walsh and Sean Peuquet.
Walsh has a saying: “We want to prevent artists from dying of exposure.”
Curatorial consultants like her think art has been taken for granted for too long, and artists are expected to be grateful to hang their work for free. CauseART wants to bring more value back into art and honor all that goes into creating it.
“We’ve had artists ask, ‘How much do I have to pay you?’ The concept of getting paid to show their work has become so foreign in the industry that there’s a certain level of disbelief, which is funny and sad at the same time,” Walsh says.
The concept is new among businesses, too, she and Pohl say. Businesses like this are beginning to pop up on the coasts and in Europe, but it’s only barely beginning to reach inland states like Colorado.
Locally, the Boulder Creative Collective also offers an Alt.Art Program, which is billed as a “curatorial service that connects businesses with local artists.” Through the program, businesses get a personally designed body of work, and artists get representation by the collective, gallery maintenance, sales and commissions, cross-promotion and more, although the program does not specify that it pays artists upfront to lease their work. Alt.Art does offer Wall Talk, a special event where the artist can share their creative process and talk about their work.
CauseART also offers that option for businesses.
Because the model is new, in addition to marketing their business, CauseART staff says they have to educate businesses — in particular the benefits of having quality art in the workplace.
This is more than just beautifying a space, Walsh says.
“There’s a huge body of research about the benefits of art in the workplace,” she says. “It has multilayered benefits when it’s viewed in a non-gallery/non-museum environment. The research shows it reduces stress and also causes people to have a greater sense of investment in their place of employment, greater ownership in it. It causes conversations; it causes people to think more creatively about their actual work when there’s other creativity in the space. It raises productivity.”
She cites one article in Forbes that found artwork can have a “direct impact” on employee productivity and well-being. The article noted a study by Exeter University that found employees who had control over the design and layout of their workspace were happy, healthier and up to 32 percent more productive. Two more studies found people working in places decorated with art or plants were 17 percent more productive than people working in bare and functional spaces.
The research goes on.
Sixty-four percent of men and 73 percent of women in a Cass Business School study said the design of their workplace affected their working day. Furthermore, all of the women respondents in the study said art had some effect on their work ethic and motivation, and 92 percent of women said art affects their general well-being. (Numbers were slightly lower among men but still significant.)
These studies (and numerous more) are why CauseART’s tagline is “Put your walls to work.”
“We artwork on walls as a valuable asset to businesses fostering their own growth,” Walsh says.
As more people realize this, Pohl says more businesses are getting on board.
“It’s catching on pretty quickly, especially as our community gets more and more dense with businesses that are requiring new, innovative ways to be competitive — searching for programs that are innovative and new and fresh and meet the mission they have to attract and retain talent. Our community is ripe for it.”
The curated art goes beyond the mental default of landscape paintings in frames, and can include anything the space allows and the business desires. CauseART has done exhibitions of digital projections, interactive art, fabric, holographic illusions, sculptures, LED lights, ceramics, shadow boxes, 3D prints, paper. In fact, since CauseART started a year and a half ago, it’s only put up one framed landscape.
“We look for anything that is possible to do,” Walsh says. “Anything that will spark conversations and interest in the space, within the limitations.”