Directions: Best Face Forward

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By Jay Goltz Published in the April 2007 issue of Today’s Facility Manager
wall decor
The artwork located in this law firm’s conference room is eye catching, yet sedate. Knowing what type of image the organization would like to convey is important in choosing wall decor. (Photo: Artists’ Frame Service, Chicago, IL)
When a facility manager shops for carpet, desks, chairs, or light fixtures, prime considerations are often durability and functionality. People need to sit down, so the facility manager buys chairs. Employees need somewhere to work, so the facility manager purchases desks. And they need somewhere to file paper, so the facility manager procures storage units. When buying artwork, the same rules of practicality do not necessarily apply. Often, artwork is viewed as an “extra” or a luxury. However, those who decorate their walls realize there is one consideration applicable to art that is common with any business expense—return on investment. There are various reasons an organization might want to purchase artwork for its walls. In order to reap the highest return on this investment, it can be helpful to consider the motivations before embarking on the purchasing process.

Motivations For Buying Art 

Employee satisfaction. Most people agree that a pleasant work environment is an important ingredient to keeping staff happy and productive. These days, with so many possible career paths, employees are looking for more than just a paycheck and a Thanksgiving turkey. They ask about benefits and company perks, and they notice facility design. A well thought out art program is an integral part of the organization’s image. Recruiting. In a competitive market, hiring top talent is a critical component of staying ahead. Companies spend thousands of dollars each year recruiting candidates from universities, wining and dining them, and giving tours of facilities. While it is impossible to put a price on what it’s worth to be impressed by an office, it’s difficult to deny that it’s a factor. It may be difficult for prospective employees to compare career opportunities with that of another organization. They might not think to ask about workload. And everyone will be on their best behavior during a visit, so it’s difficult to see who has the nicer staff. So, when an applicant thinks about spending a good deal of time somewhere, the facility’s appearance will often come into play. Customers. Some companies have very few customers visit, while some organizations regularly give tours. An insurance company, for instance, might have someone check out their facilities very infrequently, but an ad agency would be expected to have many prospective clients visiting its space. The art on the walls may be superficial and have nothing to do with the talent at the company, but perception is often reality. The lawyer wearing a $1,200 suit looks smarter than the lawyer wearing the $200 suit. Bankers, investors, and stockholders. Beyond financial statements, projections, and press releases, some people still want to take a tour. They want to get a feeling for the company. Artwork plays an important role in conveying a positive image.

Defining The Image 

After determining the motivations for buying artwork, the purchaser should consider what needs to be accomplished with the installation. In the case of a bank, does it want to project a conservative and stable image? Or, perhaps, it caters to billionaires who made their fortune on the Internet. This is reflected in where the office is, what kind of people work there, and the decorative motif, including what is on the walls. At a major consulting firm known to hire the best and brightest, the purchasing team gave a tremendous amount of thought to every desk, every chair, and every item on the walls. The team was mindful of making the art match the spaces. For instance, in the fitness center, there are black and white photos of ordinary people doing extraordinary feats. And in the break room, the team specified dry erase boards for employees to jot ideas down. (Art may not always be the best thing for the walls.) There are many approaches that can be used to reinforce an organization’s mission. In some cases, it is important to celebrate the history of a company by showing products, pictures, or other memorabilia from the archives. In other cases, a group can highlight achievements and awards. The walls can speak for themselves. [To read about creating an identity for a facility, read “From Where I Sit” in the April 2007 issue.] Needless to say, in some cases, “pretty artwork” is the appropriate solution. In other cases, it can be a wasted opportunity to showcase, stimulate, and inspire.

Embarking On An Art Purchase 

For the facility manager in charge of coordinating an art purchase, there are several things to consider during the research period. Using this checklist will help not only to realize beautiful results, but it will also keep the specifier out of trouble. 1. Who is going to be choosing the art and other treatments? Not everyone is going to like the same thing. Purchasers need to get clear direction on whose tastes they are trying to satisfy. A committee is not a bad idea, but someone needs to make the final decisions. It is well worth the time to brainstorm with the appropriate people to determine the goals. This is one of those situations where a little grief on the front end will save a lot of grief at the finish. 2. Choose the art consultant carefully. The experience and ability of this person is going to make a huge difference in the end result. 3. Art inventory. Some providers will try to impress potential clients with their large art inventory. In fact, there is something to be said for having a smaller inventory, because art, like many other things, can go out of fashion. If someone has a large inventory, chances are some or much of it is old. 4. The framing. Depending on how expensive the artwork is, the framing could represent 25% to 80% of the total bill. (With investment level artwork, this percentage can be expected to be lower.) With that in mind, the purchaser should consider the fact that 90% of any problems that arise are going to be due to the framing. It is a common experience to walk through a hospital, hotel, or office and see framing that is starting to fall apart. If the art consultant does not have his or her own framing facility, the job might be bid out to the lowest cost provider. As is often the case, the quality standards of a low cost provider may not be very good. It is not unreasonable to ask for a guarantee on the framing, as it may be on display for 10 or 15 years. A properly framed piece should not start falling apart after a few years. 5. Hanging the artwork. There are multiple hanging methods, including using two hooks (never one), or specialized security hangers. The art and framing provider should be well versed in the options and have a good eye for placement. 6. Budget. An art budget can vary greatly, based upon several factors— the first being how much wall space is to be filled. Another factor is the type of art being purchased (framed posters? original works of art?). A budget range, albeit a large one, is generally between $1 and $5 per square foot. Before deciding on the budget, the purchaser can probably figure out how many pieces are needed to fill the space. 7. Risk and grief management. Unlike many other vendors a facility manager works with, an art consultant may be a one-man show, working on a handful of jobs each year. This might make corporate chieftains uncomfortable in terms of insurance coverage, follow-up support, and company stability. While it’s always a good idea to complete due diligence of any company being hired, it is even more critical in this arena. Purchasing art for a facility is an exciting opportunity. Done to its best advantage, the art chosen will help to improve the environment and create a good impression for visitors. This, in turn, will reflect well on the person who coordinated the endeavor. Goltz has been involved in the art and framing industry since 1978 as owner of Artists’ Frame Source in Chicago, IL. In 1991, he launched Chicago Art Source (www.chicagoartsource.com) to provide companies with a comprehensive resource for both art and framing. Services include art management and inventory, custom displays, archiving a company’s history, installation systems, and delivery and installation.

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