The Business Of Art

the business of art

Kurt Theriault

Wander into a downtown skyscraper, trendy hotel or corporate campus and take a gander. You will notice paintings and images of all sizes, sculptures, abstracts and even murals. You will notice them on the walls and in the middle of halls. You will spot artwork on the ceilings and floors, even hanging from cables. Have you ever wondered where it all comes from?

Ok, maybe not, but behind the art are compelling stories. The story of the artists, how that art ends up there, and the art’s purpose to those it reaches. While artwork has always carried with it intrinsic value, advancements in technology and the ability to print or project it on various fabrics and mediums have now given it multifunctional purposes and versatility.

Art Force, owned by General Finance and Development, Inc. is located in NE Minneapolis, and is the driver behind what you see on the walls. They are in the business of art. Where left brain meets right brain. The CEO of General Finance and Development Bill Kieger has taken an active role with Art Force, and admittedly, has taken some time to figure out how to make it all work together – business and art – but believes he is on the right track.  Beyond that, Bill has figured out how to weave a passion of his – helping others – into Art Force as well.

This is the story of how.

What has been one of the biggest lessons you’ve had while in the art business, or rather, the business of art?

That art isn’t valued as a financial asset by the business world. Fact is, art isn’t a necessary operating purchase. It’s just not. However, what I found is, art’s value is more intrinsic. The message that art is communicating does have a psychological influence on an organizational and employee productivity and ability to tell the company’s story. It can have a profound effect on communicating the company identity – whether they want to be perceived as high-end, fun, creative, modern or professional. The minute you walk into a building you will make some judgements based on the appearance. The art that is present – or not – has a huge impact on that judgement. In the health care space, art can impact the healing process for patients and their families. Art can be monetized and impact your bottom line, but in different ways than we are used to thinking.

How do you tell that story?

We’ve created what we call “Experience Art Force.” We bring interested people to our facility where they can experience and see first-hand what they could have in their facility. Prospective clients can see what art on wallpaper or what a history wall can look and feel like. They can hear not only the difference sound panels can make on a room, but what they look like with different types of artwork printed directly on them. They can see what art on a cabling system looks like. Really, all the different ways artwork can be expressed in their facility they can see by touring ours.

What other ways are you helping educate people on what’s possible or the process?

One way is through Art Force Academy. The academy is an online education institution with over six thousand current enrollees.

Enrollees receive updates on what is happening in the art world, can see different projects we’ve worked on, meet some of the professional artists we utilize, and get access to a project room. In a project room, you can actually work on a project, see some of what could work within your project, and get access to one of our art consultants who can provide you with personal guidance to help you realize your project’s vision.

How does an organization purchase art through Art Force?

One way is through our online showcase. There are over 3,000 different images to select from. We also have examples of other visual elements they can incorporate into their facility (i.e., sculpture). Art Force provides lease-to-own financing through our own financing arm, as well as a subscription model. Any organization can utilize artwork in their facility for $1/piece per day. The dollars you invest can go toward the purchase of the art if you choose, or you can exchange the artwork for other artwork periodically – a rotating art program, if you will. Many of our smaller clients like this program because of the flexibility and the freedom to choose what fits their tastes.

I imagine it’s tough for most folks to visualize or make decisions on what type of artwork is best for their facility or organization. Or, they need to select hundreds of pieces. How do you help them make those decisions?

It’s a simple, five-step process. First step is to become aware of what we do and what the possibilities are for you. Second, is a physical step, what we call a discovery meeting. We learn more about your organization’s identity, mission, what your outcomes need to be and the story you need to tell. After that, our art consultants put forth options with the type of art elements (types) that make the most sense based on your outcomes and your available space. Then we put together an online project room so the client can view it, make notes, even vote on the art they like or don’t like out of a bevy of options.

What then?

We do what’s called a final art review. There are prices, timelines and project plans to review with the client. Once approved we do all the production, assembly, delivery and then installation. We install it all. That’s the fifth step.

You have a unique, purpose-driven program related to your work called Art Force MSP. Where does that fit?

The program started with the city of Minneapolis and a 10-year plan to reinvigorate the local creative economy through supporting local artists. The city was interested in partnering with those that want and can make a difference in this area. We got on board quickly and built out Art Force MSP. The program focuses on supporting local artists and artists with health challenges as well as providing education to the local creative economy (i.e., how to develop and implement a business plan) to help them be more successful over the long term.

What are some of the results of the program?

In just over one year, we’ve enrolled over 6,000 people into the education program (creatives, art enthusiasts or fans, and art consultants). Beyond that, for every piece of art we distribute we make a contribution to a community fund. That community fund supports over 21 different local charitable programs. We believe strongly we can have a large impact on the creative community by combining art and different activities with the segment of our community that needs real help. Our newest community partner, Bolder Options is an example of an organization that supports – at-risk youth.

What kind of impact do you think you can ultimately have?

Right now, we are focused on our community, Minneapolis and St. Paul. Down the road, yes, we’d like to impact other cities, but want it to work well here first. The challenge I have is getting this message to the leaders of the community. Today, it’s knocking on doors, drive by hellos, giving tours, any way I can. It is my passion, no question. Helping an artist or craftsman get a job or turn it into a career and helping a child who has grown up in a challenging environment – if we can make a difference there, that’s what it is about for me.

It all comes full circle. We identify creative professionals in our market, provide education to them, the enthusiasts and the consultants who can place their art, be the conduit to get it hung and managed where people can see it, and have that process fund programs in the local, creative community. That’s our purpose today.

To learn more about Art Force, visit www.artforce.org. To learn more about the Art Force MSP program and how to make an impact on the creative economy, visit www.artforce.academy/art-force-msp/


Kurt Theriault is president of Allied Executives and works with CEOs, business owners and executive leaders on leadership development and business performance improvement through peer groups, coaching and educational workshops. Visit www.alliedexecutives.com or email Kurt at ktheriault@alliedexecutives.com.