The Art of Occupancy

Work with local artists to create a win-win marketing channel.

By Diana Mosher, Editorial Director

When Marcy Swartz, an artist and retired teacher, moved into 5 Riverside Towers, in Binghamton, N.Y., three years ago, her impression of the lobby was that it was a blank canvas. “The walls were absolutely bare,” says Swartz. So when she was asked to participate on a committee to refurbish the lobby, she gladly said yes.

“I suggested we get in touch with professional artists, and the condo board was very supportive [of this idea],” adds Swartz. Her connections with the Binghamton art scene have resulted in The Gallery at Riverside Towers. As founder and director of the gallery—which is located in the condominium’s lobby—Swartz curates a new collection of original works every two months. Each installation is showcased with an opening reception where the artists speak about their work.

Riverside Towers is home to a varied population including university professors and graduate students, young professionals and retirees. Now they stop to chat about the current installation. In addition to creating a sense of community within Riverside Towers, the program has garnered media attention for the property and is also open to Binghamton residents at large. An opening night can attract as many as 55 people, and Swartz makes sure there’s something for every taste.

Recently the gallery featured the work of fine artist Joanne Thorne Arnold, whose collection includes abstracts, expressionist works and realistic paintings of the neighborhood. “I admire the zest and fluidity of her work,” says Swartz. A previous installation featured a young artist who creates sculptures from found objects. “This was a new experience for a lot of people,” adds Swartz. Someone purchased one of his pieces—a whimsical six-foot-tall character—and donated the sculpture to The Discovery Center, a local children’s museum.

According to Swartz, “Now when the walls are bare for a few days, in between shows, the residents think the lobby looks terrible. They want to know, ‘when is the next show coming?’”

Swartz has served as director of many art and education programs, including an outreach program of the Kennedy Center called Imagination Celebration. One of her goals for the Gallery at Riverside Towers is to have residents understand there are as many ways to create art as there are artists.

This is a message also being embraced by multifamily developers in the San Francisco Bay Area who procure original art from Creativity Explored. “We provide artists with developmental disabilities the means to create, exhibit and sell their art in our studios and gallery, and around the world,” says Ann Kappes, marketing and business development director at Creativity Explored, which was founded by Florence and Elias Katz in 1983 to reinforce the notion that all people have the ability to create, and that visual artistic expression is a viable means to self-growth.

“In 2007 we launched our art services program with [our first client], Avalon,” adds Kappes. “They change out the art in the lobby once a year.” Creativity Explored has also worked with BRIDGE Housing and Mercy Housing. “We are popular with developers of affordable housing looking for an alternative to poster art,” she says. Sometimes Creativity Explored becomes involved in an apartment project through the interior designer or the architect (David Baker is a fan); other times the developer brings them in.

“You can purchase or you can rent,” explains Kappes. “We have a contract where the art can change every four months. We can select commissioned pieces around [the architecture of] a tall lobby, or a color palette. We have 120 artists, so we offer a vast variety of styles.”

Meg Spriggs, vice president of development at AvalonBay Communities, says, “We are very proud of our Creativity Explored original art and showcase it through our leasing tours and marketing efforts. We have over 100 Creativity Explored original, commissioned pieces at three of our San Francisco properties,” adds Spriggs. “The art has been very well received by our residents and prospects. It offers a local story, a local connection, and people appreciate this. When a prospect walks in the door and sees art created by local artists and hears the story, it really distinguishes our communities from the others. It also heightens awareness of a great cause.”

AvalonBay Communities has hosted several events with Creativity Explored, including two of its grand opening parties. BRIDGE Housing also finds value in its relationship with Creativity Explored and has incorporated many pieces from the collection at multiple communities including The Coronet, a San Francisco seniors housing community developed and managed by BRIDGE Housing. The concept has been well received, not only by residents and prospective residents touring the property, but also by the numerous social workers, vendors, inspectors and other day-to-day visitors.

“On more than one occasion we have heard residents and others comment on how much they enjoy the art, and they often ask from where the art came,” says BRIDGE Housing President & CEO Cynthia Parker. Once they hear of Creativity Explored and the organization’s mission, they are even more impressed with the collection, she explains.

“We believe the art adds to the overall beauty of our properties and makes it an even more special place to live. The mission of Creativity Explored is complementary to BRIDGE’s; we’re as proud to invest in the people who create the art as in the artwork itself.”

During the grand opening of The Coronet, the art was a prominent feature, garnering much attention and receiving positive comments. BRIDGE displayed a sign with the names of the pieces and artists, so that guests could learn more.

“When you bring an artist into a project early in the design process, the work of art can be built into construction documents, which can save time and money from a separate art installation,” says Stephanie Moore Hager, principal of Moore Design Group in Dallas, Texas. Fine art installations can bring value to multifamily investors and, according to Moore, “they can transform lobbies, corridors, clubhouses and model apartments with added meaning, interaction, beauty and context, creating memorable encounters for people in those places.” This is true for refurbished properties as well as new multifamily development.

Moore adds that once you start using canvas art, going back to framed poster art is “very difficult—you can’t get the volume and scale when a piece is specific to an area,” she explains. She agrees that original art doesn’t have to be expensive. “When you have a consistent working relationship with an artist, they will work with you on various project budgets.” Moore’s “go to” source is her husband, fine artist Geoff Hager.

“He meets with us on every project; we present the parameters, ie. budget, floor plan, color palette, style and schedule, etc. He then submits watercolor studies for approval on all areas we have specified. Once approved, we begin the process. He has never missed a deadline.”

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