HD: How are things different now with healthcare art projects than when you started a few decades ago?
BM: Doing business has changed tremendously from when I started selling art programs in the 1980’s. Without email, electronic communication, or fax machines communication was less efficient and slower, and face to face contact with clients was far more important to the decision making process. Proposals were mailed or hand delivered and the art selections were limited. Poster companies were in their infancy and artists/publishers did not produce art specific to the healthcare industry as they do today.
I remember one art program I provided for a now defunct hospital in San Diego that selected about 100 Monet posters for their facility, all framed with 2 mats and metal frames. The art choices of today are vast making it much more exciting to put together a healthcare art program specifically tailored to the aesthetic design and culture of the facility.
In the 1980’s many hospitals did not grasp the importance of even having a coordinated art program in their facilities. I worked in a psychiatric hospital in 1981 as an art therapist and there was no artwork at all.
Today, of course, artwork is seen as a vital part of the overall design of the facility. Institutions now recognize that there is a psychological as well as a physical aspect of the healing process and that art
plays a significant role.
You just finished writing “Becoming A Corporate Art Consultant.” What was it like writing the book? What surprised you? What did you learn?
Writing the book was a very fulfilling experience. After writing for “Picture Framing Magazine” for 4 years, and teaching at our industry trade shows I already had a lot of the material I needed for the book. I became very disciplined, writing about 3 to 4 hours each evening after work for about 6 months. I learned that once I began writing I really had many good business strategies to share. I also learned that the more I wrote the more I had to say, and I truly believe having my ideas in print will help a new generation of art consultants understand the whole process. It is a very specialized profession and not one you can learn about in college. I wanted to share my experiences and help others. It surprised me that no books existed on how to become a corporate art consultant except for one that I considered somewhat outdated and focused more on selling investment art. Once I realized there was not a current
resource on the subject of corporate art consultation I felt compelled to write it myself.
What are the biggest mistakes people make when putting together hospital art programs?
One of the biggest mistakes people make when orchestrating a healthcare art program is to downplay the framing part of the design. Having inspiring and well suited artwork is what is expected of an art consultant when presenting their art plan, but if the framing is dull, under scale, or unable to showcase the artwork then the art consultant is doing a disservice to their client. Framing is an integral part of the
finished artwork piece.
Another mistake is not to vary the types of artwork presented. I have seen whole healthcare facilities with canvas wrapped giclees and no other types of pieces integrated such as mixed media pieces, ceramic pieces, batiks, wall sculptures, etc. Mixing up art selections add more visual interest. Art consultants should be educating their clients about all of the types of art offerings available.
Having too many decision makers on the team is another mistake as it slows down the art selection process tremendously. People get distracted and interject their personal taste when reviewing art selections during meetings. Healthcare administrators may be better off limiting their art committee to 2 -3 individuals. Recently I had an active committee of 8 decision makers, and it really took much more time than necessary to narrow down the art selections for the facility.
What part of your job as an art consultant do you enjoy the most? What annoys you the most?
I enjoy the art installations the most because after all of the hard work getting to that point my efforts culminate into an actual conclusion. Art is on the walls and clients are thrilled and happy to see it. The positive feedback is always nice to hear. Since some clients cannot visualize what the art program will look like until it is installed, they are overwhelmed with excitement and praise. Having happy clients who appreciate the art is very personally satisfying and what I like most about my profession. What I like least is trying to get paid for completed jobs. Corporate art sales are the lifeblood of my company, but unfortunately getting paid in a timely manner is not always easy. Deposits are delayed and once jobs are installed I spend too much time on the phone trying to get paid. It is not a fun part of my job but nonetheless I find myself in the position of “dialing for dollars.”
Can you offer one tip that can save money for healthcare art clients?
The one tip I can offer healthcare clients purchasing artwork to save money is to spend a little more money now on better quality framing materials to get more longevity out of the framed images. Investing in ultraviolet filtering glazing and better quality matting will help the pieces last longer, which will save the facility money over a period of time. Picture frame moulding needs to be selected not only for its aesthetic appeal, but also for the durability of the finish so it will last from cleaning in a commercial environment. The profile (or shape) of the moulding also should be considered so it does not protrude into areas of transit or get damaged from gurneys or equipment.
Would you like to speculate about what it will be like being and art consultant in 20-years? Do you think that digital displays of art will gradually overtake printed and painted art?
I will most likely not be an art consultant in 20 years, and I may even end up living in a facility here in San Diego where I provided the artwork! What I envision is the increased use of digital display using flat screen display technology. One of our healthcare clients has already retrofitted a hallway display that used to display conventional printed material that we framed. Now they have a series of LCD monitors that are wired to a server and the images are changed and updated as needed. Some of the imagery also rotates as an ongoing slide show with messages and a calendar of events.
With green design and LEED guidelines playing a significant role in 20 years most likely all artwork will need to comply with new standards.Recycled materials will be more prevalent in wall sculptures and there will be increased sensitivity to biogradable inks, paints, papers, canvas, and sustainable framing materials.
I do not believe entire healthcare art programs will be replaced by digital displays but handmade, well-crafted, appropriate artwork will coexist with digital displays. Since the goals are to design healthcare facilities conducive to healing, having artwork produced by humans will be seen as important to keep the human connection we strive for in hospitals and clinics. Being an art consultant in 20 years will be interesting and take an individual who understands digital media as well as the all other types of artwork.
I’ve been unable to find any large organization that represents art consultants. Is there one? If not, why do you think that is?
There is an organization called The International Association of Art Advisors. Since the term “art consultant” is so broad and is an umbrella phrase for professionals who are curators for museums or corporate collections, art advisors who sell art at auctions or procure art for investment purposes, or individuals like me who sell art to corporate clients for the purpose of enhancing work environments, I have found no other art consulting organization. I agree that there needs to be an organization for art consultants who are not selling or advising art procurement for investment purposes. If any of your contacts know of an organization I would like to join it.
Anything else you would like to add?
I would like to thank you Henry for the opportunity to discuss my book and be interviewed by you for this blog. I am available to help individuals learn about art consultation. I hope my book with be a valuable resource for other art consultants and the new generation of individuals entering the profession.
Barbara’s contact information:
Corporate Art Consultant
5350-A Eastgate Mall
San Diego, CA 92121