The Art Connection

I recently had the great pleasure of meeting with Birgit Whitelaw, one of the ‘creative masterminds’ behind The Art Connection. Together with her partner Renata Dolz, Birgit is giving the corporate world a much needed creative boost. From event decor to team building workshops, The Art Connection helps businesses “harness the power of ‘art’ to inspire ideas, further causes and connect people!”

Birgit was kind enough to sit down with me for a chat and tell me a little bit about how it all got started.

How long has The Art Connection been in existence?

Since 2000. It started more like as an art consultation kind of business. And the thing is, I’m an artist, so and I have a business background. My background is actually in hotel management, so I combined the two. I studied at the Colorado Institute of Art and there were these great artists working with this great professor and I just kind of thought, you know “What do you do with all of your art? Somebody should represent us”. Especially someone who’s an artist who knows art. People would just come in but didn’t really know how to market themselves and I thought “I’ll do something” and I started the Art Connection next to my full time job. It was good because the full time job almost kind of gave me clients because every time I had clients who asked what I did in my private life I could tell them what I do. Renata was in marketing for Pepsi and Keebler and First Data, but she’s a great artist, too. So we both have a great combination of business and art.

And so it was like working with corporations on the rental and sale of art, staging, interior design, etc. and that was great, till about 2008-09 when the economy hit rock bottom. With corporations the main thing was no more extra expenditures so art was the first one they cut. And I said I’m not giving up the art so we’ll have to do something else. At the time my now business partner Renata, we painted together. We would once a week paint in my basement studio and think ”art is so therapeutic. We need to have workshops” so we ended up starting workshops. We had a studio with workshops for individuals and things like that but then we figured were corporate America is where the real ‘starving artists’ are. So we kind of thought “okay, we need to go into corporate America and get the creativity out of those people and help them move their companies forward but with a creative outlet. So that’s when we came in and did our team building experiences. Whether it’s for branding, ideation, concept development, etc. So that’s kind of what we do. Also, meetings sometimes can be rather boring, or you have an all day meeting or event, and we come in and do the creative execution to the event.

What would you say is the benefit of adding the creative process to events like that?

I think people are much more engaged because they see, everywhere, this creativity and it’s not just a boring ballroom or meeting room where they go in and have their muffin in the morning. From beginning to end we make sure everything fits together from the break food, to the cocktail hour and the whole decor. I mean we even go into the bathroom! Some good feed back at a big marketing event - people came in from China and Hickenlooper was there - and there was all this live tweeting happening and one gentleman tweeted “you know you had a good event when the theme carries to the bathroom”. So whatever it might be, we go deep down because we see everything almost like a painting. 

So that’s kind of how the whole thing came about and basically moving around and educating a lot of people. Especially managers, and executives and marketing people on the importance of creativity in the work place. There are all these great articles from Forbes and Business Insider and Harvard Business Journal. They all write these days about how to engage your employees creatively and how it affects productivity. Harvard Business Journal did a study where they interviewed all these workers and it was astonishing to see how many of these workers went home in evening totally demoralized and hating their jobs because they are told ”You do this and we don’t want to hear from you”. They would have so much more to offer if they would be asked “What is your input?” How can you ask these people and make it creative for them so they will open up?

So the workshops are totally unique, there’s no typical workshop?

Right. It’s totally customized. It might be just management, it might be staff and we come up with themes for them to paint or to do around why they are coming together. It’s very versatile and fun. No company gets the same treatment.

We also go into non-profits. Like if they have a big gala, we do art pieces with the attendees that are auctioned off and the proceeds benefit the organization. Dress for Success, wellspring, star foundation

Everybody is creative but there are so many out there that say they’re not. And then they’re the ones that really impress you. Because they’re being allowed to be creative.

Do you do any non corporate work these days?

Occasionally we do private events like anniversaries or weddings where the guests create art piece for the couple. We consult with them ahead of time and then guide the guests to create and art piece that will fit with their house.

Do you find guiding them to be a challenge? 

No! They really like to jump in and follow our lead. Sometimes with kids involved it can get a little tricky though! But then they have something that they can look at and admire every day instead of like a guest book that you shove in a corner to get dusty.

Is there anything else specific that you’d like people to know about The Art Connection. 

Just ‘ask’. I think most people are afraid, especially like human resources people, they are thinking for other people. But just inquire. We come in and educate people for free. Or let’s say you have a sales meeting and you want a fun topic, for just 10 or 15 minutes to make it more engaging. We can come in and do a free presentation and educate. I just really want to push people to let us come in and educate them and tell them what we are all about. We’ve seen engineers, miners…these guys get SO into it! I’d like people to know that we’re here to help move their business forward in a way that’s engaging.

As an artist myself, I’m so thrilled to know that there is a service like this available to the business community and am excited to watch Birgit and Renata take the world by storm!


Electric Kettle, How Do I Love Thee?

Let me count the ways…
I love the variety of temperature options you offer at the touch of a button.
I love the fraction of time it takes for you to boil compared to that cursed glass stove top.
I love that you stay warm for 30 minutes, all I have to do is ask.

In all seriousness though – buying a Cuisinart Electric Kettle was the best idea ever. My electric stove top takes LITERALLY 20 minutes to boil a kettle, and microwaving water for tea is just the worst. After my husband decided to stop preparing a giant thermos of coffee before work every morning, I have been on my own scavenging caffeine. It was enough to make me shell out for a new piece of equipment.

The pre-set temperatures for different teas and even coffee are a huge plus. I also recently received a new French press as a gift and the combo of it and the kettle is amaaaazing for loose leaf tea.

Overall, I’d give the Cuisinart PerfecTemp five stars. My only complaint is that I keep forgetting to push the Start button. But that’s really a personal problem…

Morning Thunder Is Back!!!

A few months ago I wrote about the joys of yerba mate and its appeal to both coffee and tea drinkers. I’m currently straddling the line between the two so I’m extra excited that Celestial Seasonings Morning Thunder is back on our shelves. A blend of black tea and yerba mate, Morning Thunder packs a little more punch than your standard cup of tea, but doesn’t give quite the buzz of coffee. As Celestial Seasonings blendmaster Charlie Baden puts it:

This blend’s earthy flavor begins with roasted maté, an ancient herb whose oak-like flavor is wildly popular in South America. We combine roasted maté with rich, floral black tea to produce an exhilarating morning blend with no coffee jitters. Maté and black tea are both rich in antioxidants, making this a delicious, healthy way to start your day

This tea offers a truly unique taste  and is great black, or lightly sweetened. Have you tried it yet?


Happy Valentine’s Day, Sweet-teas!

Valentine’s Day is fast approaching, and while you might be dreaming of the chocolates and flowers your significant other may send you, my mind is fixated heavily on a star-crossed relationship.

A few years ago I found a great love that I kept coming back to. Until, one tragic day, that love was pulled out from under me. And that was a cup of the most delightful tea I’ve ever tasted.

Celestial Seasonings Vanilla Strawberry Rose.  

A seasonal variety I stumbled across at the grocery, not realizing I’d only have a short time to buy up a stash. I bought a few boxes as gifts and let me tell you, I wish I hadn’t given them away! I was able to find it again the next February, but in the few years since, it seems to have vanished. Was anybody else a huge fan of this variety? And more importantly, does anyone know HOW TO BRING IT BACK!?!?

But like Wesley told Buttercup, “death cannot stop true love.All it can do is delay it for a little while.” 

I like to think he wouldn’t lie about a thing like that. And if he did, I guess a nice MLT will have to do.

Thankful For Thanksgiving!

English: DC USA, Target, Black Friday

DC USA, Target, Black Friday (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I didn’t know Black Friday was a “thing” until probably six or seven years ago. As I’m sure you’ve noticed, the media is keeping us updated on how out of control things have gotten in recent years. From sales starting at midnight, to fist fights in department stores, it makes me more than a little disappointed with society. With the advent of social networking and keeping updated on what everyone is doing every moment of every day, I’ve been surprised to learn how many of my friends and family partake in Black Friday shopping every year. I started working at Breaktime shortly after college, and at least as long as I have been here, we have generously been granted the day following Thanksgiving off. So maybe I’m just spoiled in my thinking of it as an extension of the holiday. I’ve come to know it as a day for putting up decorations and taking a photo for the in-laws annual holiday card.

But recently a friend put it this way:

It isn’t the vicious mob the media makes it out to be. Sure, some of the bigger chains get a little insane, but usually I show up in the early hours and wait outside with maybe a couple dozen people for an employee to come out with a voucher. Everyone just hangs out chatting over coffee until the doors open, then we go in, get the goodies and check out the sales. It’s an easy way to get free stuff!

Now to me, that sounds almost delightful! Aside from waking up before the crack of dawn, that is. But as sale hours have crept earlier and earlier, some businesses are now open Thanksgiving Day as well. Now, I haven’t exactly supported Black Friday shopping, but tearing hardworking people away from their families on one of the few national holidays we have is not something I can get behind.

So, this year, I will try to be less judgemental about my friends and loved ones (and other people too!) who choose to brave the hoards after recovering from their turkey-coma. But if it’s all the same, I’ll save my shopping for Cyber Monday and carry on crafting homemade gifts, thank-you-very-much. I’ll be thankful to be spending time with my family, and thankful to work for a company that encourages me to do so!

Is your office closed the day after Thanksgiving? Will you patronize businesses on Thanksgiving Day or Black Friday?

Yerba Mate – The Best of Coffee AND Tea

Yerba Mate Gourd, Large 1

Yerba Mate Gourd, Large 1 (Photo credit: chris.peplin)

It wasn’t until the past couple of years that I started drinking coffee. Don’t get me wrong, I truly enjoy the flavor (though I think it’s kind of false advertising that coffee smell doesn’t equate with coffee taste, but rather the flavor of coffee ice cream). As a caffeine sensitive type, I do better with tea, even though the amount of caffeine in a cup of tea is similar to a cup of coffee. But these days I have learned to really look forward to a cup of coffee over breakfast (even if I can only handle about 4 oz…)

Our company president, Ana, introduced me to the wonders of yerba mate. To be honest, at first, the intensity of the flavor about knocked me on my butt. And not in a good way! But I’ve learned to appreciate the appeal. I think bitterness is an acquired taste, and bitterness is something mate has in spades. And it turns out, that’s a huge part of the appeal!

I’ve come to realize mate offers a lot of perks. Get it, guys? Because of caffeine? I crack myself up…

If you drink your coffee black, you probably have an appreciation for more bitter flavors. While mate doesn’t taste anything like coffee, it is similar in that it has a very strong with a bite to it. Tea drinkers tend to prefer a more mild and mellow flavor.

That’s not to say mate has nothing to offer even a die-hard camellia sinensis loyalist. Flavor-wise, it actually is somewhat reminiscent of a very strongly steeped green tea. Like tea, mate is steeped from dried leaves and is known for it’s vegetal taste.

One of the great things about coffee and tea are the rituals involved. Whether it’s joining friends at a local cafe for an espresso, or a Japanese tea ritual, relaxing over a hot beverage is something everyone can appreciate. Mate drinkers are no different:

As Europeans often meet at a coffee shop, drinking mate is the impetus for gathering with friends in Argentina, southern Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay. Sharing mate is ritualistic and has its own set of rules. Usually, one person, the host or whoever brought the mate, prepares the drink and refills the gourd with water. In these three countries, the hot water can be contained in a vacuum flasktermo (appropriate for drinking mate in the outside) or garrafa térmica (Brazil), or in a pava (kettle), which only can be done at home.[citation needed]

The gourd is passed around, often in a circle, and each person finishes the gourd before giving it back to the brewer. The gourd (also called a mate) is passed in a clockwise order. Since mate can be rebrewed many times, the gourd is passed until the water runs out. When persons no longer want to take mate, they say gracias (thank you) to the brewer when returning the gourd to signify they do not want any more.

Something tea and coffee drinkers have in common is an appreciation for the soothing nature of a hot beverage. If you’re a fan of either, I suggest you give mate a try. Even if only because it’s served in these adorable little gourds.

English: Different types of mate, gourd recipi...

If hot beverages aren’t your thing, or hot weather is a consideration, give Guayaki Iced Mate a shot. Though you’ll be missing out on the sweet gourd…


Coffee: Do You Pay For What You Get?

Perfect caffe latte from Cafe Coffee Day

Perfect caffe latte from Cafe Coffee Day (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve been known to whine about the cost of a coffee shop latte. At Breaktime Refreshments we pride ourselves on being able to provide affordable coffee solutions to offices, so I was a little surprised to learn we had received inquiries regarding delivering coffee shop coffee to employees.

I do enjoy the occasional Cinnamon Dolce or seasonal Pumpkin Spice Latte, so I completely understand the appeal of such a service. But normally I’d be ranting and raving about the cost of the product, compounded with the delivery fee that would be required. Until I came across this recent blog posting regarding the cost of the coffee shop latte. The author did a great job of laying out exactly why coffee shop coffee costs so much, and why we’re simply paying for what we get. It isn’t that every cafe owner is out to gouge us, it’s the real cost of doing business.

So, while our specialty remains providing cost effective coffee, brewers, and a wide variety of condiments for the masses  in the workplace (and small offices too), I’ll take this as an opportunity to feel less taken advantage of the next time I order a grande cup of half-caf, no-whip deliciousness.

A Healthy Chocolate Snack? Thank you KINDly!

There are lots of healthy foods to turn to during the work day to get you through to lunch or time to go home: fresh fruit, raw nuts, low fat cheeses to name a few. But sometimes you need a sweet treat. And while it’s fine to occasionally indulge in the calorie laden coffee shop scone, it’s nice to know there’s a more sensible option.

It’s no secret that I loves me some dark chocolate (why don’t I just marry it already?!). So the KIND Bars Dark Chocolate Variety is a very welcome addition to the inventory, as far as I’m concerned.

Everybody knows neither peanut butter or chocolate reached their full potential until they were combined, but I don’t think the cherry/chocolate combo gets its fair share of recognition.

I really love KIND bars. They’re delicious and offer just enough sweetness to take the edge off (even for addicts like myself), but offer wholesome nutrition as well. And let’s be honest, we could all use a little help in that department. Mixed nuts, added antioxidants and fiber make me feel even better about indulging in a chocolaty treat. And they perfectly compliment a hot cup of tea or coffee!

What do you think? If you’re going to give in to your sweet tooth would you rather just go all the way? Or take solace in the fact that you’re giving your body much needed nutrition as well?

Tea making just got high tech with the iKettle


It’s not difficult to argue that our lives are dominated by technology. I recently deleted ALL of the apps from my phone (against my will) and found it to be a surprisingly freeing thing. I mean, I lasted about 3 hours before I decided to replace a few of them…but being down to five from about half a million apps is still quite liberating.

So imagine my surprise when I read about the new iKettle, a wifi enabled electric kettle that can be operated from your smart phone, and I WANTED it. Bad.

Now before you go jumping to conclusions and assume I’m notorious for leaving the Kettle on a gas stove and going grocery shopping (oh, give me a break, it only happened 3 times), hear me out. Not only does it have timer option, it will ask you if you want to use your water presently or keep it warm. It also has multiple temperatures for the hot beverage drinker with a refined palette (I had no idea green tea is best served 15 degrees cooler than coffee). And best yet, an auto-off feature with boil-dry protection.

This seriously sounds like a dream for a tea connoisseur or French press lover.

Personally, the $160 price tag is a little out of my range, but here’s hoping the cost comes down soon.

What do you think? Is this the ultimate in convenience or has technology gone a little overboard?