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!