(Photo courtesy Phelps Dunbar: Art adorning the law firm’s Baton Rouge office)
Investing in the best of Louisiana culture; creating an engaging environment for the next generation of workers; providing a clean, beautiful backdrop for employees; and chronicling the history of the open road—these are among the reasons why several Baton Rouge businesses have put significant dollars into fine art.
To the untrained eye, the art adorning the walls and halls of offices around town may merit only a passing glance. But for a rising number of companies throughout the Capital Region, artwork has become something more than a means of enhancing the aesthetic feel of their places of business. It also serves as a recruiting tool.
Shifting trends in the workplace reveal that millennials and members of Generation Z (ages 13 to 19) see work as an experience rather than a paycheck. Consequently, employers who want to snare younger workers see investing in artwork as a way to make their workspaces more attractive to current and prospective employees.
Buying art can require serious capital, with original pieces from local artists ranging from $2,000 to $6,000 each. Those price tags aren’t cheap, though more local companies consider such expenditures a worthwhile investment in their employees and their futures.
Michael Hunt, managing partner of Phelps Dunbar, says when new partners are brought into the law firm they often are given an allowance to secure office furnishings, which typically will include acquiring a piece of artwork. And Hunt himself has worked periodically with local art consultants to modernize Phelps Dunbar’s Baton Rouge office.
The core of the Phelps Dunbar collection dates back to a period of acquisition in 1988, when the firm worked with a local gallery owner, the late John Griffith, to achieve a more contemporary look. Upon moving to its current offices in 2009, Phelps Dunbar hired Ann Connelly of Ann Connelly Fine Art as a consultant to fill open spaces with new material.
The price of each piece at Phelps Dunbar is based on its size and complexity and the artist. Hunt says the most expensive commissioned piece was around $4,000.
“All the artwork adds flavor to a space that you can’t accomplish with routine architectural improvement,” Hunt says. “It is aesthetically attractive to have quality artwork.”
While Phelps Dunbar uses art to enhance the look of the office, a New Orleans law firm that made its Baton Rouge debut early this year has the advantage of a clean slate and intends to use artwork to create a forward-looking narrative that will appeal to future employees.
Fishman Haygood occupies temporary quarters now, but this summer plans to move to the eighth floor of the new IBM building downtown. Charles Landry, who joined the firm’s Baton Rouge office in February as a partner, is leading the charge to design something unique for the space.
“This building is a symbol of the future of our community,” Landry says. “Being a tenant in this building is important to us because it is part of the new generation and new age of Baton Rouge.”
Like Michael Hunt at Phelps Dunbar, Landry called in an art expert. Working with Connelly and her team, they’re putting together a design plan for Fishman Haygood that extends to every square foot of the office.
The theme: creating an environment for the next generation.
“We want eclectic, diverse pieces of art, which for the most part will all be commissioned for our offices and in most cases, specific for an area within the office,” Landry says.
Landry says he’s been thinking about a project like this for years, but has been limited in other office settings by rigid work spaces with hard walls, marble and carpet, which make profound change difficult and costly. The new Fishman Haygood office is a fresh canvas on which Landry hopes to paint the vision of the law firm.
Connelly is enthused about her team’s role in the process.
“My job is to vet the artists to determine who is qualified to come into this crazy good office space and make it the best it can be,” Connelly says. “We are really looking for innovation.”
Landry’s goal is to break out of the traditional environment in which lawyers typically find themselves. Clients won’t find long hallways and closed doors in this office. Landry says workers’ quality of life goes down when doors are closed.
“We have open spaces with a lounge area where lawyers, staff, friends and clients can sit down and have a collaborative experience,” says Landry, who notes that the office design and the artwork intentionally are geared toward future young lawyers.
“Because the truth is, although we have homes, you spend more of your life in your office than you do in your home,” Landry says. “And with people having options and the ability to move around, they are not as loyal as my generation or my father’s generation, so we have to give them value-added. We have to give them something unique to entice them to come to the firm other than the fact that we are really good lawyers with really good clients.”
Connelly noticed this trend in workplaces throughout the city at the onset of the last economic recession.
“Businesses realize in a competitive world they need to create really good environments,” Connelly says. “So now there is pressure on to have a beautiful working environment. You can’t do that without good artwork, thoughtful artwork. So you see the difference between just placing things on the wall and building a narrative.”
HISTORY IN LIVING COLOR
When Lamar Advertising moved its corporate headquarters to its current location at 5321 Corporate Blvd. in 2010, the billboard advertising giant recognized a similar blank canvas on which to create its own narrative.
Lamar CEO Sean Reilly says because of the company’s 112 years in business, the goal was to instill throughout the new building a sense of the history of Lamar and, in a more general way, the history of Lamar’s impact on advertising in the U.S.
Upon entering the corporate headquarters, visitors get a feel for the open road and the history of the great highways where outdoor advertising first stepped into America’s grand landscape, Reilly says.
Reilly enlisted the help of Connelly and local artist and philanthropist Winifred Reilly, who is married to Lamar chairman and president Kevin Reilly Jr. Together, the duo put together artistic pieces using billboard relics to tell the history of outdoor advertising. For example, numerous large pieces on canvas incorporate old sign paintings. Other large tapestry-like pieces are antique, handcrafted Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus banners, which represent the history of advertising dating back to the first forms of billboards. Another large piece is a mural with a panoramic view of Route 66 from the 1960s, complete with a vintage Airstream travel trailer on the first floor.
“Most of the art was created out of things lying around Lamar offices around the country,” Sean Reilly says. For this reason, he doesn’t even remember discussing a budget for the project.
TALE OF TWO SPACES
Likewise, for Mike Wampold’s Renaissance hotel on Bluebonnet Boulevard, no budget cap was placed on the art for the space.
“I just said, ‘Look, let’s try to keep it somewhat reasonable,’” Wampold says. “We knew that we had the opportunity to raise the bar in luxury hotels in Baton Rouge and be along the lines of some of the best in New Orleans.”
As the developer and owner of a Renaissance property, Wampold’s goal was for the hotel to reflect the indigenous culture, art, food and music of Louisiana.
“You are buying original artwork and it is expensive, but it is within reason,” Wampold says.
Once again, Connelly was consulted to develop a story about Louisiana artists for the space. Using different mediums, the works throughout the hotel’s ballrooms, bedrooms and public spaces were all created by local artists. From acrylic sculptures of flying pelicans suspended from the ceiling to blossoming flowers on canvas and glass sculptures of lily pads, the walls and rooms of the Renaissance reflect the native feel of Louisiana.
“I feel like he [Wampold] had a unique objective, which was the best of Louisiana culture and commerce,” Connelly says. “That was the direction for the Renaissance.”
For Wampold’s next venture, the planned Watermark hotel in the Old LNB Building downtown, the developer is dealing with a far different canvas. Inheriting artist and sculptor Angela Gregory’s murals in that hotel from the 1940s, Wampold and Connelly have a lot to work with already in place. Wampold describes the existing art and structure of the 1925 Art Deco building as timeless.
“We have no choice there but to build on that beautiful art that is already there,” Wampold says. “We are in the middle of the creation of what we are going to do and we really have the opportunity to take this 1925 gem of a building with the existing art and pull that whole theme throughout the hotel.”
Wampold insists the designing of buildings such as the Watermark is the “fun part” of these projects. Although he is not a practicing artist, he considers himself an art enthusiast, learning from his mother who is an artist and still teaches art classes.
“I am not an artist in a sense that I can paint paintings or [make] sculptures,” Wampold says, “but I consider myself being able to express my artistic nature through real estate and renovations, creating great spaces and environments for people to enjoy.”
And he definitely has put his money where his mouth is when it comes to art, investing a substantial six-figure sum on the various pieces and installations throughout the Renaissance property.