“People say, ‘Oh you must be an artist.’ I say, ‘No, I’m the critic.’” That’s how Leslie Palmer-Ross describes her 25-year career as a matchmaker between artists and art collectors. At Corporate Art Force, which she helped found in 2009, the collectors are corporations and government organizations. “We do everything except somebody’s home,” she said. Her particular focus is on healthcare organizations.
“What you see in our showroom is almost exclusively artwork consigned from artists, primarily local, many from northeast Minneapolis, most from the Twin Cities metro. They have work that fits our markets — public, commercial, business. There are not a lot of nudes, not a lot of small pieces, not a lot of flowery pieces,” she said.
A recent project for Corporate Art Force was the Radisson Blu at the Mall of America. “The designer is out of Scotland. It’s much more contemporary. We got to do some interesting things. There’s a coat closet where we hired a graffiti artist who tagged the whole back wall, as well as some ‘mystery spaces.’ That was fun both because it’s a little more out of the box and because we can send people there. A lot of our artwork is in corporate spaces that people can’t just wander through,” she said.
A pilot venture for the company is a rotating program: Artists agree to make specific pieces part of the program for a year, and clients can sign up for three to five pieces to display in rotation in a public area.
“One of the exciting things about the job is that there’s always somebody new. Interactive installation work is a whole new type of artwork that didn’t exist when I started 25 years ago. The days of just selling a beautiful oil painting feel like they’re in the past. There’s such a breadth now, and that’s what the staff here thinks is really fun,” she said.
What is your role within Corporate Art Force?
We are small enough that I wear lots of hats. My main focus is Director of Art Services. I’m the point person for finding artwork, working with artists. I’m also director of the healthcare division. That involves wearing a sales hat and developing relationships. I also unload the dishwasher when it needs to be done.
Who is your customer?
A lot of times, especially with a moderate to large-sized corporation, it’s a facilities manager who gets told, ‘In your spare time, could you manage these 300 pieces of artwork?’ Sometimes there’s a committee. It could be the owner of a business if it’s smaller. In the healthcare field, there is sometimes a patient experience department. There was a time, through the last decade, when companies had curators on staff. That has gone by the wayside.
Why should organizations spend money on art in a challenging economy?
Evidence-based design studies in healthcare settings show that certain colors or types of imagery — the whole built environment — supports healing and lowers anxiety. There are some companies here locally who having aging workforces and what’s there is what they’re used to. When the 20-somethings come in, if this company is competing with other companies like it, the visual environment is certainly part of that. It’s not only the technology, but does it look like a space where their grandparents worked vs. where they want to work? □