Photography by Nate Mickelberg
Look around your workspace. Do you see any plain metal or wooden surfaces? Okay, now imagine that but in a public space — think garages, back doors in alleys, utility boxes and other surfaces that provide little aesthetic value in their current, bare form.
As cities and organizations have set out to liven up these so-called dead spaces, a simple solution they’ve found with a lot of bang for minimal buck is to “wrap” them. For the price of purchasing the rights to an artist’s image and the actual wrap, you can create a vibrant element that helps define your office space, activates a block or neighborhood, engages employees and clients in your office, and showcases local artists in a semi-permanent way. And again, all without breaking the bank.
For Minnesota State University Moorhead President Anne Blackhurst, saying yes to a proposal from telecom company CenturyLink to wrap utility boxes on and around the MSUM campus with local art was an easy decision.
“I was interested both because the wraps would infuse art into otherwise unsightly or dead spaces on our campus and because it provided an opportunity to showcase the artistic talents of MSUM students and faculty and other Fargo-Moorhead artists,” Blackhurst says.
When CenturyLink decided they wanted to inject some life into numerous utility boxes around campus, they put out an invitation to local artists to submit images of their artwork. A panel chose the images, and they were installed over the course of multiple days back in fall 2016.
Jack Yakowicz, marketing manager for Fargo-based signage designer and manufacturer Office Sign Company, says Office Sign took it upon themselves to do something similar after a bout of inspiration a couple years ago.
“After attending TEDxFargo in 2015, we heard a powerful message about beautifying forgotten spaces,” Yakowicz recalls. “It got the wheels turning in our heads to see what we could do with our unique sign-installation skill set to help beautify a forgotten space near our own downtown facility.”
Yakowicz says the area by the back entrance to the Office Sign building is typically only utilized by people who work in one of the nearby buildings or by folks trying to avoid getting stuck behind a train on Fourth Street.
“We thought that by creating a unique art display on the garage door that faces Machinery Row, we could turn the road into more of an attraction,” he explains. “To garner interest for what we were doing, we held a Facebook contest that was open to voting from the public, with a variety of designs that our art department put together. We ended up with a pretty awesome piece made by Chelsie Heide and got it printed up and installed for the world to see.”
There are some other, often unintentional, benefits to this kind of work as well.
‘I’m convinced that the wraps have sparked an awareness of the benefits of public art and have encouraged members of our campus community to look for other opportunities to infuse art into unused or unsightly spaces,” Blackhurst says.
One example Blackhurst cites is the installation of a permanent concrete slab outside the MSUM Center for the Arts that will be used to showcase large-scale sculptures, as well as recent art installations in the student union and other public art on the campus.
“(It’s) helping to create an environment in which art is part of the conversation whenever we renovate or re-imagine space,” she says.
For Office Sign Company, there were actual financial gains to be had from putting up their garage-door art, too.
“It turned into a great PR piece,” Yakowicz says. “Quicker than we would have imagined, we started seeing pictures all across social media of individuals visiting Machinery Row to document the new art installation. We also had the install job picked up by local media.
“Our purest intention with the art installation was to utilize our unique printing and installation skills to help beautify an otherwise forgotten area. The publicity we received for it, however, opened the doors for us to be approached by many more individuals and organizations looking for art installations, including most recently the Depot Train Wrap that we installed for Fargo Parks last fall.”
Yakowicz says these efforts have also helped further cement the company’s relationship with the arts community in Fargo-Moorhead and serve as a testimony to their support of local art.
So look around your office or property. Chances are good that you have some space that is a blank canvas just waiting for a local artist’s work. It’s a great way to transform your space, summed up best by President Blackhurst:
“It instantly changes not only the physical landscape but the emotional landscape in very positive ways. It can be a catalyst for greater creativity and perspective-taking within the organization.”
The Benefits Of Wrapping
- Artists can submit images of work they have already created because chosen images will be scaled to the dimensions of the surface. That means artists are not necessarily being commissioned to create brand new art. That keeps the cost down for the business.
- Artists are not physically creating art on the utility boxes or other surfaces. This cuts way down on the price since there is no installation fee for the artist.
- In our climate, wraps typically last 5-10 years, so if you decide you want something else, it’s not a permanent piece of original art that is getting covered up.
How To Get Started
- Contact The Arts Partnership (see contact info below). They’re happy to work with you to put together an RFP, reach out to artists and help you select the final artwork.
- Contact the team over at Office Sign Company. If anyone has questions related to best practices for art wraps, what the expense looks like, or where to begin, Marketing Manager Jack Yakowicz says he’s happy to provide advice. Office Sign Company will also be more than willing to provide a healthy discount off your first art installation because, as Yakowicz puts it, they “believe in the importance of consuming artwork and helping beautify our local spaces.”
The Arts Partnership
1104 2nd Ave. S #315, Fargo