City Life

The beauty of local art in the workplace

What if businesses bought local art?

In his role as director of Dane County Cultural Affairs, Mark Fraire says he pushes the practice of supporting local artists every chance he gets. At DCCA’s Dane Arts Buy Local event last fall, he suggested that Madison-area businesses decorate their offices with creations by local artists. He says that although some local companies, such as Epic Systems, have purchased a few pieces of local artwork to display, the concept has yet to catch on.

Unfortunately for local artists, Fraire says the buy-local philosophy tends to benefit storefront businesses rather than entrepreneurs who work from home. Pursuing commissioned work is another option for artists, but it doesn’t help them sell their existing work.

“The difficulty with trying to do commissioned work is that usually, then, the artist will have to go back and create something, and that means that the artist has had a relationship with that business previously in order to be even thought about for a commission,” says Fraire, “unless you are like a CODAworx, which has a national and international reputation and a huge list of artists, most of whom aren’t from Dane County.”

That’s why Fraire says it’s important for DCCA to sponsor the buy local event, known as DABL. In its second year, Fraire says, DABL generated about $15,000 in sales for participating artists ($5,000 of which went to the DCCA as a commission and an additional $7,000 in other earned income and donations). It’s also an opportunity to connect buyers with Madison-area artists. After the first DABL event, Fraire says, Widen Enterprises of Monona commissioned two pieces from art glass designer Barbara Westfall of Mount Horeb.

However, Fraire says, building a creative economy in Madison must extend beyond visual artists. For example, he is backing Forward Theater’s monologue work in Dane County libraries over the next three years and supporting the work of choreographers who have nowhere to produce work if they are not part of a company.
The bottom line, says Fraire, is that local artisans will put the proceeds from their work back into the local economy. 

“I think it’s maybe because [consumers] don’t know enough local artists. And that’s what I’m trying to do, bridge that relationship.”

Karen Lincoln Michel is editor of Madison Magazine.

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