|THE ART WHISPERER Oregon Business Magazine BY JONATHAN FROCHTZWAJG
Janelle Baglien doesn’t simply let art hang on the wall and look pretty. She puts art to work. The founder and president of Studio Art Direct, a Portland-based corporate art firm, Baglien consults for developers and interior designers on incorporating works of art into new and remodeled projects. She is driven by the belief that art in the built environment should do more than beautify a space — it should serve the purpose of the business occupying that space.
You create a story, a theme, through art and you match that with the goals of a business,” says Baglien, 51. “If you’re a financial institution, you’ve got people that are going to be writing you checks. They want to know who you are and what you believe in, and I think art is one way to reflect that.”
The Kaiser Permanente Westside Medical Center, Baglien’s largest project to date, is a case in point. The 480,000-square-foot Hillsboro facility, slated to open in August, features more than 900 works of art, from a monumental glass-and-steel sculpture of a ginkgo plant in the entry rotunda to reproductions of paintings in the exam rooms. Every last piece, Baglien claims, will serve Kaiser’s purpose: healing. She points to research in a field called “evidence-based design” showing certain types of art have positive health impacts, such as lowering blood pressure.
Depictions of nature are good (almost all the artwork at the Kaiser facility portrays the natural world). Abstract art is bad. Red is a big no-no, Baglien cautions. “Freaks people out.”
A hobby artist and fourth-generation Oregonian, Baglien worked in environmental graphic design — the design of facility signage and wayfinding elements — and marketing for 25 years before launching Studio Art Direct in 2005. “People thought I was a little bit nuts,” she says. “But working in the built environment, you understand that as much square footage as there is being built, you have almost four times that of wall space.”
Other corporate art firms offered artwork off the rack, Baglien says. She saw a market niche for an art consultant that would get involved in the construction process early to help developers integrate art into projects in a more intentional way, thus avoiding what she calls “plunk” art. “Buildings would get all done and people would go, ‘Oh, we gotta plunk something up there.’”
Eight years later, Studio Art Direct is still relatively small, with only one employee besides Baglien and a modest $711,000 in gross sales for 2012. But since 2009, even as the recession has leveled the building trades, the firm’s receipts have climbed a staggering 460%. Baglien attributes her business’s unseasonable success to getting out in front of construction trends.
Before the recession, hospitality projects such as Portland’s Hotel Modera were her bread and butter; these days, health care projects like Kaiser Westside are the economic drivers. “You talk to any architect or interior designer, that’s where the bulk of the business is right now in the built environment,” Baglien says, naming government and multifamily as other promising sectors.
What’s good for Baglien can only be good for Northwest artists. She buys or commissions all her artwork regionally from such area artists as outdoor-sports photographer Lance Koudele, landscape painter Marla Baggetta and sculptor Rip Caswell. “I’m extraordinarily passionate about that,” she says. “You wouldn’t believe the artists that are here in Portland.”
Baglien sees Studio Art Direct as a “bridge between the business community and regional arts,” connecting artists with a lucrative market of developers and designers. “Probably nobody [locally has] sold as much art as we have during this recession,” she says. “I think when you make art really accessible to the business community, they’re more than willing to support it.”