18/
10/
16

It’s Time to Reinvent the Trade Booth

As much as brands pour their energy into the things they sell, it’s a mistake to think that those products alone will make a trade show booth stand out, no matter how new or innovative those products are. If you’ve ever walked the dizzying miles of a trade show floor and experienced the visual exhaustion than sets in soon after the first or second aisle of product display after product display, you might agree that it’s time for a rethink.

Let’s put ourselves in an attendee’s shoes for a moment. What would one be more likely to notice – a booth that looks like yet another displaced product showroom, or a dynamic installation with a story to tell? A visually striking site installation with a narrative that demonstrates a brand’s environmental, cultural or social relevance, perhaps?

Brands traditionally think of trade shows as a way to promote their products to their industry. But if instead, we perceived trade shows as an opportunity to demonstrate a brand’s relevance to society, those brands would give people a more compelling reason to consider their products. Instead of just replicating a showroom, lets think of the trade booth as a “hook” and aim to reel guests in with a story that inspires.

Imagine if the famed Swedish brand Hästens left their stunning beds behind and instead collaborated with a designer on an art installation incorporating their iconic blue check. Or if Knoll collaborated with a sculptor to create an oversized mid-century modern Bertoia chair, large enough to walk under, Gulliver’s Travels style? Their booths would not only stand out, but also become something delightful to make noise about.

You may be thinking, “That sounds expensive,” or, “Only big brands can afford big booths with powerful installations.” But if you ask us, small is not the problem. Lack of imagination is the problem. The size of a booth does not have to dictate the size of our ideas, resourcefulness or creativity. Small brands have a tendency to – but absolutely shouldn’t – think small. Interesting ideas and self-assured vision have a way of standing out, despite square footage.

The American avant-garde composer John Cage once observed, “I can’t understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I’m frightened of the old ones.” Yet, doing something unconventional to get noticed can be intimidating. In fact, brands (and the humans behind them) can be equally afraid to stand out as they are to get noticed. But if we let the fear of loosing existing customers govern us completely, we resign ourselves to the same-old, safe, cookie-cutter approach that is sure to exhaust all our tired eyes at the next trade show.

In our next post we’ll look at brands that have been courageous about taking on risks, have reaped their just rewards and are encouraging others to do the same.

hästens trade show booth
hästens trade show booth
Knoll trade show booth
Knoll trade show booth
ROBERT THERRIEN’s monumental sculpture
ROBERT THERRIEN’s monumental sculpture
ROBERT THERRIEN’s monumental sculpture
ROBERT THERRIEN’s monumental sculpture
Lee Broom LIGHTS exhibition display
Lee Broom LIGHTS exhibition display
Brunner group SEATING EXHIBITION display
Brunner group SEATING EXHIBITION display

06/
09/
16

The Spark of an Idea: A Story

The search for fresh design ideas often leads us to the most unexpected of places. And as most creative people know, the best ideas are usually hidden in either the most obvious or the least expected places.

On my recent visit to Italy, I spontaneously ventured to San Gimignano, a small hill town in Tuscany, located just south of Florence. While appreciating its medieval architecture, something I wasn’t expecting caught my eye—an off-duty ambulance team navigating through one of the streets of this delightful town. It was a group of Italian paramedics – but instead of typical drab uniforms, they were dressed in stylish ocean blue sweaters with fluorescent green stripes across the long sleeves, expertly matched with fluorescent green pants. It was an image fit for a cutting-edge fashion magazine, if only I’d had the guts and forethought to take it. On the other hand, even better than a photograph, it could also have been an idea for a future prêt a porter collection worthy of Prada or another high-end fashion brand. Or even better, in the popular world of brand collaborations, an collab idea for San Gimignano Hospital and let’s say, the revolutionary Japanese fashion house Undercover or the French fashion brand Vetements. Perhaps the collaboration could benefit a cause both the hospital and the fashion house share an affinity for. Sign me up, I say!

As my excursion through San Gimignano continued, I couldn’t help but keep my eye out for ambulance service teams. Next time around, I’d definitely be more than ready to use my camera and capture these stylishly uniformed paramedics. Regretfully, none of the ambulance teams I spotted after my first sighting were wearing ‘my uniforms’ of blue sweaters with fluorescent green stripes. As my anticipation kept growing, I accidentally found myself at the front door of San Gimignano Emergency Services. To my astonishment, a group of uniformed paramedics was sitting around, taking a likely well-deserved break. I cautiously walked in, with my camera in hand, ready to capture what I’d wished I’d captured on my first sighting: ‘my uniforms’. Alas, once again, none of the paramedics were wearing them. They were however, looking at me eagerly, curious to find out the reason for my visit.

Not speaking their language, I pointed to their uniforms and then at a few other uniforms piled up behind where they were sitting. I was hoping to find out whether they had the uniform I was looking for stored somewhere — one that I could photograph or maybe even purchase? Not surprisingly, my attempts to communicate this fairly complicated idea were fruitless. The paramedics looked at me and then at each other for what seemed embarrassingly like forever. Finally, one of them got up, eagerly indicating that he understood. Hallelujah!

He pointed at his two colleagues who were sitting beside him to get up and to pose for me. Oh no, I thought to myself! They think I want to take their photograph, being a tourist of strange fancies. Stunned and polite, I pointed my camera at them and snapped the picture. They laughed with a relieved expression of ‘mission accomplished’, while I walked out feeling mortified, but with a heartfelt photograph in my camera of two paramedics in the wrong uniforms.

The moral of the story? Always have your camera handy. And should you ever see a collection of hats, sneakers or dinnerware using a combination of ocean blue and fluorescent yellow stripes, you’ll know where the idea came from. Should you be touring Tuscany in the future, keep your eyes open for the paramedics in ocean blue uniforms. It may inspire something quite different in you.

OFF-WHITE c/o VIRGIL ABLOH™, FW 2015
emergency vehicle, UK­­
Undercover, SS 2016
Police patrol, U.K.
undercover, ss 2016
Emergency Workers, Italy
The friendly Paramedics of San Gimignano Emergency Services
San Gimignano, Tuscany, Italy

07/
06/
16

Salone del Mobile: The Bottom Line

Salone Milano and Milan Design week are exceptional design showcases, primarily thanks to their top-notch organizers. But each and every participating brand, small and large, national and international had something extraordinary to add. Salone Milano seems to magically bring out the best of everyone who wants to play. Whether it was a large brand exhibiting a full new collection or a small brand launching a single product, the sensitivities and sensibilities of each brand could be seen and felt quite intensely.

Undoubtedly, the majority of products launched during the Salone Milano and Milan Design Week had already undergone scrupulous testing before being exposed to the discriminating public eye at the show. As we know, there is a whole gamut of details a successful product needs to embody in order to become aesthetically and functionally desirable. The brands we saw seemed to consider this not once or twice, but endless times before bringing their latest to this international trade exhibition of such enormous reputation and magnitude. In other words, the successful brands, small and large, did their homework with uncompromising diligence. Everything needed to and did go a step beyond to make it there.

It’s a quality that seems to be lacking from numerous other trade shows, including our own Interior Design Show (IDS) or IIDEX hosted annually in Toronto. Most of the trade booths there are short on imagination, while the products themselves lack newness and desirability. The ethos seems to be about being just good enough, rather than being exceptional. Could it be that for the brands participating at Salone Milano, it is more about pride and joy, whereas here it’s about obligation and responsibility?

What drives crowds and generates well-deserved attention is thoughtful artistry, not only when applied to products, but also when applied to the booths themselves. Every item, even the promotional literature, needs to be infused with the power of invisible yet fully present design to withstand the fierce heat of scrutiny that a trade show and design week will generate. Ultimately, that’s the acid test that produces a show that will make people from around the world come year-after-year to experience it. And as the brands at Salone Milano proved, it’s not about deep pockets, but the willingness to stand out – through thoughtfulness, confidence and exceptional creativity.

Let’s be open to learning from them.

In our next post we’ll look at what sparks an idea. See you in September.

marni ballhaus
marni ballhaus
Raw Edges x 5VIE Art + Design
Raw Edges x 5VIE Art + Design
maybe blue Would have been better, site installation
La Triennale di Milano ‘Women in Italian Design’
equilibri, trade booth
La Triennale di Milano ‘Women in Italian Design’

08/
03/
16

Art fusion: Mistakes to Avoid

Jun Takahashi, the founder and designer behind the Japanese avant-garde label Undercover and known for his rather original tagline “We Make Noise, Not Clothes”, has become wary of art collaborations. For Takahashi, many of the collaborations he sees are mere marketing gimmicks. Consequently, the ones he chooses to engage his brand with must go deeper: “What all [our] collaborations have in common is that they make it possible to do something that we cannot do as Undercover. It’s more like friendships and shared interests, and taking advantage of each other’s resources,” he says.

Clearly for Undercover, it’s not about collaborating for ‘collaboration’s sake’. But how many art or design collaborations happen for exactly that reason? How many take something that is meant to be genuine and relevant and perhaps inadvertently, cause it to become insincere and uninspiring instead? Unfortunately, the number of less-than-original, less-than-relevant and alas, less-than-desirable art collaborations has been on the rise. Sadly, it’s a misused opportunity not only for the brands, but also for the artists and designers involved.

Normally, we like to focus our attention on dynamic and desirable art-fusion collaborations that work well. However this time, we’d like to turn our eye to a few collaborations we thought didn’t quite make it.

1800 TEQUILA & KEITH HARING: ESSENTIAL ARTIST BOTTLE SERIES
For the limited-edition capsule collection of six collaborative bottles, 1800 Tequila partnered with the Keith Haring Foundation to give a new platform to Haring’s revered socio-political work. It followed their previous release of Jean Michael Basquiat’s capsule collection. The extent of each collaboration was to wrap 1800 Tequila bottles, quite predictably, in different kinds of artwork. No wonder some of the comments posted on social media were unenthused: “I love Basquiat and Haring as much as the next guy, but can we stop using their art on the most ridiculous products? In fact, let’s stop using it on clothing while we’re at it… “ And to add to the project’s lack of originality, the 1800 Tequila press releases announced each new artist’s bottle series by only replacing the participating artist’s name with the next. Taking a too simplistic approach to an art-fusion collaboration can often result in cynicism – something to avoid we say.

ETSY & WHOLE FOODS MARKET: INGREDIENTS FOR CREATIVITY
The reusable grocery bag produced in collaboration by Whole Foods and Etsy was to promote ‘ingredients & creativity.’ Yet instead, it ended up promoting ‘staleness and predictability’, so to speak. Why not truly collaborate and rather than simply printing on a conventional grocery bag, why not reinvent a bag from scratch, or deconstruct the existing one and turn the expected into the unexpected instead? A bag with a shape that’s less traditional and with art that’s less predictable; a bag that’s double-sided, with art on the inside as well as on the outside; a bag that’s ready to go places beyond a grocery store. Wouldn’t we all have loved it?

SECOND CUP COFFEE ARTIST SERIES: CREATIVITY, OPTIMISM & COLLABORATION
The series of three artist coffee cups was a collaboration that unfortunately started with an already predictable idea. By using a conventional, all-too-familiar paper cup, the collaboration had very little room left to play with newness and originality. Instead of “holding an original” which was the series theme, it was rather about holding ‘the same old’ only in different wrapping. We’re big fans of the Second Cup brand and feel optimistic their next art collaboration will push the boundaries further.

The lesson learned? Art collaborations are not about re-packaging. No matter how attractive, it’s still just wrapping. The key ingredient to a successful art-fusion collaboration is having a strong desire to challenge conventions to promote newness and desire. No small task, we say. Art collaborations have been around for a long time now, and the most memorable ones seem so effortless – what we have to remember is that the process behind each is filled with herculean efforts to achieve originality. And it’s that sort of effort that produces a product that’s so rewarding at the end.

In our next post we’ll take a look at refreshingly different city guides. We’ll see you then.

JUN TAKAHASHI’S UNDERCOVER
JUN TAKAHASHI’S UNDERCOVE
UNDERCOVER x UNIQlO
UNDERCOVER x NIKE
1800 Tequila x Jean Michael Basquiat
1800 Tequila x Jean Michael Basquiat
Second Cup Coffee Artist Series
Etsy x Whole Foods Market

16/
02/
16

The Art of the Trade Booth

Attending a trade show can be a stimulating experience. The sheer number of booths filled with all the latest and greatest can fill one with anticipation and excitement. However, when very few booths go beyond the traditional design formula, visiting a trade show can become monotonous and leave one physically fatigued and emotionally uninspired. Not the experience businesses hope for when they invest in booth space.

But how difficult is it to design a booth with an engaging story to tell? Woodlove, a curated space at the latest Interior Design Show in Toronto (IDS16) had many. Thanks to the unconventionality of the booth design, all the incorporated products made every visitor’s heart open up. Most likely their wallets as well, as the concept of the space was to help consumers identify and purchase locally made wood products. What the Woodlove booth had ultimately done was encourage imagination—it told a true Canadian story in an environment we could all fantasize about. Who would not smile at that?

Woodlove was a collaborative project between a multi-disciplinary design practice Citizens and Collaborators and the governmental agency Ontario Wood. The space paid homage to Canada’s heritage and “wood’s role in shaping our diverse history”. The irresistible wood cabin that was central to the display represented not only the spirit of the Canadian landscape, but also the essence of Canadian northern elegance that we seldom get to see together.

Undoubtedly, Woodlove was created with a budget that many small brands simply don’t have. Modest budgets are one of the main reasons trade show booths have become ubiquitously bland and undifferentiated from one trade show to the next. However the Woodlove space capably delivered a couple of crucial lessons for other exhibitors to take away, regardless of budget.

FIRST, PROMOTING CURIOSITY & NOT PRODUCTS IS WHAT GETS ATTENTION. Whether in social media or directly on trade show floors, word-of-mouth is hard to beat. When promoting products or services, it is the context that matters, as much as the content. For example, displaying a door handle integrated in thought-provoking and imaginative surroundings is much more enticing and eye-catching than a door handle displayed on a panel with a bunch of other door handles leading nowhere.

SECOND, STORIES, NOT PRODUCT DISPLAYS ARE WHAT MAKE US CURIOUS & WANT TO TELL OTHERS. For example, a door handle on a door made of gingerbread will immediately remind us of the Hansel and Gretel story and connect us with our own childhood memories of the legendary fairytale. It can be as simple as that, or as complex as we’d like it to be. Needless to say, the spirit of a gingerbread door could transform a basic trade show booth into a world of magic, just like the Woodlove space turned a few square meters of tradeshow floor space into the magical north.

Bottom line? Trade show booths need to become vibrant storybooks to spark our imaginations and impress us enough to tell others about them. Brand managers need to think beyond displaying their products to create the magic consumers desire. Finding the right design collaborators is in many cases, all that it takes. After all, it’s the stories that stick in our heads, not the business cards or marketing booklets we’ll come back to when all is said and done.

In our next post we’ll turn our eye to a few collaborations we thought didn’t quite make it. See you then.

Habitat For Humanity – Brick For Brick campaign for IDS16
Habitat For Humanity – Brick For Brick campaign for IDS16
ROLLOUT’s art collabs Wallpaper space for ids16
ROLLOUT’s art collabs Wallpaper space for ids16
WOODLOVE By CITIZENS AND COLLABORATORS for IDS16 (photo by Peter Sellar)
WOODLOVE By CITIZENS AND COLLABORATORS for IDS16 (photo by Peter Sellar)
WOODLOVE By CITIZENS AND COLLABORATORS for IDS16 (photo by Peter Sellar)
WOODLOVE By CITIZENS AND COLLABORATORS for IDS16 (photo by Peter Sellar)
WOODLOVE By CITIZENS AND COLLABORATORS for IDS16 (photo by Peter Sellar)
WOODLOVE By CITIZENS AND COLLABORATORS for IDS16 (photo by Peter Sellar)

02/
02/
16

So an Artist & an Opera Singer Walk into a Bar …

Have you ever wondered what happens to all the props after a large stage performance, like, say an opera, is over and done with? Dean Baldwin, a Canadian artist known for blurring the line between art and life, had a plan. For the 2015 Feature Art Fair in Toronto, which took place for the second time at the Toronto historical building that houses the Joey and Toby Tanenbaum Opera Centre, Baldwin most fittingly fabricated an art installation with objects and accouterments from the Canadian Opera Company’s seldom seen arsenal of props.

Baldwin’s plan was not only to educate visitors about the Feature Art Fair’s unique location, but also to stimulate and engage them in a much larger dialogue on arts and culture. All that in a style that one would expect from a collaboration between four high-integrity Arts partners: a Canadian artist renowned for creating highly participatory art – Dean Baldwin; Canada’s largest opera company – Canadian Opera Company; Calgary’s largest privately funded non-commercial art gallery dedicated to the advancement of contemporary art – Esker Foundation; and one of Canada’s leading contemporary art fairs – Feature Art Fair.

The site-specific installation, titled quite appropriately ‘The Hoard’, included a bar that was serviced by the artist himself. ‘The Hoard’ opened daily between 4:00 and 5:00 p.m., after the art fair’s ‘Feature Talks’ lectures wrapped up, and served as a meeting place for fair’s visitors’ informal discussions. A marriage made in heaven shall we say?

The Hoard offered an experience that was not only artful, but also educational and mostly quite unique. Engaging with fellow art goers in further conversation while sipping a glass or two of bubbly in a room tastefully furnished with props representing a wide range of historic periods, from Ancient Greece to Post-modernism is an experience that’s hard to forget.

Still the most unforgettable aspect of the collaboration was the seized opportunity by the four partners in the first place. The multi-dimensional partnership provided a platform for a collaboration that resulted in an exceptional experience. With subtlety and sophistication, it promoted an enlightening and stimulating program that spoke highly and widely of all four partners involved and to everyone who joined in.

In our next post we’ll offer a couple of crucial lessons on designing trade show booths that spark our imaginations. See you then.

the Joey and Toby Tanenbaum Opera Centre, TORONTO, CANADA
the Joey and Toby Tanenbaum Opera Centre, TORONTO, CANADA
THE MAIN ENTRANCE TO the Joey and Toby Tanenbaum Opera Centre, TORONTO, CANADA
THE MAIN ENTRANCE TO the Joey and Toby Tanenbaum Opera Centre, TORONTO, CANADA
Dean Baldwin’S THE HOARD (close up)
Dean Baldwin’S THE HOARD

05/
01/
16

Space, The New Art-Fusion Frontier

Public and private spaces where people intermingle – train stations, hotel lobbies, department stores, coffee shops and libraries – have started to become recognized as blank canvases, yearning to be transformed into something more significant. Spaces that are merely pleasant are often not enough for certain brands to get by anymore, that generic pleasantness quickly disappearing from customers’ memories without enthusiasm, admiration, or attention.

Converting spaces into inviting and intriguing art installations has become something brands of all stripes and sizes have begun to pay attention to and put their money on—and rightly so. Art installations, while capable of transforming physical walls, floors and ceilings into spaces full of imagination and inspiration, are also capable of shifting an audience’s perception of a brand, from forgettable to intriguing overnight.

One thing that holds true of both little-known and household-name brands alike, is that while size doesn’t matter, ideas do. Even a very small scale art installation– if it has a genuine and relevant artistic concept that is well executed – can easily become known far and wide, thanks to social media’s amplified word of mouth. Toronto’s own Sam James Coffee Bar (SJCB) is a perfect example. This small local chain of coffee shops has become recognized not only for its powerful coffee, but also for its powerful dark and grainy wallpaper installations. No matter how ultra-compact the five SJCB spaces are, there’s always room for the dark and beautifully distorted imagery. With each installation, one can introspectively look deeper into the art or curiously stare to find one’s own story. Either way, you know you’ve arrived at a SJCB shop, as soon as you see the dark and grainy looking wall made of distorted wheat-pasted imagery. Sam James, the brand’s founder, collaborated with his friend Jeremy Jansen, a Toronto-based artist represented by Cooper Cole Gallery in Toronto.

So what’s so effective about their collaboration? A key is that when it was developed at SJCB’s original Harbord Street location, it was allowed the time and artistic license it needed to create a trademark look. Harbord’s wallpaper installation represents a chronology of pastes, one layered over a previous one, again and again over the past 6 years. A pastiche of unusual looking imagery is continuously plastered over the wall, allowing it to become an icon of strangeness and magnificence at the same time.

As Sam James explains, “There is generally a correlating theme with the images and the space, or an inside reference. For example, the pastes at PATH are scans of film negatives with double sided tape laid in a way to represent a skyline of office towers, scarred with dust and lint from the studio. It’s meant to look ominous and larger than human scale. I want it to feel slightly intimidating, as if something was watching you, but you’re unaware of its presence or its reference at least. To the viewer, it should appear to be snowy and textured, more than it is graphic or figurative.” It is a piece not only to be looked at, but also to be talked about and wondered about – just as we’ve been doing for a few years here at Arts & Labour.

For this strategically minded young brand, in a competitive category full of hipper-than-thou boutique coffee shops, the space they inhabit is a crucial opportunity to engage the consumer, excite them and be remembered for it. The wheat-pasted black imagery has become their trademark – visual DNA that’s easily transplantable into any SJCB location. They have skillfully, yet unpretentiously, fused the brand with art by adding another level to their already desirable experience, good coffee. It’s a combination that’s hard to resist and makes them a competitor that’s hard to beat.

In our next post we’ll take a look at a somehow unusual art-fusion collaboration from the latest Feature Art Fair in Toronto. Happy 2016!

SJCB Harbord Shop, Toronto (photography by Revelateur Studio)
SJCB Harbord Shop, Toronto (photography by Revelateur Studio)
SJCB Harbord Shop, Toronto (photography by Revelateur Studio)
SJCB Harbord Shop, Toronto (photography by Revelateur Studio)
SJCB Ossington Shop, Toronto (photography by Revelateur Studio)
SJCB Ossington Shop,Toronto (photography by Revelateur Studio)
SJCB Harbord Shop, Toronto (photography by Revelateur Studio)
SJCB Ossington Shop, Toronto (photography by Revelateur Studio)

01/
12/
15

Oh Xmas Tree, How Lovely Is Your Branding

When Kelvin Browne, the Executive Director and CEO of Gardiner Museum in Toronto, decided to ask artists and designers to reimagine the Christmas tree, giving them carte blanche and asking them to come back with nothing less than exceptional and unexpected, he wasn’t merely being adventurous; he was being strategic. His vision was not only to create an exhibit worthy of word-of-mouth discussion, but also to expand Canada’s National Ceramics Museum’s reach by encouraging its target to see them differently. Breaking from 26 years of the Gardiner’s traditional approach to Christmas exhibitions was a bold move that brought not only holiday joy, but also a few lessons for other brands to take away.

By selecting Dee Dee Eustace, an architect and interior designer as the curator of the exhibit – not a ceramics expert as one might expect from the Gardiner – and by giving the artists and designers the mandate of “exceptional”, Browne gave all involved the confidence and encouragement to push the limits of their imaginations. Had Browne chosen a more expected curator and chosen to be more ‘evolutionary’ in the exhibit’s approach, the end result would have been quite different: less inventive, less unusual, less fascinating and mostly, less talked about.

Subtitled ‘The Joy of Creativity’, the exhibit’s joys turned out to be truly multifold. Torontonians were more than ready to break free from the conventional glitter of Christmas towards a more unexpected and sophisticated contemporary art experience – one they might not have expected from a museum devoted to ceramics. Audiences, it seems, benefited from the Gardiner’s cultural shift as much as the museum did.

In addition, each of the twelve trees was sponsored by a major corporation. The proceeds from the Gala Party, featuring a silent auction and raffle, will go towards Gardiner’s education and outreach programs. The museum also encouraged local retailers to be more inventive with their own holiday traditions with its Joy of Creativity tree inspired displays and a #SpreadtheJoyTO window signage.

All in all, the Gardiner Museum’s 12 Trees of Christmas exhibit offered an encouraging perspective that helped to open the Gardiner’s doors and visitors’ hearts another notch wider. With the popularity and success of the exhibition, it would be great to see other Canadian brands getting inspired and breaking away from their own branding traditions. Torontonians seem to be more than ready.

In our next post we’ll explore space, the new art-fusion frontier. See you in 2016.

GARDINER MUSEUM, TORONTO, CANADA
GARDINER MUSEUM, TORONTO, CANADA
JUSTIN BROADBENT: LIT/TIL
MICHAEL ADAMSON: FOUND HOLIDAYS
JENNIFER CARTER: FLANEUR FOREVER
JANE WATEROUS: THE JOY OF GATHERINGS

03/
11/
15

Branding Lessons from the Venice Art Biennale

Venice Art Biennale, the internationally renowned, biannual art event that takes over Venice, Italy from May to November is not only of great social, cultural and political stature, it’s also a powerful marketing platform – for countries. It’s a place where Canada for instance, can be seen as a global brand and visitors can be made into global brand ambassadors. Perhaps the oldest and most prestigious contemporary art fair in the world has something to teach us about branding as well as art.

Each country participating in the Venice Art Biennale, selects its finest contemporary artist to represent the country in originality, innovation and relevance on the global art scene. It’s a task with many parallels to marketing that will seem familiar to brand managers of all kinds; the task of making a country or brand as desirable and irresistible as possible. Still, despite the Biennale delivering many stimulating experiences and plenty of valuable lessons on creative strategy, it has yet to become a destination for companies to send brand managers to glean what art professionals have been doing for years.

One brand, however, that can boast taking full advantage of everything the biennale has to offer is Italy’s very own Illycaffè. A prominent Italian coffee company, Illy has been one of the key sponsors of this famed art event for many years. Simply put, the Italian-based brand has made art and the search for beauty, central to how they do business. They’ve harnessed the emotional appeal of art by becoming one of the first coffee brands to use art collaborations to help elevate its brand’s core proposition and expand its soul.

According to Illy, “… the search for beauty isn’t merely a nice thing to do, or a marketing exercise, but a cornerstone of corporate culture and decision-making.” The coffee brand considers their coffee cup collaborations with prominent artists “Illy’s highest profile, ongoing cultural project”.

Their collaborations, just like art, are not about just seeing, but fully experiencing them, visually and emotionally. Illy has managed to build all the necessary sensory components to transform basic coffee consumption into a full aesthetic experience. At Arts & Labour, we say “bravi Illy!” while sipping their delicious espresso, proudly back in Canada.

In our next post, we’ll be exploring space, the new art-fusion frontier. Until then.

Venice art biennale 2015
Venice art biennale 2015
Illymind at the Venice art Biennale 2015
Illymind at the Venice art Biennale 2015
The optical art Illy Biennale Cafe x Tobias Rehberger at the Venice Art Biennale 2015
illymind at the Venice Art Biennale e 2015
illy cafe shipping container (closed) at the Venice Art Biennale 2015
illy cafe shipping container (open)at the Venice Art Biennale 2015
Illy Cafe bar x jeff koons, 2002
Illy Cafe bar x Tobias Rehberger at the london design week 2015
Illy Cafe x Robert Wilson art performance, 2014
Illy Cafe x Robert Wilson art performance, 2014

06/
10/
15

The Death of a Gift Shop

In recent years, museum gift shops’ artsy t-shirts, mugs and scarves have been greeted with a diminishing sense of enthusiasm. However, more progressive art organizations like the Walker Art Centre in Minneapolis and the New Museum in New York have started to reinvent the role of their gift stores. At Arts & Labour, we say it’s about time.

In the recent New York Times article “For the Walker Art Center, a Shop That Peddles Evanescence,” Melena Ryzik examines the changing responsibility of artists and museum shops. A new conceptual art pop-up store at the Walker aims to change the traditional notion of the gift shop. As Emmet Byrne, the Walker’s Museum’s design director explains, “it’s more about a digital bazaar with pieces priced to sell, an exhibition of sorts, with curated original artworks”. Michele Tobin, the gift shop’s retail director explains further, “the priority isn’t ‘get as much as you can’ for that item in the marketplace.”

This is great news. Many so-called cultural brands like museums and art institutes have been lagging behind commercial brands like Converse, H&M and Evian among many others who’ve been redefining the meaning of products and art much faster than most art organizations. With their innovative art integration, they’ve become effective in creating a new breed of merchandise widely recognized as artist collaborations or ‘art collabs’. Blurring boundaries between art and commerce, the French fashion house Louis Vuitton has become one of the front-runners in this movement and have quite imaginatively diminished the divide between art and merchandise. The unprecedented popularity of their sold-out collaborations with avant-garde artists like Takashi Murakami, Richard Prince and Yayoi Kusama have spoken for themselves.

In contrast, the majority of museums have only managed to widen the gap. By somehow turning desirable art into undesirable merchandise, they’ve turned their gift shops into uninspiring souvenir outlets. But while they’ve languished, successful commercial brands, thriving on being seen as innovative and relevant, have been savvy enough to stay ahead of the mainstream curve. By staying connected to groundbreaking designers, artists, creative directors, writers and photographers, they’ve been able to capture the ‘next big things’ and have stayed engaged in the necessary cultural and social dialogue that translates into greater popularity and greater revenues for their brands.

In our next post we’ll report back from the Venice Biennale, highlighting the latest in art fusion. See you then.

Drawing Club at Walker Open Field: A Collaborative Coloring Book, The Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN, U.S.A.
Drawing Club at Walker Open Field: A Collaborative Coloring Book, The Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN, U.S.A.
uniqlo sponsors FREE Friday nights at Moma, NY, U.S.A.
SMS # 5: Neil Jenny, Bucks Americana William Copley x Dmitri Petrov, new museum, NY, u.S.A.
SMS # 6: Bernar Venet, Astrophysics: William Copley x Dmitri Petrov, new museum, NY, u.S.A
Drawing Club at Walker Open Field: A Collaborative Coloring Book, The Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN, U.S.A.
gift shop, Newseum, washington, D.C., u.s.a.
gift shop, toronto botanical gardens, toronto, ON, canada