Dale Chihuly, artist.
Dale Chihuly, brand.

Collaborations between brands and artists of all types have been popping up just about everywhere. They’ve clearly caught on—and proven their worth amidst flashy advertising campaigns and attention-seeking promotional events. Art collaborations, with their sense of authenticity and immediacy tend to sell quickly, while first-class collaborations with top artists and brands have been known to sell out instantly. Naturally, more and more savvy brands have climbed on board and are collaborating with savvy artists to develop irresistible products that cultivate a following of consumer brand ambassadors.

Dale Chihuly
Dale Chihuly’s sculpture in Dallas Arboretum

On a parallel path with this burgeoning movement, some artists, rather than letting brands take charge of their talents, have been taking the matter into their own hands. Dale Chihuly, the American sculptor, renowned for his large scale blown glass installations, is one of them. Chihuly’s unique and fascinating sculptures have been internationally recognized since the early 1970’s. Included in more than 200 museum collections, his work is celebrated, often with his remarkable site-specific architectural installations being singled out for praise. His indoor works, no matter how ecstatic and complex, can often be overshadowed by his grand outdoor experiences. It’s in the open air where his glass comes fully alive, enveloped by light, whether it be through electricity or the natural sun’s blaze. As Chihuly likes to say, “The magic is the light.” We’d add that the more natural the light is, the more magical it becomes.

Mastering his distinct glass-blowing techniques while establishing his name as its own brand are the two things Chihuly has been remarkably good at. One of his key branding strategies has been to forge collaborations described as “Chihuly-inspired collaborative art events”. Whether informally with art schools where students are encouraged to create work inspired by Chihuly’s distinct design style, or with museums where reputable restaurants collaborate to create “Chihuly-inspired evenings” replete with colourful culinary dishes, the end result always compliments his work and seeks to engage with the greater public – both brand-enhancing efforts. Though unquestionably, Chihuly-inspired events serve more as social gatherings rather than revenue-generating endeavors.

Atrium with Dale Chihuly
Chihuly's Ikebana Boat

Ultimately, all well-executed art collaborations result in increased publicity and greater revenues for the brands or organizations and artists involved. Chihuly’s are no different. Even if his approach to art collaboration is at its heart more communal than commercial, the end result is increased awareness and publicity, which is good for the bottom lines of all involved – the institution (be it a museum, school or restaurant), and of course the artist himself.

At Arts & Labour, we admire and appreciate the integrity and grass roots nature of Chihuly-inspired collaborative events. Unlike more overtly commercial art collaborations, his events are about forging long-lasting bonds rather than gaining instant results. And in the end, his steady and purposeful collaborative approach has a valuable branding lesson to teach: patience.

Dale Chihuly’s exhibition can be seen at the ROM in Toronto till January 8, 2017.