The art of art in businesses

More and more shops are featuring art, for ambience, commissions and sometimes luring an artist's buddies

Since the opening of Pizza Luce's Uptown store three years ago, general manager Laura Siskind said it's been important to feature art in the 3200 Lyndale Ave. S. store. Coupling business with art (mostly paintings and photography) seemed natural, she said: "We have artistic food, so I thought it would be a good pairing."

Siskind said it isn't directly about boosting profits, but artists can bring in business. "An artist would have people come in to look at their art, and have a pizza and a bottle of wine," she said.

Many Southwest businesspeople cite other reasons: improving ambience, making a small cut through commissions, underscoring a marketing strategy -- or simply that they love art and want to help local artists.

How is art good for business?

Stephen Adams and John Fearing co-own the Moxie hair salon and art gallery at 2649 Lyndale Ave. S. They say that featuring many kinds of local art doesn't make them a ton in revenue, but it does help link them to customers. "Hair and art go hand in hand," Adams said. "I've had customers bring in pictures of Michelangelo and say, 'I want my hair like that.'"

They said that art has been so pivotal to their business that two years ago they started the Lyn-Lake Art Crawl, a June event celebrating local artists throughout area shops.

Kate Provence, owner of Stella's Thrift Gallery, 2827 1/2 Hennepin Ave., features local paintings and photography that bring in people the artist invites.

Art, she said, fits her business plan: "Artists and musicians are more likely to shop second-hand."

A painter in her spare time, Provence said offering her store space for a 10 percent commission fee would improve artists' visibility and expose local art to people who might not go visit a gallery.

How the business works

While starting out, Provence said most of the artists featured are friends. However, like the Moxie and Pizza Luce "curators," she'll choose the art based on what artists submit.

She likes their offerings to be in the $100 to $200 range. Although artists set the prices, Provence runs a thrift store, so she said she tries to make sure the featured art isn't too expensive. "People are coming here looking for a deal; they want a bargain," Provence said.

Greg Martin, owner of Urban Bean Coffee House, 3255 Bryant Ave. S., has featured art in his store since it opened in 1995. In his eight years featuring mostly oil paintings, he said he's finally found the best system for working art into the business: have someone else do it.

Although Martin took a 15 percent cut from any art sold, he said he grew tired of going through portfolios and dealing with artists who couldn't always guarantee a professional showing.

Now he uses Rosalux Gallery, Central Ave. N.E., to whom he pays a small fee. Martin said the arrangement has been great because Rosalux chooses the art, stages the shows and rotates works every four weeks. The artist still sets the prices for his or her work, but purchase requests also go through the gallery.

In return, Martin no longer gets commissions -- but he says he doesn't care.

"We make money selling coffee," he said, adding that commission revenue over the years was minimal.

(Like other business owners, Martin did not provide specific amounts.)

Moxie's Fearing and Adams said they select store exhibits on a six-week rotating schedule, selling the art themselves for the artists. They will soon work with the Soo Visual Arts Center, 2640 Lyndale Ave. S., to choose exhibitions. Adams said it just makes more sense to coordinate shows with Soo -- it's right across the street.

Fearing said when the salon/gallery first sold art three years ago, they took 30 percent of all sales; now, it's 10 percent. Most of the art sold at Moxie ranges from $200 to $600, depending on the show, he said. The typical show will sell at least one or two pieces.

Discriminating taste

Some businesses choose art styles based on customers' perceived sensitivities.

Fearing said they've allowed some shocking art at the salon a few times-- including nude art and art with sexual content -- but it's been a great catalyst for conversation. "No one's gotten upset or sick," Fearing said.

Luc's Siskind said that because her business involves eating and kids are present, she won't feature anything offensive or obscene. "It's got to be 'generally acceptable'," she said, making quotes with her hands.

Provence said she looks for more decorative and pretty art at her thrift store -- nothing dark and depressing, as evidenced by the pastel-themed flower painting on her wall. She said she wants the art at her store to be upbeat and have more of a design feel.

Urban Bean's Martin said he's only rejected one artist for content, because it had the potential to ruin appetites, but is conscious of how artwork affects his dining-and-drinking customers.

"If your sitting down to enjoy a scone and coffee, you're not going to want to look at a picture of a baby falling from the IDS tower or a uterus coming out of a woman's mouth," he said.