Finding Support for your Art in the Corporate World - A Write Up

I attended a panel event hosted by Artist Trust and Frye Art Museum on Tuesday, February 26 at the Frye Art Museum on the topic of “Finding support for your art in the corporate art world / Seattle”.

This topic intrigued me. I thought, Is this a thing? Corporations are supporting the arts in Seattle? DO tell. Boom – so I signed up (bonus: it was a free event, I need not say more to my fellow understanding artists)

The event description outlined:

“Many corporations are working with artists to forge connections between the arts and business by bringing art into their workplaces, infusing art-based practices within their decision-making, and partnering with artists on research, design, and product development.” Moderated by arts leader & curator Leilani Lewis, the panelists included Greg Bell, Senior Curator for Vulcan Inc., Tim Detweiler, Expressions Program Manager at Amazon, Asta Roseway, Principal Research Designer at Microsoft Research, Christiane Pein, Founder & Principal of Lair Design, and Facebook’s artist-in-residence Joey Veltkamp who offered insight into working with a corporation from an artist’s perspective.”

Panelists from Left to Right: Joey Veltkamp, Tim Detweiler, Asta Roseway, Christiane Pein, Greg Bell, Leilani Lewis

Panelists from Left to Right: Joey Veltkamp, Tim Detweiler, Asta Roseway, Christiane Pein, Greg Bell, Leilani Lewis


There was a reception beforehand, which I skipped (I know I’m not the only one who hates small talk). It was a beautiful facility in a back nook of the Frye which I never knew was there. I walked in 1 minute past the start time, and it was a full house, with only a few seats available. These people are on time. I like this. An individual was unwilling to move down one seat so me and my husband could sit together. OK, not that. I don’t like that. Someone behind me was yelling at the panelists (and consequently directly into my ear) to “SPEAK DIRECTLY INTO THE MICROPHONE.” My goodness. Artists can be feisty. But they clearly showed up on time, a remarkable feat, so I’ll applaud that. I digress…

The panel conversation moderated by Leilani Lewis as well as the questions from attending artists were honestly quite good. Practical questions that most artists are curious about, and clear answers and insight from the panelists who clearly believed in what they do, and want the best for artists.

I was furiously taking notes on what was said, so am hoping everything from the below is reflected accurately, but I thought I’d share some of my favorite takeaways:

Christiane Pein from Lair Design:

Her design team is constantly building their network of artists – they are always searching for original art and opportunities for commissions to go into buildings around Seattle. It sounds like they don’t really work through galleries, they like to go directly to artists. They commission the artists but don’t tell them exactly what to make, which is awesome. They value the importance of the artist developing their own story in their own voice within the theme or guidelines provided. She is trying just as hard to find artists as artists should try to find her. Not many people know about her. Christiane, if you’re reading this – I hope you’re ready for the floodgates (#sorrynotsorry…but maybe a little sorry).

Tim Detweiler from Amazon:

They value connecting artists to employees by having an artist in residence where the employees can watch the process and engage with the artist.

It’s like we’re zoo animals in the best way. Without the whole “being held in captivity” piece.
The artists bring in the “energy and authenticity and power to the program”. They have 3 months to just create, and then leave a piece behind for Amazon. A fair price for a great opportunity. Just make sure you leave them something good, and not the awkward-test-subject-black-sheep from the body of work that you could “bring yourself to part with”.

Asta Roseway, from Microsoft Research

She gave an example of the type of art/tech projects they do, and let’s just say they got a plant to communicate. Plants have feelings.

This program seems a little underground for now, they’re not really advertising it. Sooo I hope it’s okay that I’m advertising it. Basically, artists contact them with proposals on the ideas they want to explore when it comes to marrying technology/research with art. It doesn’t sound like the artists have to be tech-savvy at all, which at first stop feels like it would’ve been a bottleneck for most. Sometimes, this MSFT team will have technology and wonder what an artist can do with it. They have researchers and tech people who are invested in the program so the artists aren’t on their own. If you have an idea that could tell a broader story in an effective and cutting edge way, this is the place for you to explore those ideas with experts.

How do they find artist that they want to work with?

I’m just going to call out the themes that came up – they leave it to us, the artists, to find them. They’re busy enough running their programs, which doesn’t leave much time for scouting, despite many of our dreams to be the next big discovery. Alas, they are not the Bradley Cooper to our Lady Gaga that we’ve been waiting for.

Artists need to tell them what they’re doing, why it’s cool and worth exploring through their program, etc. They might not respond every time, but they read your email, and likely keep you on file for an opportunity that might (or might not) present itself later. It depends on timing, content, and project need. Sometimes they might even pitch your work to a decision-making team as they’re narrowing down options. You never know. So be clear, nice and don’t follow up every 5 days – what will be, will be. Let the chips fall where they may.

Artist Joey Veltkamp got involved in most of his corporate commissions by word of mouth. He was most often approached by people who heard about him from other jobs.

Myths and Misconceptions

Artists – be your most authentic selves. These programs gets lots of project proposals that are trying to tailor too much to what an artist assumes the company wants. When you try to go lay something on top of your practice to meet an expectation that you assume is there, it really just comes across as stiff and unauthentic. The best part is when artists do what they love. It shows.

They don’t just look at accomplished artists. They’re interested in any and all artists who are good at what they do, are authentic, and have something to say.

Museums and corporations do NOT have it all figured out as much as people think they do, they’re totally open to new views and ways of doing things.

Joey mentioned that he used to receive feedback that his art was “too queer” for something back in the day and now people say his art “could be queerer”! Do you, and watch the times change.

Christiane: There is a myth among developers saying they can’t afford original art. But she (thankfully) reminds them that we can and we should. Cue artist submissions directly into Christiane’s inbox…

Greg from Vulcan mentioned that some artists have bought into the idea that their art can speak for itself. It can’t. Learn how to write and talk about it. Be articulate about what your art is about. You don’t have to be a public speaker but you have to be able to think and articulate about why your art is important and what you think it means.

Asta mentioned that artists cannot expect a corporation to understand you and your art, simply because it isn’t their core business. Artists shouldn’t rely on people to just “figure it out” or rely on program facilitators to translate. Be approachable and generous with bringing people in to your thought process.

Winning tactics for how artists have been able to collaborate with these programs:

Joey: when approaching corporate art and residencies, understand it may or may not be a lot more collaborative than you’re used to.

Asta: Her program really enjoys artists who can facilitate dialogue and relationships with different kinds of people. People skills are really core for those who can interface with all sorts of different people, facilitate the vision and process without relying on handholding with the program team.

Greg: People who aren’t afraid to ask other people for help. Some artists haven’t ever made anything 12ft high, but want to. Don’t be afraid to go to experts and figure out how to collaborate with the right people.

Christiane: Artists who are responsive to the general concepts they continue to work with them because they’re easy to work together. People who are open to that process, since it can be quite iterative and take multiple tries to get it right.

Tim: Likes to work with other organizations (esp nonprofits) to get artists. Like Shunpike!...Or shameless plug – Seattle Art Post?.... Amazon has windows that shunpike manages. Pratt and Gage Academy also do workshops for their employees.

Leilani: Make it easy for people to see your art quickly and clearly. Make sure you’re searchable in google!

Email Etiquette for submissions

They get inundated with so many emails. We’re talking thousands of emails from artists, colleagues, random one-off’s. Here’s the thing – they are 99% likely to read your email if you are precise and clear about why you are reaching out. They might not reply, but they’ll read it and might keep you handy for future collaboration. Even better - If you have a vision or proposal or have deep thinking around how to bring your vision about in their program,  Let them know what the territory looks like, what issue you care about, and how your art can impact people and fit into their program. Be clear, be concise, and respectful.

What is the future for art world and these programs:

Asta: Wants to see art more integrated with their process at MSFT. Wants to see the artist in residence program take on some of the big AI questions and get the company to think about the repercussions of new technology whether they are to human benefit or not. It is powerful and critical to shift mindsets. You have to be there to inform that future. Cue – applause.

Tim: Amazon - they’re still figuring it out. A lot of what the company does comes from the connection with the employees and therefore what the employees care about.

And that’s a wrap, folks! I hope this was genuinely helpful for you as we learn about all of the awesome offerings available to artists in the Seattle area. Just a reminder to check out our Resources tab, where we’ve pulled a lot of these awesome opportunities into one place for you. For example, Artist Trust put this event on, and we have a direct link to their page so you can check it out to stay in the loop on more events like this. Also, someone mentioned a write up that Seattle Times did on Seattle’s Art Residency Programs – HERE it is if you’re interested.


More information about the Panelists and the programs they are involved in (taken directly from the Facebook event’s description):
Greg Bell is the Senior Curator for Vulcan Inc. and lends over 25 years of experience creating, curating and teaching in the Puget Sound. He received his MFA from Washington State University, and prior to joining Vulcan served as Curator for the King County Public Art Collection for 4Culture and Director of Gallery4Culture, a regional incubator gallery, as well as 16 years as Curator of Contemporary Art at the Tacoma Art Museum. Bell has taught at Tacoma Community College, University of Puget Sound and Pacific Lutheran University and served as the Director of Kittredge Gallery at the University of Puget Sound. Since 2009, Bell has played a critical role in enhancing Seattle's public art experience, including the strategic placement of public art created by local artists in Vulcan Real Estate's 60 acres of development in South Lake Union, enriching the experience in one of Seattle's liveliest neighborhoods.

Tim Detweiler is the Expressions Program Manager for Amazon in Seattle. The Expressions Program is a collaborative effort to promote and showcase creativity, community and diversity of thought at Amazon. Tim is a passionate advocate for local visual artists. He was recently Director of MadArt and was the Director of the Museum of Northwest Art, and the James & Janie Washington Foundation. He taught “Exhibit Design and Planning” in the University of Washington’s Museum Studies Certificate Program for 10 years and has worked in museums and arts organizations for the past 20 years.

Leilani Lewis is a Seattle-born creative arts administrator and communications professional who is passionate about social justice, art, and culture. She has demonstrated experience with forging critical partnerships across organizations and building collaborative projects to support artists and fellow administrators. As a Seattle University alumna and graduate of Leadership Tomorrow, Ms. Lewis’s work is driven by her strongly held values of compassionate, servant leadership, creating connections across difference, and lifting as we climb. She lives her values through her team building efforts centered on inclusive practices in her current role as Assistant Director of Diversity Communications. She also spends much of her time as an active volunteer, board member, and mentor within the arts community. Leilani Lewis’s work in art and in life is to clear away obstacles that stand in the pathways of equity, cultural production, and excellence.

Born in East Germany, Christiane Pein hails from a family of scientists and artists. In 1984, her family escaped East Germany and settled near Cologne. Upon her arrival in the West, she set upon educational opportunities in the Unites States. Her studies began at Dartmouth College where she graduated in 1992 with a Bachelor of Arts in Visual Arts. Her path then led to MIT where she earned her Master of Architecture in 1996. During the course of these studies she traveled extensively on design and research projects in Peru, Morocco, India, Pakistan, and major sites in Europe. She has worked for internationally renowned architecture and design firms in Greece, Germany, and the United States. Since 1997 she has made her home in Seattle practicing both architecture and interior design.

Asta Roseway is a Principal Research Designer in HCI (Human Computer Interaction) at Microsoft Research, but she refers to herself as a “Fusionist”, or someone who works to bridge between disciplines and fields through the power of Design. Her focus lies primarily towards building the next wave of emerging solutions towards the Environment, Emotional Health, Social Consciousness, and Sustainability. Her research often begins with the same question “What if?” which often leads to unconventional outcomes such as smart tattoos, talking plants, and wearable light therapy accessories for seasonal affective disorder. She is also a strong advocate for a diverse and inclusive culture and helped to establish Microsoft’s first ever Artist in Residence program that enables Artists to work together with Computer Scientists. Some of these collaborations have been showcased at venues such as CES, Ars Electronica, SXSW, and Biofabricate in NY. She also co-founded Digigirlz, one of Microsoft’s longest running diversity programs that aims to educate and inspire high school girls about the Tech Industry. She is a Parsons School of Design alumni.

Joey Veltkamp makes soft paintings which aim to comfort their intended audience. His work has been shown at Seattle Art Museum, Frye Art Museum, Tacoma Art Museum, Greg Kucera Gallery, SOIL, and other galleries throughout the Northwest. After twenty years in Seattle, he now lives in Bremerton, Washington with his husband where they host an experimental art space called cogean?”