Article

Thinking & making, as artists in residence

Chris Ralston | May 16, 2017

We’re a Community of Thinkers & Makers.

It says so—loudly—on our front doors. We proudly serve that role in myriad ways for our clients every day. But from an experiential perspective inside our walls, that was where the declaration ended.

Sure, there was the usual hive of activity you would find in any office, but no obvious sense of magical thinking and making.

We changed all that a few weeks ago with a challenge to ourselves: We’re a Community of Thinkers & Makers?

Prove it.

We started by taking the declaration apart. The word “community” is not ubiquitous to us. We work in Lawrence’s Cultural District and are an extension of the creative pulse that thrives here.

To bring some of that energy into our space, we collected a handful of images taken by Callahan photographers and printed them poster-size to fill previously bland cubicle walls—one is of lightning striking a tree in Topeka, a nod to our formative roots.

The second part of the declaration, “thinkers & makers,” focuses inward­­, on us.

We’re surrounded by creative expression in all forms in Lawrence. The city is weird and proud—“LFK” is an indie rallying cry. And its culture is unmistakable—the official tourism campaign is called Unmistakably Lawrence. Those ideas converge throughout the downtown area where we work—from formal galleries to graffiti, from coffee shops to boutique aisles.

So, we turned our walls into a gallery space celebrating thinking and making. The kicker was that we would be the artists making work to display.

Collective gasps were expected. None were heard.

Anxious hand-wringing was predicted. None was seen.

Instead, the challenge was a release. The opportunity to think and make for ourselves was inspiring and infectious.

Because we’re very busy serving clients, there were a few guidelines: The work had to fit within a 16” x 20” shadowbox frame; primary media needed to be found within the office; if additional supplies were needed, the budget shouldn’t exceed $10; all work needed to be complete within 10 days. Each artist consulted with the art director/curator for 15-30 minutes to plan the idea and execution.

Oh, there was a theme, too: Where did your last idea come from?

As staff members pulled their creations together, the theme morphed into an expression of their structure of thinking and their personal way of making. Nearly all represented the idea of parallel activity—consciously not thinking about ideation—to find their best ideas.

Running, cycling, meditating, listening to music, driving, sitting in nature and preparing food were some of those diversions. Others clustered time and visually organized their thoughts to make sense of problems. It was fascinating to watch our “artists-in-residence” relate things like that with string, wire, aluminum foil, straight pins, shoestring and assorted ephemera. Some even broke the frame with interactive elements.

When the work was hung, it was warmly received. Seeing something in a frame focused attention and made everyone lean in to figure out what was going on behind the glass. Because it took another day to get the corresponding captions hung next to each piece, there was a lot of fun-natured guessing about who made what. That became another layer of knowing and understanding each other.

This project couldn’t have come at a better time. The Callahan family has added several new faces in the past few months, and a rush of new blood has awakened many of the veterans on staff. Thinking about and making art together proved to be a great mutual introduction.

Sure, we could have put client work on the walls like we used to, but that’s already in the world. What’s inside our heads often isn’t.

Now, when we walk into work each day, we’re reminded of how privileged we are to be thinkers and makers. And, when people visit our office, we have stories to show and tell that can’t be found anywhere else.

 

Want to receive our weekly blog insights? Subscribe now.