Accounting for Taste
JAMF fills new building with commissioned artwork
“Artist dies from exposure.” That’s how the joke goes. In the Internet age of Tumblr, Etsy, Kickstarter, and Pinterest, exposure is cheap and imagery is cheaper. With recipes and photo-shopped portraits jumbled in with Zombie art, installation art, cat memes, and anime it’s no wonder today’s art patron is confused about quality. Online denizens collect images like Pokemon cards and spread them faster than a flu virus. Right click your way to jpeg euphoria. The age-old saying touts, “There’s no accounting for taste.” Never has that been truer. Or wait a minute … is it?
“I really like how JAMF handled things by asking for a proposal and signing off on it. This way the pressure’s off and I feel like I can be myself, and that’s good for the work.” – Eric Lee, artist and UWEC alumnus
Wisconsin is the land of ethical farming, local food, and micro-breweries. We love something distinct, unique and homegrown. We encourage entrepreneurship. We love paying a little more, if it means honest quality, right? Eau Claire has grown into a cultural center for western Wisconsin, but lately its mettle has been put to the test in a number of ways. It must now put its money where its mouth is.
JAMF Software, started by a UW-Eau Claire alum, is trying to do just that. Relocating downtown in an act of community support for the rejuvenation of the old city center, JAMF Software stands as an example of what can occur when we stop being cynical about our options. In the spring of 2014, associates from JAMF Software contacted the Department of Art & Design at UWEC about the possibility of creating some artwork for the new JAMF building. The JAMF associates wanted to honor the artistic spirit in the Chippewa Valley area and very specifically honor UWEC Department of Art & Design students. Through the process of commissioning more than 50 works of art from UWEC students and Chippewa Valley regional artists for its new building, JAMF is not just talking about supporting the arts, it is taking steps to offer artists a small part of that support.
When asked about how the large undertaking evolved, JAMF associate Becky Wurzer said, “The idea to commission artwork from local artists came from a cool company in Minneapolis that commissioned local artists to design conference rooms for them. Every effort was taken to support local companies in the construction of the new building and we wanted to continue that movement right on through the artwork on the walls. Each piece will create an interesting and creative workplace for JAMF Software employees.” Also crediting essential help from staff at the Eau Claire Regional Arts Center and faculty at the Department of Art & Design at the university, Wurzer described the selection process. “Once all of the artwork proposals were received, a jury of five JAMF Software employees met three times to review and discuss each and every proposal,” she said. “We evaluated them on alignment to the criteria suggested in the call to artists (size, format, workplace appropriateness, and price). Special consideration was given to the submittals that worked to reflect the spirit of the Eau Claire community, its history, JAMF Software, or its new Eau Claire building location. The jury had some very difficult decisions to make in this process. There were so many talented proposals.”
When asked about the pleasures and pressures of a commission, local artist, entrepreneur, and UWEC alum Eric Lee said, “For me both the pleasures and frustrations of commissions revolve around expectations. I want the client to be happy with what they get, but can’t lose sight of the fact that successful work comes from a mind cleared of such concerns. In the past I tried to ‘serve the client.’ This doesn’t work for me. I really like how JAMF handled things by asking for a proposal and signing off on it. This way the pressure’s off and I feel like I can be myself, and that’s good for the work.”
Current UWEC art student Samantha Nelson commented, “Previous commissions I’ve done have been much smaller and low-key. I’ve done a few album covers and I’m working on some tattoos and things here and there. … I’ve learned how to pace myself over a drawing and how to handle something so large quickly, I’ve bettered my time management and improved my drawing quality over the process. … It was also a valuable learning experience on realizing how artists need to negotiate their prices more actively and understand the cost of the project they’re undergoing.”
JAMF has given many students an insight to what it is like to have their first professional commission and provided dozens of local artists with monetary compensation for their personal aesthetic vision. In doing so, they have helped boost the culture for visual artists in the Eau Claire area. Who can account for what great things might happen if others follow their example?