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Independent Influence: R2C Group’s Local Art Project provides Portland artists with a temporary exhibit

Artwork created by Zedekiah Schild, one of the artists whose work was showcased at R2C Group's Portland offices

Like most agencies, Portland-based R2C Group is full of creative types whose hobbies range from painting to photography.

About a year ago, chief executive and co-founder of R2C Group Michelle Cardinal decided that she wanted to find a way to show off the talents of her staff. Considering the agency’s Portland offices have lots of wall space, she and a small group of staffers came up with the idea of displaying employee work on the walls - until they realized that they’d need a whole lot of artwork to fill up the swathes of blank space around them.

“We have some large walls that we just wouldn’t be able to fill with employee photography and things like that,” said Heather Williams, program manager at R2C Group.

Rather than scrap the idea, the agency instead took things in a different direction. Realizing that the agency has an abundance of unadorned walls, they decided to see if local Portland artists would be interested in temporarily displaying their artwork at R2C’s headquarters to gain exposure and potentially sell some of their pieces.

That’s when Brian Stilwell, duplication editor at R2C Group, stepped forward to see if he could spearhead the project. After getting in touch with an art curator who specializes in partnering local artists with local businesses, Stilwell began R2C Group’s Local Art Project. Every 90 days, the two of them go through a selection process to choose which two local artists will have the chance to display their artwork in R2C Group’s main building and post studio.

“Between Michelle and Brian, they came up with the program, and then he went out [and] found the curator. It’s really been a one-man show with him driving the bus,” said Williams.

Creating inspiration

Since launching in October of last year, R2C Group’s Local Art Projects has featured eight different artists, each with their own distinct style and aesthetic. While each artist brings something different to the table, the one thing that ties them all together is their connection to the city of Portland.

“Every artist we feature is a Portland artist,” said Williams. “They’re either currently based here or they’re from Portland and showcasing their art throughout the city. They’re local artists feeding off of everything around them.”

So far, artists featured have included Zedekiah Schild, a painter whose work has been described as “naivist” and “primitivst”; Suzanne Elizabeth, a painter whose “domestic realism” paintings tend to reflect familiar everyday scenes; and Thomas Malcolm Cook, a multimedia artist whose artwork often features Portland’s bridges. Currently, the agency is showcasing the artwork of Jeremy Da Rosa and Joel Brown.

Alongside the artwork, R2C Group features bios of each artist so employees can find out more about each one. And while many of the agency’s staffers have gone on to purchase some of the featured artwork - including Cardinal herself, who bought a painting to give as a gift to a departing employee - Williams said the program also serves as an internal source of inspiration for employees.

“It’s created a lot of buzz internally. Whenever we do a new display, when they do a swap-out and installation, it kind of regenerates all the buzz. People are really excited to check out all the pieces,” said Williams.

Jane Crisan, president and chief operating officer of R2C Group, added that the rotating nature of the program provides employees with a vibrant workspace that’s ever-changing.

“When you change the environment - even if you move a piece of furniture in your house - it makes your mind more active and think. There’s always a conversation about it. People may love it, they may hate it. That’s good, because it’s only there for 90 days,” she said.

Leading with creativity

As a self-described “data driven creative and media agency,” R2C Group specializes in direct response and brand advertising. While it may not be a traditionally “creative” shop like its neighbor Wieden + Kennedy, the agency’s leadership still puts a premium on fostering an environment that encourages creative thinking.

“I think there’s a responsibility as leadership to make sure that you are keeping the creative juices flowing,” said Crisan.

By the end of the summer, R2C Group hopes to have art installed in its third building, which is also located in Portland’s Pearl District. While the agency has no set plans to expand the Local Art Project in any formal way, Williams said that the agency has explored the possibility of showcasing artwork from the Pacific Northwest College of Art, which is down the street from R2C Group.

In the meantime, the agency is happy to keep doing what it’s doing - particularly since many of its staffers are appreciative of the shop’s newfound dedication to supporting art within the community.

“There are definitely musicians and craftspeople on staff, and so I think that they really have an appreciation for the fact that we do this and we promote art,” she said. “It was a cool idea when we thought it up, but I feel like it’s had a lot more impact than what we thought it would.”

Independent Influence is supported by Choozle, an independent digital advertising platform.

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Minda Smiley

Minda Smiley is a reporter at The Drum covering creativity and advertising. Based in Philadelphia, she primarily covers independent agencies and B2B marketing. She also oversees The Drum’s “Independent Influence,” a weekly series that spotlights the work, perspectives and inspirations behind independent agencies. During her time at The Drum, she has covered industry events including SXSW, ANA Masters of Marketing, 4A’s Transformation and C2 Montréal. She is a graduate of the City University of New York’s Graduate School of Journalism.

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