Saturday, May 05, 2007

How To Sell Art ... In Hospitals.

In the late 1990s, Kathy Hathorn saw a new place for custom artwork. Hospitals and medical centers were starting to recognize the therapeutic value of art for their patients, as well as the ability of unique art to spiff up a brand in an increasingly competitive industry. Hathorn started American Art Resources in 1998 to commission and install artwork, from huge sculptures to photographs of historic buildings, for health-care facilities. "It's not about decorating the space," says Hathorn. "It's about the impact of the art on the patient and caregiver experience. The art becomes part of the message a hospital sends out."

Hathorn commissions pieces from her network of about 1,900 artists working in practically every possible medium, including painting, photography, fiber, ceramics, and drawing. Many of those artists owe 15% to 20% of their annual sales to American Art Resources, so they are motivated to complete projects on time and on budget.

American Art Resources, now a profitable 31-employee company, sells about 1,000 pieces each year, with revenues of about $5 million. Hathorn's staff handles every aspect of the job, including framing and installation, which she says keeps costs low and avoids third-party liability.

Hathorn sends some direct-mail pieces to potential clients, but most of her marketing is word-of-mouth. Many of her company's works generate plenty of buzz, such as a recent commission for the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, which wanted something never done before. Hathorn commissioned a sculptor in upstate New York to design and build a "tree of life," and a year later, a 30-foot, 6 1/2-ton painted steel tree was installed in the hospital's atrium.

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