Stumptown Creative is a small startup art leasing company that focusing on original local art. We joined founders, Kendra Larson and Christopher Buckingham on an art tour at Totem Steel, one of their art rental clients.
Duplex: There’s a lot of work here! I love taking tours of corporate art collections. Did Totem have any special requests when they started renting?
Stumptown Creative: They did a studio visit and, the people in the individual office spaces, each had their own ideas. It depends on the goals of the businesses. Knowing your client and knowing what their goals are is something we’re learning as we go.
D: It’s really exciting to see businesses that care about having artwork in their spaces. Duplex is concerned about building a community around supporting artists and what they do, and usually that involves collecting in the gallery role, but this is so very complementary.
SC: Businesses that care about their image, you know when you walk into a space if they have artwork on the wall. You already get an idea of their style. It makes an impression.
D: Tell us about the history of Stumptown Creative.
SC: We have been active in the arts for a long time – we ran a space in Madison together. We really filled a niche there. The city needed to have an all-ages alternative art space. Moving back here, we realized that wasn’t really needed in Portland. We spent a few years trying to figure out what was needed. I really think that that is not only supporting artists through art rental, but also supporting businesses by bringing the arts to them.
We are both artists, 10 years ago I loaned a giant drawing to Totem. A huge, huge drawing. They kept it for like 7 years. When they moved here, I jokingly said “so you guys gonna buy it?” They waited a little bit, and when they got back to me they asked for another option. That got me thinking, maybe there is another option! Maybe I can help them find artwork specifically for their new office and rent it to them. Just like the plants, they don’t own the plants here because they know someone else can take better care of them. Keep them from dying, water and trim them, switch them out when they look like they are sick. Same thing with the art. It’s someone’s responsibility to take care and maintain it. If Totem were to move again, they wouldn’t need to think about how to transport the art. Stumptown Creative will deal with that.
There are other art rental companies in town, I am sure you have heard of, but we’re kind of different because we only work with local artists and we’re only working with originals, no reproductions. We’re really interested in working with a small group of artists and helping them a lot. Right now we have 4 artists. When you think about the mission of a business, is the business going to help a ton of people a little bit, like Starbucks, or is the business going to help a handful of people a ton, change their lives? As far as how we help the artists, that is kind of our approach. We want to keep it a small group and really just help them grow as artists and support their own practice, get their artwork out there. Like a record label, we think about other opportunities for them. Not like a gallery because we don’t have a physical location, but in other ways.
We really want to work with artists that we trust. That are professional, that will tell us when pieces are sold or needed for an art show, so good communication. There is a subtle aesthetic connection too, maybe in the color palette. Even though each artist is doing their own thing.
D: Portland is very creative, even corporations want to be associated with creativity. Collecting is such a task in and of itself, right? Businesses might find it hard to get to that. It’s a whole other position; you have to hire someone to manage your art collection. There are a lot of hidden massive collections in Portland.
SC: Exactly, I think that is something renting artwork could possibly lead to. There are a lot of companies that are just one-step away from that. They are not sure they want to own artwork yet, but doing something with a little less commitment and they still get to enjoy the art.
D: How long have the pieces here at Totem been up?
SC: They’ve leased artwork coming on two years. After 6 months, I ask how everything is going. At that point they can renew their lease, or switch things out. But here at Totem they love how it is, so they keep it the same. That’s easy. A couple pieces sold, so those got replaced with something similar.
D: Did those sales come from Stumptown Creative or did the artist sell those independently?
SC: Those were independent sales.
D: Do you ever get sales from employees of the company renting the art? I noticed there are no labels up.
SC: There are no price tags when a company rents, so that doesn’t really happen. We are thinking through the idea of renting to own as an option. We aren’t competing with galleries, so instead of sales, rental is our first and foremost transaction. In a coffee shop or restaurant, the understanding or agreement is that the restaurant gets this beautiful artwork and the artist gets exposure and the possibility of a sale. Whereas the agreement here is that the business gets this awesome artwork with the possibility of switching things out and they get the installation, maintenance and curation. And the artist gets paid. It’s that simple. That’s why there are no labels. We are not trying to turn their business space into a sales gallery.