Companies interested in leasing, subleasing, purchasing or selling office space in the Bay Area

Choosing Art to Attract Tenants

Guest Article

by Suzy R. Locke

Commercial building developers are paying closer attention than ever to art for their lobbies and outside plazas.

While one might think that the economic downturn has meant less spending on the art, the business climate actually is having the opposite effect.

Why? Commercial landlords know that first impressions are key. A dramatic entrance is very important both in attracting tenants and in welcoming visitors to a building.

The range of art is almost as wide as the range in styles of architecture. Water elements can be both restful and dramatic. A larger-than-life painting in the lobby makes a building distinctive. Sculpture for an exterior plaza or in the lobby can set a building apart from its neighbors.

In San Francisco, for example, the high-rise building at 100 Second Street has a signature three-story painting by Charles Arnoldi. It is a large, abstract, colorful multi-panel painting that fills a glass atrium and can be seen from the street and halfway down the block.

We worked with Ellis Partners LLC, owners of EmeryTech in Emeryville, on one of the most unusual sculptures in the Bay Area, commissioning a fanciful three-story sculptural work by Brian Goggin. Called Herd Instinct, it uses 3,000 pounds of bronze that have been sculpted into “escaping” Queen Anne-style tables as they “run” together and spill in waves off the roof and sides of the building.

With a high-tech exterior and a distinctive sculpture visible from both outside and inside the building, the EmeryTech lobby called for a special work of art. The solution was a mixed-media construction combining acrylic, latex and oil on metal and wood by Bay Area artist Michael Wells. It brings a three-dimensional feeling to the flat service and fits nicely into the deconstructionist lobby of the building that houses several high-tech firms.

In this case, budget decisions were easy. The City of Emeryville requires developers to spend a certain percentage of construction costs on art. So do many other Bay Area cities, including Walnut Creek and Palo Alto, with the amounts usually ranging from 1/2 to 1 percent.

But even when there are no requirements, developers are purchasing art. It is just as important a detail as the hardware and the reception desk in both class A & B buildings. If you don’t have the right art in the lobby, it’s as jarring as putting a plastic reception desk on a marble floor.

So what should you think about (aside from aesthetic considerations) when you select art for a commercial building?

  • An important question is whether there will be a guard at the reception desk. If so, you can choose a more valuable, fragile work than otherwise.
  • Should you commission a one-of-a-kind work or buy an existing piece of art? I find that about 75 percent of my clients buy existing pieces of art, while the other 25 percent commission works for their specific space. Commissions are often the only way to go for a very large, or a very unusual space.
  • Should you have a permanent art collection or a rotating art program? A rotating art program is an extremely popular marketing tool, particularly if you have a space that does not limit itself to one style of art. Rotating art programs offer opportunities to have receptions for artists, mailings to prospective tenants and stories for in-house publications. You’ll want to budget $10,000 to $25,000 a year for fees for installations and a consultant to select and manage the art program. Typically the artists will loan their work for the cost of shipping and insurance, although a small honorarium is appreciated. It’s best to work with a consultant, rather than a gallery, as the consultant will have access to a greater variety of art from paintings, quilts, photography and sculpture.

And think about art, particularly for the lobby or an entrance plaza, early in the planning process. It can take time to find the right art, particularly if you decide to commission the work that’s exactly right for you.

Suzy Locke is president of Suzy R. Locke and Associates of Oakland, which has been an art consultant for more than 20 commercial buildings. Additional information is available by calling 510-547-5455 or on the Web at

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