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Patronage, Corporate Social Responsibility, & the Power of Murals

Envision Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam or da Vinci’s The Last Supper and it’s easy to recognize their vision and talent. These works of art feel so inspired and mystical that it’s hard to believe they stemmed from a paid commission. A gig. In Michelangelo’s case a gig that he wasn’t too thrilled to land.

In 1508, 33-year-old Michelangelo was hard at work on Pope Julius II’s marble tomb. When Julius asked the artist to switch gears and decorate the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling, Michelangelo balked. For one thing, he considered himself a sculptor rather than a painter, and he had no experience whatsoever with frescoes. Nevertheless, Michelangelo reluctantly accepted the commission, spending four years of his life perched on scaffolding with his brush in hand.

Patronage, the financial backing of artists by individuals or institutions, existed before the Renaissance, but rose in importance between the 14th and 17th centuries.

History only began regularly recording the names of the artists themselves around the time of the Renaissance. Before then, artists were largely seen as manufacturers and realizers of the grand ideas of powerful patrons with the knowledge and means to commission art.

Recognizing and honoring individuals as artists rather than simply manufacturers of the wealthy’s ideas was a promising shift, but it would take several more centuries for artists to strike out on their own.

It wasn’t until the 19th century that artists could make works on their own time (and own dime) and hope that someone might purchase them. Before then, it was the great art academies that turned out nearly every artist capable of selling their work, and as such, those institutions governed the display and sale of art.

Throughout history it’s clear to see the push and pull of the artist/patron dynamic, and it still exists today. One could argue that commissioning murals is nothing more than a form of patronage. Aren’t brands simply the largest patrons of our time? They’re the ones with the funds to back their vision, the ones seeking out artists to help them shine.

As more artists carve out businesses of their own, and call the shots on what they create, what does that look like for the future of murals? The financial resources

of patrons have always put them in a position of power, but as people grow weary of being marketed at, how can brands connect with people in a more authentic way?

Street artist Chase Erachi has an idea. Instead of simply translating a brand’s agenda, he envisions a world where artists help guide the narrative.

“I believe in some sort of new way for brands to harvest ideas, notions and content from artists. When you think of history, most of the artwork that is now displayed in museums around the world was commissioned by wealthy families or by the church, and we need an equivalence.”

If brands provided the canvas and financial backing, and left the art in the hands of the artist imagine what could be produced. This scenario more or less played out in the Sistine Chapel and the result was The Creation of Adam.

Michelangelo was originally hired to paint the 12 apostles on the pendentives supporting the ceiling and leave the center of the ceiling simply adorned. He had something else in mind, much grander than what he was commissioned to do and he persuaded Pope Julius II to let him execute his vision.

Leading with the power of art, instead of the power of a brand may seem impossible for the bottomline. But as more and more consumers reject the notion of being fed logos, calls to actions, and ignore digital ads, a new form of communication will be forced to emerge.

Murals have the ability to bridge the gap between brand message and artistic vision. Countless brands have started turning over the canvas and narrative to artists in order to more deeply connect with their audiences, and the results far exceed what can be measured in metrics.

In a digital world, filled with digital fatigue, it’s harder than ever to create authentic experiences, yet people crave them. They also care about the values behind a brand and want to know what they stand for. Murals are the perfect medium. They’re both relatable and tangible and have the power to form a positive emotional connection that speaks to the viewer.

When it comes to showcasing their presence in a mural, when brands lead with a less is more attitude they can make an even bigger impact. This was the case for Bumble. They commissioned a local artist to create an Austin mural that depicted community and communication. Aside from that direction they left the design completely up to the artist and the result was a stunning, eye-catching piece that captured the spirit of the town.

“Love Always” Bumble Mural in Austin, Texas by Candy Kuo

From community streets to office walls, murals directly connect with the people who live and work in the spaces where they exist. Many national brands are coming to the conclusion that they have a corporate social responsibility to improve the lives of not only their consumers but their employees as well.

Target set out to bring beauty inside more than 10 of its distribution centers nationwide. They used murals to brighten up a typically gray area and turned bare walls into bright spots of inspiration that reflected the beauty and culture of the surrounding city or state.

Mural inside Target distribution center in Burlington, Vermont, by Evan Lovett

Shifting the dynamic from patronage to partnership creates the space to produce something truly incredible and memorable — for the brand, artist and audience. Afterall, shouldn’t part of a brand’s corporate social responsibility be to support the arts?

If artists like Erachi have their way, brands will move from commissioning artists to execute an established vision, toward entrusting artists with their vision. “Our community has proven itself enough to where you can match brands with an artist, and then that artist produces work the way they see fit that mimics the ethos of the brand.”

Michaelangelo would likely agree.

Explore how Beautify helps brands partner with artists to create inspiring and impactful murals.

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