SFM supports local artists in remodeled office space

SFM supports local artists in remodeled office space
"Joining Forces," by Rita Dungey

As SFM looked to put the finishing touches on its newly remodeled office space, the final pieces, so to speak, were art.

But after meeting with a traditional art consultant, it became clear it wasn’t a good fit.

Instead, the group at SFM tasked with selecting the artwork turned to Rita Dungey and Amy Tillotson , members of the Northeast Minneapolis Arts District , which has been hailed as one of the top art districts in the U.S. for several years.

“I think it’s really important for us to be a strong part of the community that we operate in,” said Dave Kaiser, SFM Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer. “That’s through charitable giving and working with local businesses, but that also means supporting local artists. That philosophy has been the SFM way forever.”

The creative process

In the fall of 2023, Dungey and Tillotson toured the SFM offices in Bloomington, Minn.

“Their eyes were just bubbling with ideas,” Kaiser said. “They came back with a booklet of art that was just brilliant. There’s no other way to explain it.”

As the process moved along, Dungey and Tillotson began researching and reaching out to artists whose work they thought would make sense in the space.

SFM supports local artists in remodeled office space
"Indigo Morning 2," by Amy Tillotson

“From the start, our goal was to present a variety of art that was cohesive and not only original, but also contemporary, timeless and suggestive of a positive energy,” said Dungey, who describes her own work as non-representational and abstract mixed media.

Notably, neither Dungey nor Tillotson had prior experience as an art consultant.

“We are artists first, not professional art consultants. But we each possess experience that contributed to the work as a whole. Working together on this project, our roles became clear where each other’s strengths lie,” said Tillotson, who has a background in exhibit design. “Rita has a very good knowledge of artists in our community. She attends local art exhibitions regularly and familiarizes herself with the artist’s work over time. … Her background in psychology and social work lends itself to empathy and seeing things through other people’s point of view.”

The SFM team had only small suggestions for the types of art that would be included, such as different textures and mediums, said Kim Thelen, SFM Information Services Project Manager. Also, SFM wanted original work for the office’s “neighborhoods,” which are named after U.S. National Parks. Original pieces were created to reflect the attributes of Yellowstone, Yosemite, Acadia, etc.

“It was fun for us and for everyone that we took out the traditional middleman of the art consultant,” Thelen said. “Because it let the artists continue to be creative — and the money we paid went to them instead of a consultant. It was such a fun experience.”

The final pieces were installed in March 2024.

Bringing it all together

SFM largely let Dungey and Tillotson drive the process, with the pair offering a few suggestions for each space and the internal company team eventually making selections from there.

SFM supports local artists in remodeled office space
"Flock of Trumpeters," by Steve Hemingway

Even when SFM was asked for feedback regarding the paintings representing national parks, it was more of a hands-off approach.

“I didn’t want to get involved in that,” Kaiser said. “When they did the custom neighborhood paintings, they reached out to Kim and me to get ideas. And we both said no. We wanted the artist to do what she does. To me, that was the beauty of the process.”

The works include diverse mediums — two-dimensional paintings and sculptural (ceramic, wood, metal and mixed media), in addition to the national park paintings, which were created by Emily Donovan , who has a studio in northeast Minneapolis.

“We were happy to hear that SFM wanted to invest in a body of local, original artwork rather than the framed prints you so often see in an office setting,” Tillotson said. “We wanted to suggest artwork that represented a variety of mediums and styles but would be inviting and further enhance the designer’s choice of a natural color palette in paint color, wood, textiles and living walls.”

Still, as is the case with art. It’s subjective. Kaiser’s favorite piece is “Flock of Trumpeters,” by Steve Hemingway . For Thelen, it’s “Wish,” by Eleanor McGough .

SFM supports local artists in remodeled office space
"Wish," by Eleanor McGough

“If you have an office full of disagreements about the art, you did your job,” Kaiser said. “It’s in the eye of the beholder, right? That was the point — to express different things. We’ve got metal grates and swans and petals. We have all kinds of stuff. And that’s the cool part.”

Dungey said she enjoyed helping SFM in purchasing art for their new space and collection.

“We are pleased with the excellent selections they made and are grateful for the support, trust and collaboration with everyone at SFM. It is our sincere hope that the art will bring enjoyment to staff and clients for many years to come,” she said.

Connecting through art

In the end, the artists said they appreciated working with SFM on the project.

“Overall, I think the project was a success,” Tillotson said. “We hope the employees of SFM enjoy the artwork that was selected. We understand that art can be highly subjective and hope there is enough variety for everyone’s tastes. Rita and I would not hesitate to work with SFM in the future.”

Added Dungey:

“It was an honor and privilege to work with SFM on procuring and installing art in their newly remodeled space. From start to finish, it was truly a team project, involving collaboration with my project partner Amy Tillotson and the design team of Dave Kaiser, Kim Thelen, Abby Halland, Barb Etzkorn and Paul Johnson, who all contributed to making the entire process flow with ease.”


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