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Art and commerce cozy up

Art can affect the feelings, but it can also be crucial to the bottom line


by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Broad theme: Janelle Baglien curated the art for Hotel Modera and other area businesses.A quick look around the Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Hillsboro reveals how important art is to this brand new hospital.

A giant metal and glass chandelier hangs from the lobby rotunda. The main waiting area has an exquisite 14-minute video loop of Oregon landscape scenes from the coast to the desert. And every wall and every room has either original artwork or wipe-clean giclee reproductions. It all has meaning:

• The chandelier looks like gingko leaves because they symbolize longevity.

• The video is 14 minutes long because that is the average length of stay in a waiting room.

• And the wipe-clean coating means staff can keep the dreaded superbugs at bay.

Janelle Baglien curated all of the art there.

“My brief was to improve patient outcomes by lowering blood pressure and reducing the heart rates of patients, staff and visitors,” says the founder of Studio Art Direct.

She’s not joking. Kaiser wanted to make this hospital appealing. The resulting theme was “tranquil relief through nature.” She commissioned or purchased 940 works of art much of it based on sub-themes of wildflowers, forests, water and mountains, all by Pacific Northwest artists.

by: COURTESY OF STEVE CRIDLAND - Art like these acrylics by William Park is everywhere at the Kaiser Permanente Westside Medical Center in Hillsboro. The hospitals overall art theme is tranquil relief through nature.There are light touches: screenprinted skateboard decks are mounted on the walls of the casting room, where kids with broken wrists are the commonest client.

And that 14 minute video can be played on every bedside screen in every patient room.

But generally, the art is all doing one thing: helping healing. “There are no TVs. Television has been proven to raise stress in this type of setting.”

Baglien’s job is not as simple as installing work in a gallery. She doesn’t like art that is “plunked down” in a building as an afterthought.

“I had to work with the architects and construction teams to fit every installation into their tight schedules,” she says. “The chandelier (which weighs 800 lbs) had to be installed before the floor was finished because you can’t have a scissor lift on a terrazzo floor.”

It’s this attention to detail, not to mention her ability to coax artists through the process, that has made Baglien Portland’s go-to art curator for certain businesses. She can persuade artists to work in a specific color palette (“Red freaks people out!”) or a certain size. She also takes care of the insurance and legal side of the business for them. These artists get paid. She has high-resolution scans of their work made and sells the resulting reproductions, to the trade and the public, on her web site: studioartdirect.com

Baglien also worked on the Hotel Modera Hotel at SW Fifth and Clay. The developer Alan Battersby and his partners Battersby Hotels turned a shabby Day’s Inn into a light- and art-filled boutique hotel. Much of the art features nudes, although they are often sketches or slightly abstracted so as not to offend anyone.

“I was worried one of the nudes in the lobby was too risque, so someone suggested I show it to my six-year-old daughter,” says Battersby, a tanned, jovial developer who winters in Maui and summers in Seattle. “I knew were OK when the first thing she said was ‘It looks just like mommy!’”

Battersby, Baglien and the interior designer James Staicoff of Staicoff Design Company, got the formula right. The developer sold the property for $47.5 million, making a $15 million profit in five years.

“Our average hold is four years. We get it to 80 percent of the value we want. We try not to be greedy.”

As anyone who saw how the more modest Jupiter Hotel/Doug Fir livened up East Burnside, remodeling motels works in Portland, but they need a strong theme.

His team has gone eastside and is turning the Red Lion near the Oregon Convention Center into the four star Hotel Eastlund next year.

“We take a tired, distressed motel and bring it up to modern conditions.” Hence the Modera’s picture windows, fire pit and patio. He is convinced it has made the south part of downtown more friendly, and is catalyzing other hospitality businesses such as the coming Curio, a boutique concept by the Hilton.

“I try to develop a project I would enjoy and feel comfortable in: warm, friendly, a little bit sexy and edgy.”

Staicoff says a strong art collection definitely sets up a quality guest experience.

“The art in the Modera lobby really shines. Guests don’t remember a rug or a chair. The sophisticated traveler wants to see something unique to the property, and not go ‘Oh, I have that at home.’”

Holst Architecture also worked on the Modera’s restaurant and lobby, and is on the Eastlund too.

Kevin Valk, a Senior Associate at Holst, says the Eastlund will not be an art hotel. “But we want something interesting that doesn’t kill the budget. Not an attraction, but not off-the-shelf stuff like at a Red Lion or a Marriott.”

While Host does mainly architectural work, it has always done interiors for brands such as Starbucks and Williams Sonoma, and keeps its hand in.

“We like having projects that make an impact on neighborhoods,” says Valk. “This is a good client and it’s going to be great for that neighborhood.”

Baglien has been hired to curate the art for the Eastlund too. The theme came up over a light-hearted luncheon: sleeping with words. Baglien wants to have stories from famous Northwest writers written in the halls, with the theme carrying into the artwork in the bedrooms.

“There is some cutting edge interactive digital art around right now,” she declares, then describes a scene where guests will move projected words around on the wall, a sort of fridge poetry in digital form.

The art budget for the Eastlund is 3 percent of the $10 million remodel budget. That’s a lot in a town where artists bust a gut applying for RAAC grants and fellowships. She used poetry writ large on walls of Kaiser’s West Side Medical Center, and will probably use poets again.

“Yes,” she says, “The poets get paid.”