An inside look at how The Health Plan celebrates West Virginia’s creative spirit.
Corporate art collections are not a new concept. David Rockefeller is credited with starting the movement in the 1950s when he decided that Chase Manhattan Bank should acquire art. Other banks and businesses quickly followed suit. Today, more than 60 percent of Fortune 500 companies have art collections, and businesses around the world are finding more reasons and innovative ways to incorporate art into their buildings.
Facebook, for example, has an Artists-in-Residence program that employs local artists to create site-specific artwork in their offices. Progressive, a company that believes art is an extension of its mission and owns more than 10,000 artworks displayed in 300 offices across the country, hosts a company-wide juried art show every two years. Progressive even hires an artist to create innovative and thought-provoking artwork for its annual reports.
So this got us thinking—wouldn’t it be incredible if West Virginia companies only outfitted their businesses with West Virginia art? Wouldn’t that be a socially responsible and financially beneficial way to have a lasting economic, creative, and social impact on the state?
Guess what—we found a company doing just that. Join us as we take a tour with The Health Plan’s President and CEO Jim Pennington of The Health Plan Collection, a celebration of West Virginia’s creative spirit.
In 2018 Jim Pennington opened the doors to his company’s newly built $16 million headquarters in downtown Wheeling for the first time. It was a momentous occasion. Dignitaries were present. The Health Plan was bringing nearly 400 new jobs to West Virginia—a big deal. The state-of-the-art building, designed by Mills Group, was the first new construction in downtown Wheeling in 30 years and had become the beacon for Wheeling’s downtown revitalization efforts. And if that wasn’t enough, this non-profit health insurance company was unveiling an impressive art collection that showcased West Virginia artists and artisans.
“We wanted to create an artful and vibrant space that gives employees and clients an opportunity to see West Virginia art at its best,” says Pennington.
Scattered throughout the four-story, 53,000 square-foot building in the 1100 block of Main and Market streets are more than 60 pieces of artwork. “When we started building this building, I thought it would be nice to have original art,” says Pennington. “We wanted to make it friendly and fun.”
Pennington credits the initial inspiration to his time with a previous employer. “At McDonough Caperton, I had a client called Progressive. Progressive’s Peter Lewis was a friend of Gaston Caperton’s from the Young Presidents’ Organization.
Peter and his wife were big art collectors. They turned their office in Cleveland into an art gallery, and that really stuck with me.”
Lewis’ goal in founding the Progressive Art Collection was to create a creative and cost-effective environment that made the company’s offices more visually interesting, challenged employees to think outside the box, and communicated the company’s respect for creativity, all while supporting young artists. Pennington shares this mindset. “We are a non-profit organization. Giving back to the community is part of our DNA,” he says. “By showcasing West Virginia artists—and we have a variety of mediums, designs, styles, artists, and locations—we’ve made a social investment.”
Art is More Than Decoration
You don’t need to be a Fortune 500 company to have an art collection. “Art gives the business personality,” explains Lisa Fischer-Casto, owner of The Art Store in Charleston and The Health Plan Collection’s curator. “Art in the workplace makes for a more pleasing and friendly environment. Compared to blank walls and bad art, it has a whole different feeling to it. What Jim has done in The Health Plan building is special and he is incredible for doing it.”
Good art doesn’t go out of style. If your space showcases fine art, it will never need to be replaced when trends change. It’s an investment that works on many levels. Art evokes emotion. It creates meaning. It’s a conversation-starter and gives a space energy and inspiration. Art can also be healing and transformative.
The Health Plan’s conference room overlooks Main Street and is flooded with light. In the middle of the room is a magnificent live-edge wooden table that was handcrafted by DJ Shalvey that seats 14, while a vibrant assemblage piece by George Snyder hangs on the wall. “A lot of people wouldn’t go out and buy George Snyder, but it is one of my favorites. It works really well in this room, and people love this space,” Pennington says.
It Changes Office Culture
Art goes beyond enhancing the environment. There have been studies about the impact of art on employees’ satisfaction and creativity. Art provokes conversation and encourages employees to push themselves to think outside the box. Many companies use it to promote their company’s culture.
Health Plan employees appreciate being surrounded by beautiful art. “I love being greeted by a gorgeous piece of artwork when I step off of the elevator each morning,” says employee Ashly Taylor. “The Health Plan’s art collection has helped make my work days more colorful, calming, and inspiring. I’ve found that since we moved into our new location in downtown Wheeling, certain pieces have served as a great conversation-starters among co-workers. I feel lucky to work for a company that cares about intentionally creating a workspace that can be both comforting and energizing all at once.”
The company has even taken it a step further. As a gift at the end of the year, The Health Plan designed calendars that featured 12 pieces from the collection to give to employees and clients. In 2018, the company also commissioned a West Virginia artist, Matthew Hackworth of Hackworth’s Wood and Steel, to create a metal ornament using their logo to be included in their greeting cards.
It Boosts Your Brand
Being thoughtful and deliberate about outfitting your corporate space with local art is also a brand builder. It sends a message about who you are and what you value to employees, clients, and community members. Art can help humanize a corporate image. It makes a statement about your mission as a company and helps you connect with clients. It makes you memorable.
The company’s website states, “The Health Plan is a community-based health maintenance organization with roots that have been growing for 40 years. We don’t just provide health care for our members. We build relationships throughout our members’ communities, because they’re our communities too.” Those aren’t just words. It is evident by The Health Plan’s actions that they are deeply rooted and vested community members. The art collection, which showcases local art from all over the state, is just one way that they demonstrate their values represented by their brand.
“When giving a tour of the facility, we try and take a moment for each piece. We like to explain the pieces and the thought behind why it was chosen and why it was placed in that particular spot,” says Wendy Hodorowski, director of marketing. “When you visit the third floor and see the painting of the candles and flowers from the Paris bombing memorial, you don’t know what you are looking at until you hear the story behind the painting. We then explain it was chosen for this spot because the floor is where all of our clinical nurses are located. They are at the heart of much of what we do. They are on the phones every day with members walking them through programs, helping them with medications or services, and getting them the help that they need to navigate through the rough waters of healthcare. We want our clients to see how we truly care about each and every one of our members because for us, it is personal. We take pride in being in West Virginia and being able to make a difference in someone’s life.”
It’s a Community Builder
By showcasing local art, companies illustrate social responsibility. Whether you are supporting emerging, mid-career, or established artists, it is a way to give back. By supporting artists, it allows them to make a living, putting money back into the state’s economy.
What may seem like a simple act—hanging West Virginia art on their walls—The Health Plan is making an intentional, yet subtle, statement that they are proud of their roots, their workforce, the state, and their community. Art and creative expression has become a part of the company’s fabric.
In 2018, the company created a beautiful art book highlighting and telling the stories of each piece of art and the artists. This book showcases the variety within the collection, serves as an educational tool, and is a memorable takeaway for clients.
It’s an Investment
The value of fine art typically increases over time. “I would never tell someone to buy art like stocks. You aren’t going to get a 12 percent return on your investment in two years,” says Fischer-Casto. “But the value of most art appreciates over time just given inflation. By buying art, you have the opportunity to live with it, love it, and be better for owning it. And that’s worth everything. How do you put a number on how much you enjoyed the piece?”
Art provides other financial benefits, too. Although Pennington didn’t acquire his artwork with return on his investment in mind, he is formulating a plan to add more pieces to the collection. He says, “We need to make sure we keep it fresh, and I’d like to add a few new pieces each year. Our common areas have original artwork hanging in them, but some of our offices have prints. I’d like to systematically replace prints with originals and move some pieces around. We also want to incorporate some outdoor sculpture. We will continue to evolve our collection.”