Reconciling Art Wants with Budget Realities

green penguin sculpture by William Sweetlove
Green with art envy? “Cloned Penguin with Petbottle” by William Sweetlove, Visions West Gallery

When you spend your days and nights at gallery openings, visiting studios, reviewing portfolios and inventory sheets, lusting after art you personally can’t afford becomes a constant experience. Hello, Art Envy, my old friend. It’s more than “the-piece-that-got-away” syndrome because to let something go means you had to have it in the first place. Still, our clients provide us with the privilege and sanity-saving salve of vicarious art buying.

But what happens if you’re the one cutting the checks and you can’t afford the art you so desperately want? First, go ahead and wallow, fret and, if you need to, cry. Next, pull yourself together and do a cost/benefit analysis. Ask yourself:

  • What are the goals of the project?
    • Are you looking to create buzz?
    • Attract a particular tenant, employee or customer?
    • Create an unforgettable experience?
    • Connect to the local community?
  • What kind of impact is the artwork going to have on your goals?
    • Will the art garner you media coverage?
    • Will it make a one-of-a-kind statement about your company or project?
    • Is it Instagram worthy, something everyone has to experience firsthand?
    • Will it garner goodwill with the local community?
  • What is the piece going to cost in the short term and what is the long-term maintenance?
  • Are there other resources you can tap to fund the endeavor?
  • What is the cost of not having the art?


After you’ve thought long and hard about your costs and benefits, you’ll then need to weigh these two options: 1. pony up the extra funds or 2. get creative with your budget. You simply cannot expect to get a 24 karat diamond if you’re only willing to pay to for a cubic zirconia, especially when it comes to art.


To prove to you that yes, you can have an amazing art collection on a tight budget, we’ve put together the following case studies.


The Crawford Hotel reception desk

Case Study #1: The Crawford Hotel

When we curated the art collection at The Crawford, we came up with creative budget solutions that did not skimp on aesthetics. The silhouette wall behind the reception desk, for example, is not only lovely but is clever and fun to boot. We scoured estate sales and antique stores for vintage silhouettes and even rolled up our sleeves and created some ourselves. Elsewhere, we salvaged the detritus from the old station benches and polished the found coins and cleaned the ticket stubs to create intriguing displays. We dug out our BFA portfolios and donated past work. We reached out the development team’s network of friends and family for more art. And we purchased plenty of original art by local artists and from local galleries. The result is an art collection as storied as the building itself.


Wood wall sculpture by Jonathan Saiz
“Soda Pop Be Bop” by Jonathan Saiz

Case Study #2: 7/S Denver Haus

We had a strict budget for RedPeak’s 7/S Denver Haus but that didn’t stop us from developing a unique and noteworthy collection. We approached emerging-level artists like Al Page, Jodi Stuart, Kaitlyn Tucek and Travis and Anna Hetman. The bold, bright colors and unusual materials of the artwork make the apartment complex stand out from competitors while creating a connection with residents. 7/S also created a local art section on its website to showcase the collection and share information with current and future residents, further leveraging its investment in original, local art.


Case Study #3

Last year we partnered with Sage Hospitality, CU Boulder’s Art Department and professional artist Lisa Solberg to develop Beyond the Studio, an innovative, hands-on mentorship program for one lucky CU Boulder student. MFA candidate Johnny DeFeo earned the job. His task: create a mural-like artwork in 172 guestrooms for the Hilton Garden Inn Boulder for roughly the same price as a large framed piece. After several brainstorm sessions and proposal concepts, Johnny developed a brilliant solution: screenprint directly onto the wall using a rotating set of different screens. The result, once Johnny completes the installation this spring, will be creative, unique and smart from both a visual and financial standpoint.


Artwork by Laura Anderson Barbata at Wheeler Trigg O’Donnell

Case Study #4

Wheeler Trigg O’Donnell’s provocative art collection sets it apart from other law firms, positioning it as well-educated and forward thinking in order to attract the top legal talent. A timeless collection with museum-quality art, the collection boasts over 119 works including pieces by the renowned artist Laura Anderson Barbata, whose work was acquired in trade for legal services. Bartering art in exchange for goods or services can be another way to expand or develop a collection. Artists need legal and financial advice, healthcare, insurance, salon services, childcare, architectural renderings. The key is creating an exchange that is mutually beneficial and of equal dollar value.


There are plenty of ways to have your cake and eat it, too – you just might need an artist to help you figure out how to do both.