WILLMAR -- The paintings and photographs hanging on the wall at the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission office are all originals by local artists.
But the EDC didn't have to make a big financial investment or spend hours shopping at local studios and galleries. The entire collection was acquired through the Willmar Area Arts Council's Art on Loan program for local businesses.
"It's been a great program for us," said Jean Spaulding, assistant director of the Economic Development Commission. "These are Kandiyohi County artists. We've got such talent. We like to be able to have it showcased."
The new program is being officially launched this spring.
The Arts Council sees it as a way of promoting and selling the work of homegrown artists while filling a need for businesses.
Art can make a powerful statement in a business environment, said Janet Olney, the administrative staff person for the Willmar Area Arts Council and a professional basket designer and weaver.
"It's good for both the public that comes into your business and your employees to have art in your building," she said. "There's nothing like an original."
But many businesses can't afford to buy original art, or don't know what's available. They might also hesitate to make a permanent commitment to an original painting or sculpture or other piece of art.
Several arts organizations around Minnesota offer programs that allow artworks to be placed on loan. There wasn't a formal art loan program locally, however, until last fall, when the Economic Development Commission moved into a new office in the Centre Place building in downtown Willmar.
The EDC wanted some art for its walls but was working with a limited budget of public funds, Spaulding said.
Richard Falk, a Kandiyohi County Commissioner, suggested contacting the Willmar Area Arts Council to find out whether anything was available on loan.
The Arts Council welcomed the idea, Spaulding said. "They were very open and supportive. Within just a very short period of time they were able to put the word out among their artists."
The EDC ended up selecting 10 original watercolors, oil paintings and photographs, all by regional artists.
"They did a fabulous job," Spaulding said. "We didn't specify colors or size, but it's almost like those pictures were made to go in the locations they ended up in."
The loan program was put together quickly to help the EDC, Olney said. Over the winter, the Arts Council developed a formal set of guidelines that were recently finalized.
The Art on Loan program will work with client businesses to determine what they need and help them choose from among artwork that artists are willing to loan. Pieces are available for sale and will be rotated every six months.
Participating artists and businesses must be members of the Willmar Area Arts Council -- the annual membership cost for a business is $50. Businesses also must insure the art against damage or loss.
The Arts Council is developing a registry of artists who have agreed to participate. Once the council's new Web site, www.willmarareaartscouncil.org, is up in mid-April, businesses will be able to view sample pieces online.
For the artists, it's like having a moveable gallery, said Violet Dauk, who heads the Arts Council's exhibition committee and is a watercolor artist.
"We have a very wonderful arts community -- a lot of artists who are very active," she said. "They get to have their work out in the community. I think that's a real benefit for the artists."
It's also good exposure for the Arts Council and for the role of art in the community, said Susan Mattson, president of the Willmar Area Arts Council.
"It brings the attention of new people to the arts council. It lets them know that we have an arts council and that we are available," she said. "That's one of our goals -- to incorporate art in the community. I'm very excited about this."
For more information, contact the Willmar Area Arts Council at 320-231-8560 or firstname.lastname@example.org.