5Qs for Kate Iverson on art’s place in malls

Al Urbanski
Real Estate Editor & Manager
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Kate Iverson
Kate Iverson

In naming official art curators at Rosedale Center mall in Minnesota recently, director of marketing and experience Sarah Fossen remarked that “Art is a universal language that brings people together. Just like we named a fashion director, we are naming art curators.” They are the Minneapolis-based curatorial firm Bishop/Iverson, which will soon debut a mall-wide installation of Minnesota artists called “Who You Are.” We asked one of the firm’s partners, Kate Iverson, why malls and art go so well together.

Art has long been a fixture in high-end malls. NorthPark Center in Dallas, for instance, is a bona fide art museum. Other centers do little in the way of art installations. What’s the latter group missing out on?

Retail space is and always has been a platform for commerce, so it's not surprising that very few shopping centers have fully jumped on the art bandwagon. I do believe that tide may be turning, though. People expect more out of their everyday experiences. When someone can personally identify with art, it makes them feel seen and heard -- it builds emotional equity for them in that public space.

What tangible benefits do retail tenants realize from having art in the mall?

Having art in the mall invites people to gather in a different way. It sparks interaction and discussion. It's a talking point and something tenants can be proud of when discussing their place of business. We had one tenant at Rosedale tell us how excited she was to come to work every day in a place where one of her favorite local artists had created a mural. It was a huge value-add to her personally and something she was able to talk about with her customers. 

What are some of your toughest challenges in filling such a large space as Rosedale with art?

Rosedale is large, but the majority of it is taken up by tenants, so the amount of wall space for hanging art is not as vast as you'd think. We get creative with common areas and have a handful of walls designated for art. For the 50-plus-piece installation we produced last spring, we utilized everything from planters to pillars to bathrooms. We are looking to expand the areas where art can be displayed in the future as the art program grows and as the new expansion of Rosedale begins.

Do you have total control over theme and content?  Or do tenants have some say over what mural or sculpture sits outside their entrances?

We're lucky to have the full support of Rosedale and their marketing director, Sarah Fossen, who lets us run with our ideas and trusts our expertise as curators who have over a decade of experience. Each time we switch out art, we look to communicate a specific theme or narrative -- usually something overarching that's easy to digest for people. The "Who You Are" exhibit that will be up through the holidays is framed around the idea of identity -- identity being cultural, familial, or personal. And the art is placed in common space, so it is typically not representative of any specific tenant.

Finally, how does art enhance the shopper experience?

Seeing interesting or beautiful things enhances any experience, in my opinion. But for the shopper specifically, we see works of art as being a respite. A small moment that shoppers can take to immerse themselves in something beyond the next storefront or obligation. Art can be soothing, invigorating, or inspiring. If we can give people in the mall that small, positive experience at some point in their day, we consider that a win.