The Intersection of Augusta’s Art and Business is a Colorful One
When it comes to corporate environments, the brand of comedy generally referred to as “potty humor,” in the vast majority of cases, is frowned upon—especially when it’s permanently inscribed on the bathroom wall.
That is, unless you can nail it creatively.
“We wanted to use it in a sophisticated way,” said Daniel Stewart, studio director at the Broad Street graphic design agency Wier / Stewart, which recently won a National Silver American Advertising Award for its murals inside the Unisys call center downtown.
At Unisys, sophisticated potty humor came in the form of 1960s jazz records. Flush by Melvin Bussey and the Clarences. On a Roll by Charmaine and the Whipples. Take Five. You get the idea.
“We did have a jazz record called ‘Plop’ that didn’t make it,” Stewart said. “That was too gross.”
Alex Wier, the agency’s creative director, says these are the kinds of projects that scare him a little bit—not because the themes are mildly crude, but because it’s exactly what he and Stewart love doing.
“I like those jazz albums from the sixties,” Wier said. “It was like, is this a bad idea? Are we just doing this because it’s something that we want to do? But it made sense.”
Clearly, American Advertising Award judges agreed.
Still, it’s not as if the personal tastes of Wier, Stewart, local artists Leonard Zimmerman and Jay Jacobs, and everyone else who helped turn an IT call center into an artistically rich scene inspiring both determined focus and laughter during bathroom breaks are the only factors at play. The playful aesthetic of the murals speak to a larger trend among workplaces: people want their jobs to be cool. After all, Wier says, we spend more time here than we do at home.
“In Augusta, there are a lot of businesses coming around to the idea that culture is kind of one of the most important things,” Stewart said. “You’ve got to come to work for 6-8 hours a day. You kind of need to like it, you know?”
Unisys isn’t the only Augusta company that has come to value the attitude and creativity that naturally arise in artistic and visually stimulating workspaces. Cape Augusta and EDTS had an entire wall in one of the large rooms at the new Augusta Cyber works campus completely covered in graffiti.
Interior designer Tzara Harper, who works for architecture firm Cheatham Fletcher Scott and designed the inside of the new Unisys call center, says Taxslayer’s new downtown digs, Meybohm Realty’s future offices at The Plaza at Evans Town Center and Augusta Sportswear’s facility in Grovetown might also be filled with upcoming projects driven by local artists and designers.
“The Unisys murals were based off the millennial generation, with spaces you could escape to,” Harper said. “It’s a completely different world for Augusta.”
Indeed, the fact that Unisys sought out local artists and designers Zimmerman and Jacobs is no small thing. Those are situations in which companies of Unisys’ size typically look to Atlanta’s creative minds for inspiration and guidance. For Harper, the Unisys project showed that Augusta has the same caliber of talent.
“It’s starting to feel like the Augusta brand, from an art and music standpoint, is really starting to take shape,” Stewart said. “And in the same way that a lot of ladies would go to Atlanta to get their hair colored or whatever because they think the only people who can do it are in Atlanta, same thing goes for art. Augusta has a dense group of phenomenal artists.”
As self-taught designers, Wier and Stewart have plenty of artistic abilities themselves. But they’re careful not to call themselves artists. Stewart says that would be somewhat blasphemous to those who are. They don’t take for granted the privilege they have of working with “Porkchop” Zimmerman (a designer at the agency by day). And the work of Jason Craig, Blaine Prescott, and Jay Jacobs makes them confident that Augusta will only continue to thrive artistically.
The agency’s co-director’s though, are in the business of art for commerce. Given a growing desire among local companies to bring joy to their employees every day through art, and to find local artists to do it—the intersection of art and business is an exciting place to be.
As for Augusta’s artistic community, Wier says they’re “hardcore supporters of it.” And as excited as they are about its future, they’re feel equally as indebted to its past. When Wier thinks about Coco Rubio investing in downtown with Soul Bar and Sky City when no one else would, he thinks back to the gig posters that he and Stewart started screen printing for the venue for free.
“We wanted our town to be cool,” Wier said. “No one was doing that here, so we just did it, and we just gave them to Sky City for free because we like it. We think those things make a difference.”
Speaking of the past, there might not be a bigger recent win for the arts in Augusta than the resurrection of the Miller Theater, which had been closed since 1984. It won’t have any murals dedicated to sophisticated potty humor, or a luchador shooting lasers out of his eyes. Wier and Stewart just feel lucky they got to do the branding.
“All those people who pioneered downtown when there was nothing down here seem to be more concerned that the average person with art and with culture,” Wier said. “And so when you go back to Unisys, and you want your people to be motivated and innovative, then you make that space look creative. And that’s what you get with art.”