Unlike most other office spaces, the interior walls of Mercedes-Benz Financial Services USA Business Center hang more than simply motivational quote posters and landscape paintings. The walls have actual works of art.
The built-to-suit, four-story building in AllianceTexas houses a year-round art exhibit, “Experiencing Perspectives.”
Mercedes-Benz Financial Services partners with Southern Methodist University and Texas Christian University to install professional-level art pieces made by students and alumni for the exhibit every year.
The program started 11 years ago and has steadily grown into a fixed fixture in the company’s culture.
New artists and art pieces are selected in about every 10 months. The 2019 exhibit is, however, the first one to be featured at Mercedes-Benz’s new 200,000-square-foot business center, which the company relocated to in May.
The new building sets the standard for modern office space with features and amenities such as facial recognition technology and chef-made restaurant and cafe options.
The art exhibition does add to the appeal, but it serves as more than mere decoration.
“It’s really all about bringing in new ways of thinking, new ways of seeing,” said Leila Matta, the company’s art program manager. “It is really about infusing creativity into our corporate culture. It’s having our employees think differently so that the solution that they come up with for our customers can be just as creative.”
Matta curates the exhibit for the Fort Worth facility as well as for the corporate headquarters in Farmington Hills, Michigan.
She has worked with the company for 20 years. When tasked with finding a solution to filling thousands of square feet of wall space, she received help from the two North Texas universities’ art programs.
“The world needs art,” she said.
Out of 300 entries submitted this year, Matta and her team selected 53 artists.
The actual handling, framing and setting up is done by Unified Fine Arts, a Dallas-based fine art company.
“We try to have the widest possible range of types of art work in this space, because it’s so subjective – everybody likes something different. They might see one piece and love it, and see another piece and really not love it,” Matta said. “So, that’s really the idea. But, there’s certain basic qualifications. The art has to be of high standard and in really good condition.”
The focus is on supporting and promoting local artists and bringing their work forward to new audiences.
Each year, Mercedes-Benz Financial Services awards a $5,000 cash prize and two $2,500 cash prizes to selected artists.
While one individual artist from the exhibit receives the Emerging Artist Award. The winner receives up to $10,000 in cash prize as well as a two-month art residency in Berlin, Germany.
This year’s winner was SMU’s Julia Jalowiec.
“I feel like my heart just opened more, and my community became even larger,” Jalowiec said. “That’s really an opportunity that I wouldn’t have had without this award.”
Her cast bronze art piece, titled “Evolution of Sisters,” is displayed in the second floor of the Mercedes-Benz business center. The small doll-like figurines depict the relationship and bond between two sisters played out in three different stages of life, Jalowiec said.
While some art pieces may be interpreted differently by different observers, others may be personal that hold intimate meaning for the artist.
“I’m really attracted to these things that are foreign to me,” said Taylor Knight, a fine arts junior at SMU. “[I] also use these natural things because I do have this connection with nature. I like to represent and surround myself with.”
One of her work featured in the exhibit shows animal bones and a scapula, which signifies her memories as a young girl playing outdoors.
On her visits to her grandparents’ place in East Texas years ago, she would go out into the woods and observe all the bugs, rocks and bones in their natural state, she said.
“Since it is a corporate setting, it’s indoors and there’s not a lot of natural elements here,” Knight said, “bringing something like an animal bone into this space is kind-of confrontational, not necessarily in a bad way. But just not something you’d necessarily expect to see.”
And, the employees do engage with the art pieces. Employees at Mercedes-Benz said the casual small-talk in the office break rooms and other places turn engrossing conversations about the meaning of a certain art piece in the exhibit.
Eddie Jacquez works in the IT department of Mercedes-Benz Financial Services, where other employees frequently visit with questions and concerns regarding their electronics or technological systems.
As they wait for the diagnosis and repair, Jacquez has overheard and sometimes joined on many conversation regarding the art work in the department’s walls.
“They’ll stare at it for a while and they’ll comment,” Jacquez said. “A lot of them do that. I catch them doing it. Anywhere there’s a lot of color, we see people starting. It’s almost like it’s a time-out. Whenever people are waiting for something or just to get fresh air, they’ll start looking at the art work.”