It is not unusual for large companies to have their own art collections, but it is rare for those collections to have a team of art educators on staff. Progressive Corporation, producer of the famous commercials featuring Flo the car insurance saleswoman, has been collecting contemporary art since 1974. Peter Louis, the former CEO, asked his wife at the time, Toby Devan Louis, to start collecting edgy, thought-provoking contemporary art to decorate the walls of the workplace. Over 30 years later, Progressive’s collection has grown to more than 7,800 pieces.
Progressive circulates its artwork throughout the many office branches all over the U.S. Louis’ mission to advance the workplace and hold its workers to standards of cultural awareness through art continues to apply today. The Progressive Art Department continually holds seminars, exhibits, and lectures utilizing the collection as its muse; the curators are constantly being asked to travel and present new and different presentations. The collection stimulates conversation, promotes diversity, inspires creativity, and challenges viewers’ beliefs.
When Colorado Springs branch manager Charlie Baughman started at Progressive a little over four and a half years ago, he had little understanding of contemporary art – or art in general. Now, he gives docent tours for on-site exhibits and proudly promotes the Biennial Employee Art Show, which his branch is hosting this year. Baughman feels that art inspires and stimulates the workplace.
“If you haven’t ridden a bike in a long time, when you first get on it, you struggle getting your balance,” Baughman said. “As you ride more regularly, you become more adept and skilled at using those muscles; over time, it just becomes natural. Same with the art collection. By seeing and reviewing the art regularly, it causes your senses to be on high alert; you’re stimulating muscles in your brain that would otherwise be dormant if we just had four walls throughout our campus. This seems to aid in all sorts of discussions, but especially with any sort of brainstorming, which we do frequently.”
Selections from the Progressive collection are currently on view at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, adjacent to Packard Hall. The exhibit, A Family Affair, includes photography, videos, objects, and sculptural works.
“The exhibit focuses on the shifting definitions of ‘family,’ drawing our attention to the critical moments, decisions, and people—the affairs—that mark and define our families,” said exhibit curators Kristin Rogers and H. Scott Westover in the exhibition statement.
The curators aim to stimulate reactions and discussion on what people perceive as family, both the good and the bad. Not every piece is the typical image of family—some require more imagination. “Some works allude to childhood memories, the nostalgic snapshots that chronicle our past. Others address the trauma of dysfunctional relationships, illness, or regret,” said Rogers and Westover.
The company supports their employees’ engagement with the show by sponsoring free admission for all employees and a tour for their top performers on paid time. In addition, the Fine Arts Center grants Colorado College students free admission.