Finding a home on the business side of art, design
By Michael Souza PBN Staff Writer
Finding a home on the business side of art, design
PBN PHOTO/RUPERT WHITELEY
GUIDING HAND: Emily Hall, Union Studio director of marketing and new-business development, was initially hired as receptionist at a previous employer, but eventually helped overhaul its corporate identity and website. Above, she is pictured with Union Studio principal Douglas Kallfelz.
As the director of marketing and new-business development for Union Studio in Providence, Emily Hall is responsible for marketing strategy and finding new clients. The work is part of the ongoing evolution of the Rhode Island School of Design graduate’s interest “in the business side of art and design,” she said.
Hall was brought in January 2011 to help the company with its rebranding. Formerly known as Donald Powers Architects Inc., a name change to Union Studio required a new website, new designs and a logo.
“That was a big part of the last year,” she said. “The new name and look had to suit our identity well and I think it does that.” Once accomplished, the work of solidifying existing clients and building new relationships began. She is responsible for new-business development, identifying new opportunities, proposal responses and award applications.
Hall holds a bachelor’s degree in both art history and studio art from Colorado College and a master’s degree in industrial design from RISD. She’s working towards an MBA at the University of Rhode Island.
So how does one transition from two art degrees to an MBA?
“It’s an odd career trajectory but it actually makes sense,” she said.
After college, her first job was at the O’Hara Gallery in New York City, where she was the director of the contemporary-art program. “I’ve always been interested in the arts,” Hall said. She held the position for three years before deciding to concentrate on creating art rather than supervising its display. As a result she landed in Providence at RISD.
At Durkee, Brown, Viveiros & Werenfels Architects in Providence, Hall was hired as a receptionist, a position she desired because it would not only free her schedule but also provide the funds to pursue her private design and art interests. As time went on those interests shifted; the company saw her desire to grow and gave her more responsibility.
After eight years there she was named director of marketing and business development and named an associate with the firm. Holding on to her RISD skills, she also assisted with some graphic design.
“I saw all the different aspects of an architectural firm,” she said. “It was fascinating to be on the business side of it, and its natural endpoint would be business development and marketing.”
She also helped Durkee redesign its corporate identity and website, winning regional recognition for both from the Boston chapter of the Society for Marketing Professional Services. When the position at Union Studios opened, the fit was perfect.
“Architecture firms do not rebrand frequently so it’s great to have that experience more than once. It was serendipitous,” Hall said.
“I’ve come to peace with the fact that I will always be on the business side of the creative sector,” she said. “An MBA would give me more tools to do that. I enjoy the design process and I completely understand it and can speak about it. I love all the potential it has. Adding the business side completed … my career path.”
It was RISD that brought Hall, who is originally from Ohio, to the Ocean State, but she has stayed for many reasons. “I’ve met some great people while I’ve been here and Providence is a wonderful place for creative [people],” she said. “It’s very active and accessible, and there are a lot of interesting things going on.”
Union Studio specializes in community-oriented designs, focusing on such things as mixed-use development and community-based affordable housing. According to Hall, business is increasing not only because the economy is improving but because community design is gaining momentum across the country. The firm is currently readying for construction at North Cove, a 38-unit, affordable-housing project in North Kingstown.
Another local project the firm worked on is Sandywoods Farm, in Tiverton, which combines affordable rental and market-rate housing with a working farm, retail space, a studio, gallery and community space for artists. It also preserves 147 acres of land for a working farm, open space and community gardens, and some space even donated to The Nature Conservancy. Community space features theater performances, potlucks, cooking classes and other group events. A 250 kW wind turbine provides power for most of the neighborhood.
“That’s a project that has so many different aspects to it that work well; the affordable-housing component, the agricultural and artist components all give a strong sense of community to the entire project,” she said. “It fits into the surrounding area very well.”
The company supports the “New Urbanism” movement which promotes planning compact, walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods to form a viable overall community, and that’s just one of the reasons Hall appreciates Union Studios. “The people are very nice. I also enjoy the community aspects of the designs. I like the idea that we work nationally so that we can share ideas throughout the country,” she said.
Hall is a member of the Society for Marketing Professional Services, dedicated to architectural, engineering and construction firms and their promotion.
“I am active with them, I keep informed with what other firms across the country are doing for their marketing efforts,” she said.
“I love keeping on top of it because it’s such a nuanced aspect of the industry,” she explained. “It’s really about telling the story of the firm, and some people do it so well.” •
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