Industry Watch

Creative input: A meeting room at OST reveals the company's love of the arts

Creatively inclined

David Gerrity of Open Systems Technologies explains why his company is involved with the Minnesota arts scene

Minnesota Business usually sticks to companies that are based in Minnesota (hence the name), but a few things about Open Systems Technologies (OST) have intrigued us. Providing IT infrastructure services and headquartered in Grand Rapids, Mich., the company in late 2009 established a Minneapolis outpost that's quickly grown from three to 17 employees and has revenues of $25 million, thanks to such clients as Thomson Reuters, U.S. Bancorp, and United Health Group.

One way the company has worked its way into the Twin Cities business community is through the arts scene. It displays works from local artists in its Minneapolis office, and last month it sponsored an ArtPrize event. Intrigued by the company's artistic and technical savvy, we spoke to David Gerrity, executive director of the Minneapolis office.

Why is OST so involved with the arts?

I have my wife [Luanne] to thank for much of our involvement. She has a BFA in interior design. It's a pretty vibrant space we have, and she had always wanted to create an environment where in an office setting we could kind of rotate the art. She found this gentleman, Ron Ridgeway, who has a group called the Art Leadership Program.

What we do is every quarter we feature a different Twin Cities emerging artist. Their work is at our office. It's [displayed] throughout all the walls of the conference rooms and the common areas. At some point during that quarter, we host an opening for the artist so he could invite his family and friends. We invite our customers and partners. It's just kind of a networking event that certainly mixes a couple of cultures. We get some hors d'oeuvres, get some drinks, and just have a nice opportunity for people to mingle and connect in an event that has a little bit of a different theme to it.

Is the artwork for sale throughout the month?

It is, but it's not really a feature. I like to tell the artist that what you should expect from this is not necessarily to sell. There is a price sheet on it and they are available to sell, but it's not like a coffee shop or a restaurant where we have a lot of people in from the public. It's more about the exposure. It's about the artists getting exposure to the pretty high-end people who do come in  our clients and our partners  but also the sponsorship that we provide for their opening. These are young, emerging artists. The last two were seniors at the Minnesota College of Art and Design.

How do you find these artists?

Ron Ridgeway will come to me with a couple of artists and some sample pieces and get my take on what looks interesting, what we think would go well. My wife has some input there to make it work.

Tell us about ArtPrize.

It's actually the biggest art prize, I believe, in the world, where the winner gets $250,000 as voted on by the public, actually. The whole city of Grand Rapids basically turns into an in and outdoor art gallery for about two weeks.

What's the Minnesota connection?

The connection to Minneapolis was purely that the ArtPrize people had this idea of trying to have what they called a Pitch Night [in Minneapolis] where some artists gave suggestions for a concept ... It was kind of a mini-contest where the winner would get $5,000 to help pay for it and also this premier location [in Grand Rapids] that a lot of public walks through. It's called the Gillette Bridge, a pedestrian bridge in downtown Grand Rapids.

So OST is a sponsor of ArtPrize in Grand Rapids and therefore it was an easy transition to also be a sponsor in Minneapolis?

Yes, exactly. What had happened was we had some level of involvement in Grand Rapids, but when we found out that they were going to be expanding and doing this kind of experiment in Minneapolis, we realized this is a great connection because we're a Grand Rapids–headquartered company that opened up here. Then we've got this connection, and we're involved with the arts. It's kind of a neat connection. It was rather serendipitous.

Why have art in an office?

I do think that having the creativity and the art ... whether people will outwardly appreciate it or not, I think it has a benefit to the productivity and creativity of the workplace.

Secondly, I think that some of these younger emerging artists are the creative minds that will be solving who knows what problems we'll face in the future, and it continues to take deep creativity and innovation. I know many people who have art backgrounds who went on to take some of that creativity and innovation and out-of-the-box thinking and apply it to things that we do in the business world every day. I think that supporting that exercises a part of the brain in people that we're going to need as a society moving forward.