Trimark sees a future in Canadian art

Trimark Investment Management found its sponsorship of artist David Milne's national retrospective tour raised its profile so successfully the mutual funds company has committed itself to further sponsorship of Canadian art.Richard Hamm, senior vice-president of marketing at Trimark, announced to an...

Trimark Investment Management found its sponsorship of artist David Milne’s national retrospective tour raised its profile so successfully the mutual funds company has committed itself to further sponsorship of Canadian art.

Richard Hamm, senior vice-president of marketing at Trimark, announced to an audience at a recent Financial Post conference on corporate sponsorship and marketing that his firm will underwrite a series of linked Canadian art exhibitions at public galleries in Nova Scotia, Ontario, Alberta and probably Quebec.

Corporations Collect

Hamm told the Toronto audience the project will be called ‘The Canadian Corporations Collect’ and will run from 1994-95.

‘Not only will the event showcase the works of contemporary Canadian artists, but it will pay tribute to the role of Canadian corporations and the significant role they have played in supporting the visual arts,’ he says.

He says Trimark wanted to use sponsorship to differentiate itself from the competition and agreed to sponsor the 152-work Milne retrospective after talks with Nina Kaiden Wright, the president and chairman of Arts & Communications Counselors, a firm which matches sponsors with arts organizations.

‘Just as we pick stocks for their long-term values, not as speculations for quick gains, so we try and take the same long-term approach for all of our marketing and communications plans.

Hamm says when Trimark first ventured into the sponsorship field, it was one of many mutual funds companies which had a similar market share to others in the industry.

Something unique

However, he says Trimark believed it had something unique to offer customers because of the way the company does business.

‘We wanted to use sponsorship as part of the [marketing] mix, but a very important part of the mix, to differentiate ourselves from the rest of the pack, and to say something about the kind of company we are and the kind of service that we offer,’ Hamm says.

‘The David Milne retrospective in 1991-92 was the first major undertaking that we had been involved with, but we had a fantastic property,’ he says.

‘As an artist, David Milne was innovative, was independent, was uncompromising. And that’s how we described him in the show’s publicity and program materials, and frankly, that’s how we viewed [ourselves.]‘

In the mutual funds business, he says companies try to market their names and their reputations much more than they try to get across the benefits of individual funds.

To many, he says, a fund is a fund and is viewed as a commodity, making a differentiation between one commodity and another difficult.

Hamm says that is where art sponsorship became so important because it raised awareness about the company and built its image.

Turn of the century

A contemporary, but not a member, of the Group of Seven, Milne left Canada at the turn of the century to study art in New York.

In 1913, he exhibited in the famous Armoury Show in New York alongside Picasso, Matisse and Brancusi.

Canada’s official war artist in the First World War, Milne later lived in New York state and rural Ontario. He died in the early 1950s.

Hamm says Trimark used reproductions of one of Milne’s paintings in the retrospective, The Water Lily, on brochures, signage, bus shelter posters and even on corporate letterhead paper to create awareness.

(Replying to a question after his presentation, Hamm says Trimark used bus shelters because they can be placed where the company’s target demographic -affluent adults in their late 40s to early 50s – will likely walk or drive by them frequently.)

He says Trimark also used family days at the galleries exhibiting the Milne works, and issued viewing invitations to Trimark fundholders.

As for the success of Trimark’s sponsorship of the Milne show, Hamm points to the attendance at the Vancouver Art Gallery, one of the venues in which the retrospective appeared, which he says is up 220% over the previous year end.