For most fans, sports stadiums and ballparks are massive, crowded, noisy, uncomfortable arenas with overpriced tickets and concessions, the whole thing only made tolerable by the excitement of the game taking place on the field. Over the past decade however, a new generation of sports arenas has emerged, which are still massive, crowded, noisy, uncomfortable and overpriced but which also offer luxurious amenities for those willing to pay a premium. These include air-conditioned VIP reception entrances, concierge attendants and private escalators, comfortable sofas in climate-controlled lounges, and wet bars and refrigerators—as well as huge, high-definition screens that appeal to those who are just as happy watching the game at home. Yet another one of the new luxury amenities is high-priced art. Of course, nothing says you’re part of the “one-percent” like art.
“We believe that the art enhances the visitor experience,” said Charlotte Jones Anderson, executive vice president and chief brand officer of the Dallas Cowboys, whose $1.3 billion AT&T Stadium, completed in 2009, contains sixteen commissioned artworks and forty-two other works that are on view throughout the facility. Many of these works are by “blue chip” artists, such as Doug Aitken, Jim Campbell, Olafur Eliasson, Jenny Holzer, Anish Kapoor, Matthew Ritchie and Lawrence Weiner, and have no thematic relationship to football or any other sport. It was not a given that renowned artists would want their work associated with a sports arena, and Mary Zlot, the art advisor who commissioned and acquired pieces for the Cowboys stadium, first contacted the galleries representing these artists to find out if they would be interested in creating work for this venue. Eliasson was the first artist to sign on, “and once you get a really fabulous artist like him on board, it made it easier to attract others,” Zlot said.
Part of the appeal to these artists is that the artwork need not be sports-related, which fit into the goal of the Cowboys. “It is important to us that our venue be more than just a sports venue, that it would attract people beyond the world of sports,” Anderson said. And in fact, far more people than just sports fans visit the stadium in the course of a year. “We have something going on every day,” she said, which may include more than one event per day, such as weddings, corporate functions, conferences, high school proms, and bar and bat mitzvahs. The Academy of Country Music held its televised award show at AT&T Stadium in 2015. “The collection is built for every type of event.”
This isn’t just happening in Dallas. The Kansas City Chiefs, who renovated their Arrowhead Stadium in 2010, have been building and installing a collection of artworks since 2013. “The Cowboys were a helpful resource at the outset, in terms of the process they undertook,” said Sharron Hunt, director of the team’s art program, noting that she hired a local art gallery owner (Paul Dorrell of the Leopold Gallery) as an advisor. She also set up an art council, including the president of the Kansas City Art Institute and directors of both the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art and the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, to help in the selection process. Also, just as with AT&T Stadium, it was understood that the new Arrowhead Stadium would be more than just a place to watch eight home football games per year (perhaps one or two more if they make the playoffs) but a “multi-use facility that serves the community,” where 200 events of all kinds would take place throughout the year. The opportunity to host these events would not be possible without the renovation of Arrowhead Stadium, enhanced through the Arrowhead Art Collection. “However,” she said, “we ultimately took a different direction than that of the Cowboys, giving the art a more regional focus.”
What may be most unusual is a sports venue competing for conventions and party events with hotels, convention centers, and museums. “We think of the entire community as our audience,” mentioned Hunt while suggesting that art played an important role in broadening the scope of her venue. Historic homes and museums regularly promote themselves as ideal spots for weddings and other formal activities, trading on their collections and cultural settings to woo event planners. With the emergence of significant art collections at sports arenas, one sees for-profit enterprises jockeying for the same business with nonprofits, with both using artwork as a sales tool. The Cowboys’ stadium made itself even more like an art museum by creating a free, downloadable app for its art collection, providing information about every work on view and opportunities to hear the artists themselves talking about their art.
The interest on the part of sports venues in art comes as no surprise to Tracie Speca-Ventura, founder of the California-based Sports and the Arts, which acts as an art advisor to sports franchises (including the Los Angeles Lakers, Orlando Magic, New Jersey Devils and San Francisco 49ers) and professional athletes. “Stadiums are huge spaces with great big walls, ideal for art,” she said. “Stadiums are the museums of today. Fans may not go to art galleries and museums, and you can educate them without hitting them over the head or making them feel stupid. For the franchises, an art collection opens up marketing opportunities and very good press.”
For the artists selected by Arrowhead Stadium, the upshot has been positive; they were commissioned and paid, had their work seen by a far larger and more diverse audience than usually looks at art, have been written up in the Kansas City Star, and have another line to add to their C.V.s. But there has been one major exception to their improvement in fortune—none of the exposure and positive write-ups has led to additional commissions and sales so far. The art is situated where people of means watch games and attend parties, but those people haven’t become collectors, at least not of this art. St. Louis painter Tim Liddy, who created a series of 10 paintings for Arrowhead, stated that “I’ve received a number of emails from people who say ‘I really love your work. How much are they?’ I write back and don’t hear from them again.” Perhaps those people assumed artworks cost the same as a football ticket.