Responses by Ben Greengrass, creative director, ThoughtMatter.
Background: Our relationship with nonprofit performing arts program Tacoma Arts Live began in 2017–18 when the organization was called Broadway Center for the Performing Arts. That project resulted in a new name and successful rebranding that brought it success over the past four years. However, for this new project, the organization was undergoing some huge changes as it was forced to move to the Tacoma Armory, the last remaining venue under its purview. The organization’s focus needed to change. Within this challenge, we helped to reintroduce Tacoma Arts Live to its new community in a bold way, using design and wayfinding to ingratiate the organization to Tacoma’s Hilltop neighborhood, where it now calls home.
Design thinking: We didn’t want to throw everything out in our efforts to tell the story of the reemerging Tacoma Arts Live. After all, there was 40 years of history that we wanted to bring with us as the organization began a new chapter. Adapting the existing brand, we landed on the positioning of “inciting the spark within”—referencing the graphic spark at the heart of the current brandmark. Using that spark symbol as the catalyst and focal point for a new system, we went about creating a more expressive campaign for the invigorated organization.
Utilizing the current brand red, a complementary but energizing color palette, a new typeface that visually echoed the brandmark, a brand pattern and a more progressive messaging framework, we built out an entire campaign. Finding that spark was the perfect way for us to take something that had been there all along and reinvent it, remixing it into something fresh and exciting that Tacoma Arts Live could rally behind.
Challenges: The project was conceived and designed during the pandemic, so naturally there were always questions about how we could excite and engage audiences to “get off the sofa” for live events post-pandemic. I think this design system delivers the energy and urgency in both the virtual and physical worlds to meet the audience head on and challenge them to be part of this highly creative organization in their own backyards.
Favorite details: Definitely the wayfinding, which served both a literal and metaphorical purpose for us as we began to define our positioning. We designed a set of arrows built from Tacoma Arts Live’s deconstructed brandmark, physically directing Hilltop to the Tacoma Armory, a building that few in the community even knew was an arts venue. We also knew we could both visually and through messaging extend this notion of wayfinding as it related to “finding one’s spark within.” This gave us rich territory to mine as we began building campaign assets.
New lessons: Tacoma Arts Live is a West Coast–based organization, so it took a risk on working with us, an East Coast–based studio. Both working on its rebrand and this latest project confirmed that our agency’s physical distance from our clients doesn’t have to be a downside; in fact, sometimes having that distance lets us see things from an objective “third-party” perspective, leading to more successful work. While clients might be reluctant to work with an agency that’s geographically distant, this project really proves that we are good at tapping into and understanding other communities, no matter where they are or how different from New York City they might be.
Visual influences: From the project’s outset, it was clear that the changing organization’s renewed energy needed to drive the campaign. During our initial trip to Tacoma, we could see how prominent and visible the brand was already, so we asked the question: How could we take the brand’s rock-solid foundation and overlay a newly inspired effervescence? Meeting the Tacoma Arts Live brand where it stood and reimagining a new campaign to celebrate that brand ended up being a serendipitous solution.