Interview with Jo Hohlbein, Creative Director, Indianapolis Zoo

If you’ve been following the Banner Art Blog, you already know about the suspended installations we created in collaboration with the Indianapolis Zoo’s Creative Services Team. The Zoo’s all-new butterfly exhibit features our hanging, twirling mobile art (see more pictures of the completed large-scale kinetic butterfly mobile art here).

Our suspended installations at the Indianapolis Zoo.

We also recently completed outdoor fabric butterfly art for the Zoo, intended to attract and guide Zoo patrons from other areas of the Zoo into the all-new butterfly exhibit.

Jo Hohlbein, Creative Director at the Indianapolis Zoo, was kind enough to take time out of her busy day to give us her thoughts from a client perspective on what the experience is like working with Banner Art Studio.

Jo Hohlbein, Creative Director at the Indianapolis Zoo

BA: How and why did you choose Banner Art Studio for your project?

JH: Over the winter, we recognized some architectural and navigational issues with White River Gardens and the Hilbert Conservatory. The Gardens started out as a separate attraction from the Zoo: it is physically disconnected from the flow of the Zoo, and there used to be an additional entry fee for the Gardens. Today, the Gardens and Conservatory are part of the Zoo. Your entry fee entitles you to visit it all. But getting Zoo patrons into the Gardens and Conservatory is an ongoing marketing challenge we face at the Zoo.

We wanted to invest in something that would bring patrons back to the Gardens and Conservatory, but needed to be sure we would see the ROI. Bringing back the Conservatory’s much-loved butterfly exhibit seemed a logical choice. My Creative Services Team was challenged to do an all-new, bigger, better exhibit – unlike anything before it. The “Butterfly Kaleidoscope” theme was developed as an exciting way to make the color, light, and movement of butterflies larger-than-life, and to make learning about the amazing metamorphosis of these magical creatures even more fun. So we set out to transform the experience of walking into the Conservatory into one of entering an immense glass kaleidoscope.

A co-worker was doing some image searching online, and found some inspiring photography from the Banner Art Studio mobile art portfolio that captured the look I had in mind. I knew when I saw them that I had to get in touch with Mettje and her team at Banner Art Studio. In the end, this was an artistic decision. I knew Mettje was the person that could create what we were envisioning.

BA: Tell us a little about your background, and what the Creative Director job at the Zoo entails.

JH: I’ve been at the Indianapolis Zoo for going on five years, and my Department is responsible for making everything visual in the Zoo and related to the Zoo’s brand. This includes print media, maps, images, brochures and more – anything the guest will be viewing while he or she is at the Zoo.

My degree is in Fine Arts with a concentration in Graphic Design. Lately, my career has been focused on traditional print media including graphic design for newspapers and magazines. So any sculptural and three-dimensional art I help create for the Zoo involves a lot of on-the-job learning.

I was so thankful to be in communication with Mettje for this project. She asks the right questions, and helped me think through all of the issues related to both the interior mobile art and the outdoor installation. She knows what she’s doing, and her experience working with different architectural spaces and in different environments is invaluable.

BA: What was the biggest challenge you faced during your project?

JH: For budgetary reasons, the exhibit inside the Conservatory was on a crazy time frame. We contacted Banner Art Studio in mid-October for a mobile we needed complete by the end of the year.

BA: Was price an issue?

JH: We are a nonprofit organization, so price and budget constraints are always an issue. Banner Art was always willing to work with us. For example, in the initial project I was on a tight timeframe (I had to close out the project by 12/31/12). I felt we needed both the mobiles and some small butterflies for the entrance to the building to help draw people into the Conservatory. Because of the incredibly short time frame there was no way Mettje could complete the mobiles and do these butterflies. Mettje accommodated us by selling me scrap fabric from the mobiles (so the colors of the butterflies would match the mobiles) and then gave my assistant and I a crash course on a few of her secrets so that we could create our own small butterflies. These hang in the entry hallway leading to the exhibit. While they in no way compare to Mettje’s pieces, they made it possible for me to complete this project the way I wanted within the budget and time constraints I had. I would say that’s going above and beyond for a client.

For the exterior exhibit, we had more time. We looked at a number of vendors and exhibit design firms. But they all had the same solution to our traffic and marketing problem: they wanted to create fiberglass butterflies to attract patrons to the Conservatory. While the fiberglass butterflies could be left outside all winter, they would not have the same kind of translucent glowing effect that Banner Art butterflies have,  and they would not tie together with the indoor pieces as seamlessly. I knew Mettje and her team would create something beautiful, and in the end there would be no comparison. So we chose Banner Art Studio for the installation outside as well.

While we’re on the topic of price, I should mention that Mettje was also excellent at helping me get the most “bang for my buck.” For example, we wanted to maximize the effect of the outdoor butterflies on the buildings. Instead of providing me a straight quote, she gave me options – “for x amount of money, we can get y done.” She was willing to adjust the sizes of the butterflies so that we could get more done for our money. There was some compromise and negotiation involved, but this type of guidance helped us accomplish our goals and still stay within budget.

BA: How did the installation go? How long did it take, and were the people who worked on it happy?

JH: Putting the mobile art into the Conservatory could not have gone more smoothly. It was amazing how easy Mettje and her team made the mobile to install. One person could handle a piece of the mobile easily, and Mettje does an incredible job of marking things so it’s obvious for anyone to see how they fit together. We have five separate Banner Art mobiles in the Conservatory. Between my staff and the Conservatory staff we had five people to install them. It only took us four hours to completely install the mobile.

For part two of the project, the outdoor butterflies, Mettje and her team figured out the engineering and fashioned the butterflies in such a way that it is easy to take them down completely in winter. The outdoor butterflies are much bigger and heavier (handling them is definitely a two-man job). Due to the manpower needed and since installing them would involve pouring concrete, we did hire contractors to help. When the Project Manager on grounds heard that Mettje and her team were creating the outdoor butterflies, he said “Well, I’m sure everything will be easy to follow. That’s the way she works!”

BA: How did you choose the color palette for the mobiles and outdoor cloth art?

JH: The Zoo’s color palette was what we gave to Banner Art as a starting point for the mobile art. We hired muralists to create a trompe l’oeil mural for the side of the Conservatory, to really bring the inside of the Gardens out and entice patrons to visit the exhibit. Mettje also had sketches for this mural to create the outdoor fabric butterflies.

I had my own personal ideas about making everything work together. Once I had all of the pieces, I was able to use my own judgement to make everything relate. I was able to do this effectively because of all of the planning and collaboration with Mettje on the front end.

BA: The pictures speak a thousand words – the end products appear to all work well together. Do you think the art we created was able to begin to help solve the marketing problem and traffic flow issues you described for the Zoo?

JH: The entire installation is fantastic, beautiful and unique. Mettje is able to create things that are both artistic and functional. She’s a true artist, but has the ability to think things through, and she has a real knack for engineering. What Banner Art did for us really works for the Zoo, and Mettje is a joy to work with.

It’s spring, so we are still in “school group mode” right now. The kids are crazy excited about the butterflies – they want to take them home! – and we’re seeing more and more Zoo patrons lured over to the Conservatory by the colorful outdoor butterfly fabric art. We are energized and optimistic that what we have created could help us increase attendance – both for the Butterfly Kaleidoscope Exhibit and for the Zoo at large – as our demographic starts to change for the summer.

View our Gallery of Large Scale Butterfly Art Installations.


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