Nov 02, 2012 • By

We’re surrounded by art

When our corporate headquarters was built in Minneapolis back in 1958, it was one of the first buildings of its kind in the area. It had wall partitions that were moveable, interchangeable … and drab.

According to General Mills lore, the company president at the time, Charlie Bell, wanted to liven things up.

“He was interested in art himself. He said, ‘We have to do something about all this gray and metal surface. Why don’t we buy art and hang in around the building?’ And that’s how the collection started, and that’s still kind of what we’re doing today,” says Don McNeil, company art curator.

Don became the art curator at General Mills in 1976. For 35 years, he has cared for the collection, which now has 1,400 pieces covering all media. (Learn more about Don, in this post).

Most of those pieces are at the company’s Minnesota headquarters, but some are located in other nearby General Mills offices.

Don says the collection has become more focused over time.

“It’s now what we call a contemporary collection. By that, I mean contemporary in time. The company feels it’s the best kind of collection to have, the most benefit comes from a collection that is made up of artwork done by artists who are living and working in the same time and world that General Mills lives and works in. As much as possible, it is art that reflects our world.”

In this video clip, Don talks about why the art collection is such an important part of the company.

The collection is continually shifting.

Remodeling and construction cause some of the relocations, but special requests create most of the movement.

“Anybody with an individual office can select artwork from the whole collection and have it displayed in their office, and have it changed anytime they want. Really, anything in the collection is available to go into an office,” Don explains.

Employees can go on the company intranet, browse the collection and select a piece. At one point, Don says 40 percent of the collection was displayed in individual offices.

Some pieces are particularly popular and have had waiting lists.

One is a funky portrait of Elvis as Caesar.

The other is a picture of a dog by well-known photographer Bill Wegman.

“I think the art collection is a part of the total package that General Mills provides to help employees, and help the company do what it’s supposed to do,” says Don.

Editor’s note: On the next four Fridays, we will highlight some of Don’s favorite pieces in the company’s art collection, in a series that will end Nov. 30. We featured five of the outdoor art pieces on the General Mills campus back in July, beginning with this post.