Sunday, April 7, 2013

Corporate Curating: Companies Telling Their 9/11 Stories with Consumer Goods

Please note, my ideas here are a work in progress...
As I've reflected more about my collection, and especially in consideration of some recent object additions, I've come to the conclusion that the connection between September 11th and consumer goods (material culture, etc) is more complex than I thought.  It isn't simply an issue of a material good developed as a patriotic symbol or in commemoration of 9/11.  There is something quite directed with these objects, seemingly curated.  I would argue that many (not all are a clear fit) objects featured here are developed and presented as unique and special, and are meant to be representations of the very companies that created them.  In fact, I suggest these objects are created by their respective companies with the idea in mind and influence of museum culture.  Thus, these objects are examples of "corporate curating."  I'm not talking about corporations collecting and curating their own art collections, which is often what we associate this phrase with.  No, instead I mean the idea of companies creating consumable, household goods/products that also offer a message and meaning and impact beyond their use.  For example, look at my recent addition of The Sak.  This 9/11 tribute purse features the American flag.  The Sak company developed the bag and some other related items after September 11th to support a foundation focused on literacy created in memory of Brooke Jackman, a victim of the tragedy.  Now, on the surface, The Sak, like many of the companies and examples I feature here, is using their product to support social good through consumption (portion of the proceeds, etc are donated to something/group/foundation tied to 9/11).  But, The Sak's motivation is more than just sales and giving money to a good cause.  They are developing an object that puts their stamp and perspective on this event in American history.  They are "curating" and offering their interpretation of this significant event.  It is corporate curating, where they develop and produce a good that tells their story.  The quintessential example, which is another recent addition, is the book Remembrance & Renewal: American Express After 9/11.  Here we have American Express that creates a book to document how their company was impacted by September 11th.  But more importantly, American Express is putting their own spin on the event (corporate curating) and marking their place in history.  After 9/11, their were many companies who threw their hat in the ring regarding goods and items tied or influenced by the event.  As I have featured here, a milk bottle, comics, tissues, candy, air freshener and many others are examples.  Many of these companies would never have considered tying their goods to a tragic event, but September 11th changed everything.  The idea of using social good (supporting a cause or nonprofit) to drive sales has been around well before 9/11.  But, the idea of companies "curating" their own tribute and remembrance and perspective was the result of 9/11.  Furthermore, I would argue that this concept was mainstreamed as a result of September 11th, which is evidenced by the variety of the types of goods, which I've collected and highlighted.      

September 11th tribute purse: The Sak

9/11 tribute purse/bag made by The sak.  It features a label with "IR Sp 01." The bag features the American flag with a weaved pattern. 

United Cutlery Corp 9/11 Tribute Knife

September 11th tribute knife offered by United Cutlery Corp.  Packaged in a patriotic box.

Let's Roll Tribute Toy Race Car

Action 1/64 scale '02 Pontiac Grand Prix Nascar race car. 
#18 Interstate American Hero's Lets Roll 9-11 salute car as driven by Bobby Labonte Limited Edition.
1 of only 8,856 made worldwide.
All proceeds benefited Todd M. Beamer Foundation (Let's Roll)




Remembrance & Renewal: American Express After 9/11

American Express created this tribute book reflecting on the impact on their company and paying tribute, including to their employees who died.  It features a tribute dvd too.

For a company whose headquarters was across the street from the World Trade Center on September 11th, create a one year anniversary book and interactive documentary -- to help employees heal, pay homage, and capture the story of their company's experience.

The spring and summer of 2002 was a very intense time in New York City. American Express had lost eleven people in the September 11th attacks. The 4,000 employees based at their Manhattan headquarters had been transferred to a dozen office spaces across the tri-state area as their damaged building -- located directly across the street from the fallen World Trade Center -- went under reconstruction.

American Express leadership wanted to get their people back "home" by the end of the summer. They also wanted to help them deal with the complex emotions that would come with that return.

VSA worked with American Express to tell the unique stories of their employees on that fateful day: those who helped clients that were stranded abroad when the U.S. grounded flights, the engineer who would lead headquarters' reconstruction, the woman from Human Resources who was working to recover from her near-fatal injuries, those eleven Corporate Travel employees who lost their lives in the North Tower.

Safeguarding that the book content aligned with the new media piece, I attended employee interviews and helped architect the audio and visual media within the interactive documentary. I also supported client/team communications and managed the technical integration with the programming vendor.