Welcome to the corporate “happening.” Bringing together live music, public art and a global message is the newest  integrated marketing strategy for consumer brands looking to reach young, urban dwellers.

Absolut painted some buildings and put up some flowers on Divisidero as part of Transform Today; Intel partnered with Vice to bring iTunes visualizers to giant screens inside Fort Mason for The Creators Project. So evidently, it was Levi’s turn: Station to Station, a cross-country art train exhibit carrying artists, musicians and filmmakers from the East Coast all the way to art-starved Oakland.

What’s everyone doing? Where is everyone going?

All these “happenings” basically follow the same brand-approved template, nailed perfectly by Joe Berkowitz for The Awl … except Station to Station was $25 to get in!

[blockquote source=””]There was a free corporate-sponsored event this weekend! Billed as a multimedia arts venture, the event took place in the meat packing district of some city. It was one of a handful of events that will be held internationally this summer, offering up exciting artistic experiences across several technological platforms. It was a music festival featuring a bunch of hot acts. It was also an art show with interactive exhibitions.[/blockquote]

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Twin Shadow performed 3 songs inside a historic train station.

The main draw of these events is most often the live music shows. The companies are careful to bring onboard acts that are on-brand with how innovative and hip they want to be seen and for how much credit they want to take for launching an indie artist’s career.

Station to Station was not your typical music festival, however, as there were no set times. It was all supposedly “happening” organically all at once. I did come across a page that looked suspiciously like a schedule with set times, and quickly discovered that this whole “happening” was happening an hour behind schedule. Which totally sucked because the artist I was actually excited to see, Twin Shadow, was only onstage for about 20 minutes.

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“There are no set times,” said Levi’s PR.

Here are three other handy rules for any company looking to jump on the branded multimedia event bandwagon:

1. Take over of repurposed urban spaces like desolated warehouses or abandoned train station. Station to Station took over the historic and grandiose 16th Street Station in Oakland.

2. Partner with purveyors of cool like Vice or Flavorpill. Levi’s chose artist Doug Aitken to curate the entire train experience.

3. Get consumers feeling like they are a part of a global movement that’s making a difference. Have the name of this global movement be a distinguishable social media hashtag. For example, Levi’s was touting their #MakeYourMark campaign.

Can you spot the people wearing head-to-toe denim?

Ok, despite concern over corporations disingenuously supporting independent artists simply as a way to sell fitted jeans or a new HP tablet and how truly mockable these “happenings” can sometimes get, there are a lot worse things corporations could do.

In the end, I appreciate that these events exist because I understand that art (especially public art) has always been in need of financial patrons. That is even more the case now that traditional revenue streams are largely non-existent for artists of any kind and size, whether they are headlining Coachella or playing vinyl records in a turntable that’s totally submerged underwater.

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