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Monday, March 17, 2014

Jennifer Sereno: Promega Corp.'s commitment to the arts breathes life into the life sciences


By Jennifer Sereno
Promega Corp. has long been recognized as a place where good ideas generate great results.

With branches in 15 countries and more than 50 global distributors, Promega's high international profile is built on the strength of science started right here in Wisconsin. The company offers a portfolio of more than 3,000 products used in genomics, protein analysis and expression, cellular analysis, drug discovery and genetic identity.

From its modest start in 1978 providing enzymes for biotechnology research, the privately held company now employs some 1,300 including 700 at its headquarters in Madison and generates annual revenue of approximately $350 million. Yet, from the start, CEO Bill Linton has consistently worked to cultivate a sense of "life" at the life sciences business.

Nowhere is that more evident than in the recent opening of the Spring Art Showcase, a beautifully curated exhibition that runs through May 30 at the Promega BioPharmaceutical Technology Center, 5445 E. Cheryl Parkway. Free and open to the public, the showcase features the work of four artists — three from Wisconsin and one from Arizona.

The company's artist showcases, which typically include spring, summer and fall events, have been keeping Daniel Swadener busy since 1995. As curator through the years, he's watched the displays stir curiosity and stimulate conversation among scientists, artists, students and the general public. These are the effects he's been hired to achieve.

"There's no other place I've seen that has an environment as conducive as this one," Swadener says of the BioPharmaceutical center, which hosts scientific, educational and cultural programs and encourages greater understanding of the creative process. "It's all about art and creativity. Without creativity, scientists would never find anything new."

Swadener likens the effort of creating great art to the process of scientific discovery. In both cases, he notes, there are numerous opportunities for failure trumped by moments of exhilarating triumph.

"When you get past the rules you've been taught, and the skills you know you have, that's when you get goosebumps – when you've made the discovery," he says. "And then you look back and wonder why it didn't occur to you before'' yet a completely new path forward exists.

Featured artists in this spring's exhibition are:

* Oliverio Balcells, a photographer, painter, self-taught musician and scholar of ancient Mesoamerican cultures. A native of Guadalajara, Mexico and current Arizona resident, his bright, contemporary work drives away the end-of-winter blues with photographs and vibrant paintings featuring themes from his homeland.

* Terrence Coffman, an artist, author, musician/songwriter and internationally recognized leader in art education from the Milwaukee area. Be sure to visit his sweeping landscapes that appear completely at home on the BioPharmaceutical center's open and airy second floor.

* Tom Loeser, chairman of UW–Madison's Department of Art. Loeser's one-of-a-kind wooden objects include a series of stunning "sit-upons" ranging from ingeniously crafted benches and chairs to welcoming stoops that resemble inviting front porches. Check for signs – you'll want to touch and sit on the silky-smooth wood where allowed.

* Paul Nitsche, a Madison artist, explores the intersection of art and historical representations of the human body. His carved and veneered shadow boxes, bronze and limestone sculptures and mechanical paper doll automata challenge visitors with fine technique, yet often troubling themes of physical and psychological suffering.

While Promega represents an example of a New Economy company with a strong enough financial position to make an ongoing commitment to the arts, Swadener says the fine art market has stabilized in recent years, with quality works from talented artists available at prices affordable to individuals and small companies.

"The economic downturn was a weeding out process" in terms of overpriced work, Swadener says. "We're now seeing better quality work and prices that are back to a sustainable level."

The Spring Art Showcase runs through May 30 and welcomes visitors Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, visit www.promega-artshow.com.

-- Sereno is a former business editor of the Wisconsin State Journal who has written about new economy trends for various publications. Send email to sereno.jennifer@gmail.com.

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