Or, How We Came to Love Designing for the Performing Arts
As of 2023, Curio Studio has been around for 20 years. But it is no exaggeration to say that we might never have made it past year one if not for our clients working in the performing arts.
“Northern Light Theatre was my first ‘big-time’ client when I was starting out,” said Curio Creative Director Amanda Schutz. “And I was so intimidated by them when we first met! I honestly didn’t know if I could convince them to trust me with their creative.”
Luckily, NLT did end up trusting Amanda, and working closely with them for years, Curio developed a real taste for designing for the performing arts.
To date, we’ve created thematic visual identities for many seasons of NLT, Brian Webb Dance Company, and the Edmonton Chamber Music Society. We’ve designed for venues and festivals populated by Street Performers, Byzantines, Jazzbos, and Folkies. And all the while, we learned to adapt our skills and our schedules to the specific needs of these clients.
“The arts is something of a niche market, and I don’t think it’s necessarily a fit for many design agencies,” explains Amanda. “The work can be demanding and sometimes unpredictable, but our designers are all artists, too. So we understand artists, and vice-versa.”
According to Amanda, doing creative work for other creative people allows the Curio team to be more, well, creative.
“Whether it’s dance or drama or music, every performance is a unique artistic expression,” says Amanda. “So every design, in turn, should also defy uniformity.”
The challenge for the Curio design team, then, is to constantly reinvent the visual languages we use to for an artistic performance. Curio’s “small by choice” dynamic allows us to rise to that creative challenge.
Says Amanda: “Our team is three designers strong; we are all illustrators, and we each work in a variety of styles. So we can sketch out ideas, pick out the best of them, and refine them together, so that every design product that comes out of Curio is more than the sum of its designers.”
Working with other creative people, she says, means that client and designer are speaking the same language—there is a mutual respect for craft and talent, and there’s a capacity for adventure that some other clients can’t allow.
Like a good design team, many people in the performing arts are often required to adapt to unforeseens. This was particularly obvious during the COVID pandemic, when our clients in the performing arts were challenged to apply their ‘show-must-go-on’ ethos to a reality of prohibition on public gatherings.
Throughout periods of uncertainty, lockdowns, and Best-Summers-Ever, the designers at Curio did their best to weather the unpredictable waves.
“The adaptability of our performing arts clients was absolutely inspirational,” recalls Amanda. “Venues moved outdoors, accommodations were made to keep the audience socially-distanced, and performances took place online with very little time to prepare. So we moved as fast as we could to accommodate changing plans, new messaging, and wacky timelines.”
“We even started putting QR Codes on everything, in direct defiance of our every designerly instinct.”
In spite of the confusion, strain, and stress it brought to our team and our clients, the pandemic was, for Curio, an affirmation of dedication to our performing arts clients.
“COVID forced us all to evaluate our work lives and our relationships,” says Amanda. “And we realized that, although ‘square’ work might be more dependable or profitable, we are most invested in the clients who breathe joy and excitement into our lives. And I think that’s the right word: I feel invested in the Performing Arts even more today than I have over the past twenty years.”
This post was last updated on March 29, 2023 by Matt Steringa