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Volume 24, Number 6 — June 2017

Marketing the Arts: The Little House That Could

Hillhouse Graphic Design in Kingsport, Tenn., is under the direction of Jane Hillhouse. A sample of the firm's work is shown.
Hillhouse Graphic Design in Kingsport, Tenn., is under the direction of Jane Hillhouse. A sample of the firm's work is shown.
Additional photos below »

(Hillhouse, That Is)

By ANGELA WAMPLER | A! MAGAZINE | May 25, 2010

"With our background of interest in the arts, community service, and tourism, it's only natural that nonprofit clients have been the foundation of our work," said Jane Hillhouse. "Our heart is here, and the work reflects our interest and involvement."

The longest "creative partnership" Hillhouse has developed has been with Jimmy Neil Smith, founder and president of the International Storytelling Center in Jonesborough, Tenn. Projects have included promotional materials, souvenir programs, books, magazines, and more.

Smith has dreamed a lot of dreams and seen many of them come to fruition. His vision (and today's reality) was to make his hometown of Jonesborough "the worldwide beacon for storytelling and the home of the global storytelling renaissance."

The National Storytelling Festival was founded in 1973, and the storytelling organization was created in 1975. By 1984 Smith had moved from being a board member to a full-time staff member. By 1985 they were seeking a full-time graphic designer.

"I had read in the newspaper about the Addy Award winners for that year. I noticed that Hillhouse Graphic Design won this award and that award, so I decided that Jane Hilllhouse was the designer we wanted. I called her and our relationship began then and continues today. I don't know how she's put up with me that long, because I'm the client from hell," Smith chuckled.

Since Smith appears to be a mild-mannered Southern gentleman, we asked him how he could possibly fit that description. He explained, "A vendor who's also a friend once called me that. I found that endearing — and hard to deny because I'm opinionated, a perfectionist, and a frequent procrastinator. How Jane handles that is a very precious thing that I hold great value in."

Smith may be all those things, but he said, "I'm also pretty loyal. When I find companies and individuals who are talented and committed, I stick with them. Sometimes you outgrow your partners, but that hasn't happened with Jane. She understands me and our organization. And she doesn't just work with me. She works for almost everyone, all our staff members. Each project has someone attached to it, whether it's marketing or the web or event planning, whether it's printing or electronic needs — Jane works with everyone in a very pleasant and efficient manner."

He continued, "I have never found price to be the most important thing. The most important things to me are loyalty, commitment and friendship. Of course, loyalty can't support low quality, but when you're satisfied with the creative partnership and you achieve loyalty and efficiency, you don't worry about the price. I'm not suggesting that Jane is high-priced. I'm just saying I'm not going to bid out graphic design when we have a relationship with Jane that's more like a partnership than a vendor relationship. Because she's been working with us for 26 years, she understands us as well or better than we do ourselves. She started out as a service provider but over the years has become our partner and a friend who works with us, advises us, and helps us when we're in need."

For nearly four decades, the storytelling renaissance that began in Jonesborough has grown internationally. When asked how marketing has changed for storytelling, Smith said, "The job has gotten monumental. The possibilities and opportunities for design and marketing have grown as our culture has expanded. Along with that, Jane has expanded in capacity and services. It's hard to find someone who has done everything: books, magazines, brochures, packaging, signage, electronic, etc. If she hasn't done it before, she is always eager to take on a new task. The combination of what's happening in our world and within Hillhouse Graphic Design has met the challenges of that new world and opportunities."

Other Partnerships

Hillhouse said, "Working with storytelling has given us some opportunities we wouldn't have had without that partnership. Their growth has helped us to grow."

In addition to her creative partnership with the storytelling world, Hillhouse — herself a musician — did graphic design for Symphony of the Mountains for 20 years. For Barter Theatre, Hillhouse worked on Esprit newsletters and the 75th anniversary book, created season brochures (1995-2007), and still does graphic design for The Barter Players. For the Bristol Public Library, Hillhouse commissioned bronze sculptures to recognize major donors and designed the "Key to Discovery" campaign including key-shaped library cards, outdoor signage, and promotional materials.

Hillhouse said, "People usually do things for fun, fame or fortune. Because of my team's interest in the arts, music and theatre, our work starts to roll into the fun part. We try to work with [arts-related] clients to create things to meet their goals and their budgets. Fame, for us, is exposure and networking, especially when we're involved in leadership and working with volunteers. That also helps grow our business. That's why we can give more time than expected to nonprofits. Many times we take projects further than they can afford to take it [as an "in kind" donation], advancing it to the level of quality we want to see, to promote our business as well."

Hillhouse added, "I have a personal interest in working with nonprofits and arts organizations because that's where my heart is and where I spend my free time. Because we understand music, theatre and storytelling, that gives us an understanding, an affinity for the subject matter, that results in being able to communicate more effectively with those entities."

Regarding pro bono work, Hillhouse noted, "We get more creative freedom if we're giving of ourselves and our time, which can produce a stronger product if the client is on board with that."

READ ON
Marketing the Arts: Meetings & Collaborations





The Barter Plyers brochure was one of their projects.


For the Bristol Public Library, Hillhouse commissioned bronze sculptures to recognize major donors and designed the "Key to Discovery" campaign.


Projects for the International Storytelling Center in Jonesborough, Tenn., have included promotional materials, souvenir programs, books, magazines, and more.