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Local artist and entrepreneur creates metaphorical sculpture

by on May 03, 2018 2:12 PM

STATE COLLEGE — When Christian Baum was offered a stash of more than 30,000 Citizens Bank Penn State football buttons — those blue pins the bank distributes each week during football season featuring slogans about Penn State opponents — he didn’t think twice. He borrowed a truck and brought the whole stockpile home, with no idea just how he was going to make use of this sudden windfall. He just knew an opportunity would eventually arise.

Baum, 31, is good at recognizing opportunity where others might not see it. In 2010, a year after graduating from Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, Baum was tired of working construction in his native Lancaster while searching for a job in the art and design field, so he relocated to State College and joined with some friends to create New Leaf Initiative — an “innovation/community space” for entrepreneurial-minded individuals.

“We made it a place where people could share ideas, talk about opportunities and connect with like-minded people,” Baum said.

With support from the Knight Foundation and CBICC, New Leaf grew and eventually moved onto the third floor of the municipal building on Allen Street. It also served as a model to the university for how to run a startup incubator.

“New Leaf showed Penn State that there are entrepreneurial people here who want to work together in a space and get support,” he said. “That’s actually what led to them starting the LaunchBox, and then they spread that across the commonwealth.”

That’s the kind of influence Baum believes is important in order for communities to flourish and move in a positive direction.

“There is tremendous opportunity here to do good,” Baum said. “I’m trying to find ways to activate that, and to create a community of doers, of people who are curious.”

Creating a community of doers is the idea behind another concept Baum, along with his business partner, Spud Marshall, founded six years ago: the

“The is a 20-person boarding home on Nittany Avenue,” Baum said. “It’s a living, learning factory for students and young professionals. At its core it is a home for changemakers, meaning people who want to make a positive impact in the world. That always sounds very fluffy, but we try to make it not fluffy. We bring in guest speakers for dinners every week, we hold retreats and we coach them on what ‘changemaking’ means.”

While influencing positive change is very important to Baum, he is first and foremost an artist. He is a spatial designer who also designs everything from logos to websites, paints murals and illustrations, and does a lot of interactive corporate design work with large companies across the United States. Recently, he found himself so busy doing freelance work that he hadn’t had time to create his own art in a very long time.

Which brings us back to the buttons.

Some of those buttons were repurposed in 2017, when Baum served as campaign manager for mayoral candidate Michael Black and created campaign buttons from them. As a thank you for his help with the campaign, Black offered Baum floor space for any art project he wanted to submit for “GetExposed-2,” a showcase event for local artists hosted at Black’s Beaver Avenue photography studio, Black Sun.

“I only had a month to come up with something. I started brainstorming, and I thought, I’ve got all of these buttons and they have two sides — the blue side that everyone is used to seeing, and the back side with a pin that can prick you,” he said. “So, I thought, what if I did a larger-than-life sculpture of the Nittany Lion’s head? That would definitely get everyone’s attention. But, rather than using the blue side of the button, which is what everyone would expect, why not flip it? So it’s this almost-deity that we worship to some degree; it’s a protector, and it’s really cool. But at the same time, the pins are out as a metaphor, because loving it too much can almost cause us pain, based on some of the history here.”
This acknowledgment of the pros and cons of being so attached to a place and an icon is what led to the sculpture’s title, “Love Me, Bleed Blue,” he said.

“A lot of my work now is digital, so I was excited to push myself to do sculpture again. I built it in my garage, looking at pictures, bending wire, cutting wood. ... It took me about 40 hours and a couple hundred bucks in materials,” Baum said. “That was the first time in awhile that I just lost track of time while I was working. I worked on it until three or four in the morning every day for a week, and it felt so good.

“So I had this extreme deadline, I had the resources, I had this event where 350 to 400 people would see my work, and I got to create something with my hands again. It was a nice sum of opportunities.”

He ended up using fewer than 3,000 of the buttons in his stash, he said, which may lead to an opportunity to create more of these sculptures.

“Now I have a mold that I would tweak and clean up a little bit if I wanted to recreate this to make it a little more permanent. I’ve been waiting to see what the response would be first,” he said. “One of the first things that popped up was the possibility of renting it out for alumni events. Or, an alum might want one of these in their office lobby or something.”

One thing is clear: If an opportunity exists for someone to use his creation, you can bet Baum will find it.


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