What do you want to be when you grow up? People rarely know. But imagine if, one day, you walked into a room not knowing, and walked out certain. That’s exactly what happened to Caitlin Bowron, Coca-Cola’s art curator.
Caitlin grew up with a passion for the arts. “My mum is a musician, so being in an artistic household was definitely part of my upbringing,” she said.
When time came to choose what to study, Caitlin chose a music degree. She knew she didn’t want to be a musician. Her music professor suggested a career in music librarianship, a balance between Caitlin’s skills of organisation and creativity, and so she applied for a Masters degree in Library and Information sciences and got a job as an archivist while studying.
It was a conference Caitlin attended with friends that changed everything. “I walk in and sit down and there's the head archivist and manager of archives at Coca-Cola and they start talking about their archives and the brand’s heritage,” Caitlin said. “I had no idea that was actually a job and at the end they said, ‘And we also offer a summer internship for Coke archives.’"
Caitlin applied for the internship, and the rest, as they say, is history. Once she graduated she got a role as a project archivist.
“That's really where I began to understand the magnitude of art at the Coca-Cola Company,” Caitlin said.
“It's a united brand and it's the same across the world, it's a part of our experience as humans. Everybody has a Coca-Cola story, everybody remembers wanting and drinking it as a kid. It’s so nostalgic. It’s a part of our everyday lives and that makes it relevant.”
“It was a very exciting time because it was coming up to the 100th anniversary of the contour bottle. So the archives department was acquiring all of this pop art for this huge worldwide tour. It was just really eye-opening to see these uncommissioned artists who just looked at Coca-Cola and the bottle as icons to feature in their own art,” Caitlin said.
With two art collections at Coca-Cola, the archives collection contains branded artwork from the likes of Norman Rockwell and Andy Warhol. Caitlin manages the second collection, the Fine Arts department. The department was created in the 1980s and has more than 2000 pieces of art.
“There’s some Andy Warhol pieces in the collection that are so cherished and several Picasso pieces I have loved working with. We also have a lot of Southern American photographers that were real trailblazers in the black and white photography world. Jack Leigh and William Christenberry are two of my personal favourites,” Caitlin said.
Part of Caitlin’s job is to create new exhibits from both collections.
“For October, which is GLAAD Spirit Day, a big LGBTQI event in the States, we did this wonderful storytelling about Andy Warhol and his significance to the LGBTQI community. So, that's really the important part of the exhibits,” she said. “We’re not putting something up on the walls just to put it up.”
Black History Month served as the theme this past February, with Caitlin and her team creating an entire exhibit around historical trailblazers.
“We brought out these wonderful pieces we have in our collection by Kadir Nelson, a young African-American artist. Then we told these three stories that are really important to Coke history about people in the African-American community, that really effected change in our company,” Caitlin said.
Even if there’s no particular theme for the exhibits Caitlin still updates the walls of the Coca-Cola offices regularly to inspire employees as they head into work.
“By seeing something new on your floor or finding a piece of art that you really like or that makes you smile, that adds such an important part of the experience at work that I think that no matter where we go there's something irreplaceable about it,” Caitlin said.