How Performance Art Turned Into a High-Concept Business

Jennifer Armburst's intuitive approach to creative consulting.

By Jonathan Frochtzwajg July 1, 2013 Published in the July 2013 issue of Portland Monthly

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Jennifer Armbrust at Nationale

Everyone wanted Jennifer Armbrust’s two cents. 

Like a postmodern Lucy from Peanuts, Armbrust set up shop at the East Burnside gallery Nationale, posting a sign in the window offering “Free Advice” on any problem. Creative friends asked the web developer/designer how to perfect their work. The lovelorn entrusted her with romantic puzzles. She conceived this whimsical input as performance art. “What makes it art is that element of risk,” Armbrust says, “and the potential of total failure.” But she eventually decided to make it something more. 

Armbrust recently spun her one-on-one improv into a higher-stakes venture: a new consulting firm, Armbrust & Co. For local coffee roaster Coava, she helped set strategy; for global publisher HarperCollins, she designed the website for Wildwood Chronicles, rock/art power couple Colin Meloy and Carson Ellis’s best sellers. Giving advice is now Armbrust’s job, but she continues her sessions at Nationale, where it all began back in 2010. On a recent afternoon, the 35-year-old with bright blue eyes awaited the day’s first advisee: me. 

I discovered Armbrust’s style to be intuitive to the point of mystical. (She offers “aura and chakra clearings” upon request.) “Advice is about being present,” she explains. “Whatever spark lights for me, I trust that’s the right information.” Sometimes revelations are very basic. “One guy felt like he was drinking too much juice,” she recalls. “I figured out he wasn’t feeding himself three meals a day. That session ended up being about making soup.”

In starting her business, Armbrust took advice she’s given others: double down on intuition; follow bliss. I nervously asked about a professional project I’d felt drawn toward but somehow not ready for. “You should do it,” she said. Though she grandly invoked Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces, she ultimately allowed that I—like most people—don’t really need swaying. Just telling.

 “Sometimes we need validation,” she said. “Every human knows what’s best for them. I don’t assume I know what’s right. I help people see what they can’t see for themselves.” 

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