When I watched a PBS documentary about the Medici's role as the godfathers of the Renaissance, it occurred to me that wherever there is power, there is art, and wherever ever there is art, there is power. Think about it: kings, queens, emperors, titans, and popes throughout millennia have harnessed the power of the arts to influence others, promote ambition, and change public opinion. Moreover, art patronage is good public relations for rulers...and corporations.
Progressive Insurance is a company I admire for its vibrant art collection of world-class contemporary art. Progressive started their collection in the early 1970s, and it has become one of the largest and most respected contemporary art collections in the corporate world. Major artists include Richard Prince, Cindy Sherman, Kerry James Marshal, Kehinde Wiley and Shirin Neshat. (Artist links will take you to Widewalls auction results) These works are integral to advancing corporate culture by supporting creativity and promoting innovation and change.
Progressive seeks artists whose diversity of identity and communication reflect those of its employees. "Our art arouses our people to dialogue and debate. Progressive's collection can be described as compelling, visually unforgettable, innovative, rich in content, and critically representative of the times in which we live."
As Anurag Kulkarni, a Progressive analyst says, "You cannot be indifferent about art. You look at it, you like it, you hate it, but you cannot be indifferent to it and that's what art at Progressive does to you. I think what it does is it tells you a thousand different ways in which you can approach it that I would never think of."
Progressive is the only company I know of that uses art in such a holistic way. The collection is used as decor throughout the workplace, in communications such as their annual report, as a catalyst for employee engagement through their own curated art shows, and through arts-based learning programs to help employees:
- Understand diverse perspectives
- Empathize with other perspectives
- Better communicate ideas visually
- Use analogies and relations to see the big picture (strategic thinking)
- Inspire creativity
Can art really make you more creative?
In short, yes! New studies published by the Journal of Business Research (April 2018) on the inspirational power of arts on creativity, showed that individuals with a higher openness to aesthetic experiences felt more inspired in their daily lives, and in turn, performed better on creativity tasks. When they were given a painting to look at, before being tasked with creative problem solving, they performed better than individuals who were not shown any art.
Incredibly, simply recalling a personal experience of art generated greater inspiration and creativity compared to recalling typical daily life. Art appreciation extended to a business environment in the study, where it enhanced performance in product design, brand-naming, and problem solution generation.
- Collect art in your workplace and pick works that reflect your company's values and ethos. You don't want to be seen as bland and boring, do you?
- Anyone can collect art. The trick is to have a good eye and the right instincts. Herb and Dorothy Vogel, civil servants in New York City, amassed an incredible art collection over a half-century, by befriending young unknown artists such as Chuck Close in the 1960s, who later became titans in American contemporary art.
- Andrea Seehusen, founder, and CEO of International Arts Management in Munich, offers this advice: "I'd buy a big piece from an established artist that fits the spirit of the company, then smaller pieces from the same artist. Then choose a new artist who points to the future -- to where the company wants to be," If your budget is limited, consider starting with the works of newer, younger, less-established artists. If you don't feel confident about choosing art, ask a curator or reputable gallery to help you.
- Consider ways to use art to inspire employee engagement via corporate arts-based learning. The goal of arts-based learning is not to teach people to be artists but to create immersive learning experiences using artistic processes to help people gain new insights and perspectives about business challenges.
- Enhance your brand by commissioning art for specific projects or products, as Louis Vuitton has done, to attract a younger customer base.
- Elevate your public relations by sponsoring art events in your community and engaging new target audiences. Consider sponsoring an International Child Art Foundation program. The ICAF's key objectives are to cultivate children's imagination, reduce violence, and remediate suffering.