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Art-Making by Corporate Executives

Posted by John Bryan
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How many of Richmond’s corporate executives make art in their spare time? What percentage paint landscapes or play in a band or write poetry? Are their artistic pursuits of any real value to their companies? Does the fact that a corporate executive creates sculpture affect the bottom line of that corporation? A new survey of 271 Richmond, VA executives offers some answers.

 

First the context. The 2004 publication of Richard Florida’s The Rise of the Creative Class ushered in a pervasive corporate understanding of the value of “creativity” to corporate success – to a company’s bottom line. Creativity has become an essential theme in corporate strategy sessions, team-building exercises, and leadership training.

 

But there is an ingredient that is sometimes absent from conversations and research concerning creativity in the corporate workplace: art-making. While the corporate world values “creativity” as an important attribute for its executives to have, “art maker” may not be considered as a similarly important attribute. But while creativity is an attribute that is subjective and hard to identify, art maker is an objective attribute that is easily identified.

 

During the first half of 2013 CultureWorks administered a two-question survey that was completed by 271 Richmond corporate executives including some of the region’s topmost executives, members of the Greater Richmond Chamber, members of Rotary, and members of the Richmond Association for Business Economics.

 

QUESTION ONE: Do you currently make art? (Do you write poetry, sing in a band, paint, etc.) If the answer is No, you have finished the survey. If Yes, proceed to the second question. QUESTION TWO: Does the fact that you make art contribute to the bottom line of your company?

 

QUESTION TWO has six parts. Does the fact that you make art affect your job performance in any of the following six ways:

 

1) Give you positive energy?

2) Enable you to be more creative?

3) Make you more open to new ideas?

4) Cause you to give more respect to the ideas of others?

5) Cause you to have a greater appreciation for diversity?

6) Cause others to give more respect to your point of view?

 

Respondents rated these six parts by giving each a score from 1 to 5. A score of 1 means: “The fact that I [play in a band] is great, but it really doesn’t have any noticeable impact on this aspect of my work for my company.” A score of 5 means: “The fact that I [write poetry] has had an overwhelming and noticeable positive impact on this aspect of my work.”

 

Two thirds of the executives responded that they don’t make art. Among the one third who do make art, their scores on each of the six areas averaged four or higher. Thus this survey’s results are strongly one-sided: Richmond region business executives who currently make art say that that aspect of their lives has a highly positive impact on their performance in the workplace.

 

This research begs some questions that may be important. Should corporate executives that don’t currently make art enroll in screenprint classes at the Visual Arts Center of Richmond or start singing with One Voice Chorus? Would all employees everywhere – not just corporate executives – do a better job for their companies if they were to start making clay pots or playing the violin? Does the research imply that if there are two otherwise equal job applicants, the one who plays guitar or creates etchings would be better?

 

Does it mean that companies, when hiring employees, should show favoritism to resumes that include art-making? And does that mean that as we prepare the workforce for the future we should stress the importance of having an art-making pursuit? Does it mean that our school systems should assure that students acquire art-making abilities so they will be of maximum value to their future employers?

 

Will all of this assure even better bottom lines for the corporate sector? And will this result in an ever stronger economy that makes for better communities and brighter lives?

The specific research discussed in this article was suggested to me by Jonathan Spector, president and ceo of The Conference Board, during his November 2012 visit to Richmond. I appreciate assistance on important steps of the research from John Martin at Southern Institute of Research and Brock Vaughn at Capital One.

 

POSTSCRIPT: The national headquarters for Hohner is here in Richmond, VA. I recently told Hohner’s head of marketing about this research. I asked this question: “If I were to find a group of corporate folks who don’t make art and who are willing to gain an art-making ability, would Hohner be willing to teach them how to play the harmonica?” Hohner would of course love for there to be a research project that shows that corporate executives who learn to play the harmonica become even more valuable to their companies. Matthew Budman, Editor-in-Chief of The Conference Board Review, told me that such research would attract his publication’s interest.

 

Contact me if you are a candidate.

 

(This post, originally published in the Richmond Times-Dispatch is one in a weekly series highlighting The pARTnership Movement, Americans for the Arts’ campaign to reach business leaders with the message that partnering with the arts can build their competitive advantage.)

 

*This article was posted on ARTSblog.

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