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Do Business Executives Believe Artistic Pursuits Add Value to Their Work?

Posted by John Bryan

Richard Florida’s The Rise of the Creative Class is now 11 years old, and the notion that left-brained corporate types can benefit from right-brained creative types is acknowledged as gospel.


Although Florida’s work has resulted in blue-chip value for “creative thinkers,” there is no empirical evidence to show whether business executives claim any workplace value for their own personal artistic pursuits.


Indeed, do the personal artistic pursuits of business workers add value to the corporate workplace? The exploration of this question is one line of research that has been spawned by a recent gathering in Virginia.


On November 27 in Richmond, President and CEO of The Conference Board Jonathan Spector and Americans for the Arts President and CEO Robert Lynch convened 16 corporate executives and 16 artists for an eight-hour “Creative Conversation”—a day of envisioning a new transaction model between business and arts. The forever-held model is straightforward: businesses give money to the arts so that the arts can enrich their communities.


Richmond’s event explored the possibility of an opposite transaction model. Can corporations benefit by reaching out to and engaging practicing artists? Participants included executives from Fortune 500 companies such as Altria, Dominion, and MeadWestvaco; leaders from service organizations such as J. Sergeant Reynolds Community College and Leadership Metro Richmond; and CEOs from specialty companies such as The Martin Agency and Richmond Times-Dispatch.

The artists ranged from a ballerina to an aerialist, muralist to conceptualist, actor to juggler, ceramicist to harpist, and orchestra conductor to metal band leader.

The day’s discussions resulted in three lines of new research that are commencing, one of which may answer the question about whether an artistic pursuit adds value to an executive’s role in the corporate workplace.


That specific research consists of a two-question survey for business executives.

First question: Does your life include an artistic pursuit? (Play guitar? Sing in a choir? Write poetry? Paint? etc.)


Second question: Does your artistic pursuit add value to your work? (More creative? More open to new ideas? More receptive to diversity? More energy? etc.?)


Richmond’s venerable Southeastern Institute of Research (whose work has produced such landmark results as the first bank credit card and the first stay-on tab for drink cans) helped design the survey’s questions and distribution methods.


The survey questions are being answered by three groups. One is Richmond’s Management Roundtable, a group of 73 CEOs of the city’s largest companies. Another is the 2,500-person business e-list of the Greater Richmond Chamber of Commerce. The third is the in-person business audiences who hear my presentations about the research. For example, next month I’ll present to the Richmond Association for Business Economics.


Last week I presented to South Richmond Rotary. The Rotarians completed the two-minute survey on the spot. 28 percent of the attendees answered YES to the question about having a personal artistic pursuit, and 100 percent  of those answered YES to it adding value to their workplace.


They gave a score from 1 (no value) to 5 (great value) for six different ways their artistic pursuit might add value to their work: positive energy, creativity, openness to new ideas, appreciation of diversity, respected for their own opinions and ideas, and respect for the opinions and ideas of others. None of the respondents gave a score less than 3 on any of the areas. Each of the six areas had an average score of at least 4.5.


The Conference Board says this is new research: determining whether business executives truly believe that their personal artistic pursuits add value to their work. Our Richmond research will be complete soon. Hopefully The Conference Board will be able to get business executives in other cities to follow suit.


Where might this lead? What if The Conference Board were to one day release nationwide research that confirms that having personal arts pursuits adds value to the work of corporate employees? How would that research affect the list of qualifications that corporations look for in prospective employees?


What would it mean regarding the desirability of artistic pursuits being included on resumes? What would it mean to our nation’s efforts in preparing tomorrow’s workforce? And what would it mean for the curricula of our school systems?


And what will it signify that this research will be produced and delivered not by us artists, but by what may be the world’s leading purveyor of business research and strategies: The Conference Board.


Richmond is an ideal city in which to initiate this research. We’re small enough (1.3 million in the Metropolitan Statistical Area) to have a community camaraderie that is embracing this research. We have a much-bigger-than-you’d-expect artistic community, powered by the 2,500-student Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts (ranked as the nation’s best public art school by U.S. News & World Report). Helping to further contribute to the artistic community, one third of those students stay in Richmond after graduation. We have a robust corporate community that includes the headquarters of 11 Fortune 1000 companies, six of which are Fortune 500 companies. And survey-wise we’re one of the nation’s top ten test markets.


What do you think of our efforts to date? Is there anything more you’d like to learn from a survey like this in your community?


*This article was originally posted on ARTSblog.

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