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Art at the Office: How Theater Companies are Transforming the Workforce

Posted by Jessica Gaines
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*Madison Cario, Georgia Tech’s Office of the Arts director, was walking across campus in the Spring of 2015 when she passed a career fair in progress.

 

After noticing how uncomfortable the students looked in their business suits and corporate attire, Cario’s mind flashed to Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo. The 40-year-old, all-male, contemporary ballet company — featuring men wearing makeup, tutus and wigs while dancing on pointe — was scheduled to perform at the Ferst Center in the coming weeks.

 

Who better, thought Cario, than performers who’d perfected the art of drag to teach millennials how to transition from uniforms of hoodies and flip-flops into young professionals whose wardrobes reflected their career aspirations.

 

One year later, a half-day seminar titled Drag 101 was offered in anticipation of Tech’s next career day. Brooklyn-based drag king Goldie Peacock, who has been performing and teaching the fundamentals of “power posing” for over a decade, was invited to lead the workshop.

 

GA Tech’s

Madison Cario

(Image courtesy

of GA Tech)

Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo

Goldie Peacock

 

“As with any performer,” says Cario, “students [preparing for job interviews] are not just putting on a suit. They have to put on a persona and adopt a personality. They must embody the confidence and poise needed to take up space in a room, and engage in conversation.”

 

The practice of nonartists turning to actors for guidance on how to adapt to unfamiliar situations and settings is not unprecedented.

 

The late-Margaret Thatcher worked with a tutor at London’s National Theatre to help lower the pitch of her voice after she decided to run for Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. By sounding more authoritative, she hoped to silence opponents who said, “Methinks the lady doth screech too much,” in response to the high, shrill tone that resulted whenever nervous energy strangled her vocal chords. Given the cognitive and emotional effects the voice has on listeners, and Thatcher’s subsequent victory at the polls, it can be argued that her lessons paid off.

 

The Alliance Theatre has institutionalized a program that teaches business clients how to apply the methodologies and mechanics of the theater to help improve presentation skills in corporate settings. The workshops, called Alliance@Work, are a natural evolution of the Alliance Arts for Learning Institute — a 20-year-old initiative designed to teach theater skills to general classroom educators to help engage students.

 

“The same skills that make for great acting also make for great presentations,” says Christopher Moses, the Dan Reardon director of education and associate artistic director of the Alliance’s education department. “People crave authenticity and connection, whether you are sitting around a boardroom table or auditioning as an actor. In order to connect with an audience, you must be yourself.”

 

Of course, being oneself does not come naturally once most people are out of their comfort zone. Stressors like having to impress the boss, making a sales pitch to a reluctant (if not hostile) audience or being required to address large gatherings only add to the tension.

 

“Most people would rather have [a] root canal than speak publicly, and most actors feel the same way,” says Tinashe Kajese-Bolden, an Alliance@Work coach and professional actress (Disgraced and Blues for an Alabama Sky at the Alliance, and HBO’s The Immortal Life of Henrrietta Lacks). “As kids, we’re fine speaking up without inhibition. But as society starts putting constraints on how we should look and behave, we will go to any length to avoid feeling vulnerable. We would rather have something unpleasant inflicted on us than be judged for making a mistake in public.”

 

Increasingly, corporations are placing a premium on hiring candidates who are better equipped as communicators, storytellers and collaborators. In other words, people with a high emotional intelligence quotient.

 

“The skills, which are pejoratively called ‘soft skills,’ are not taught on the job or at university,” says J. Noble, cofounder of Alliance@Work and communications specialist at the Alliance’s education department. “Some people are naturally inclined to be present, empathetic and self-aware, but the majority of us aren’t as much as we should be. And we’re not given opportunities to explore, rehearse and refine those characteristics.”

 

Borrowing from the actor’s tool box, accountants, scientists and bankers who enroll in classes can learn how to eliminate stage fright by taking deep, controlled breaths. They are encouraged to be mindful of body language, which can convey passivity and anxiety, or project self-confidence and what’s known as “executive presence.” Simulated group exercises help to highlight the unconscious, default setting participants tend to fall into when collaborating with others.

 

Atlanta-based companies including Chick-fil-A, Home Depot and TalentQuest have ongoing relationships with Alliance@Work — as do national clients like Adobe and Grant Thornton, a global public accounting and advisor services firm based in Chicago which has sent over 1,000 employees to participate in workshops since 2014.

 

“Soft skills can be the hardest to adapt and master, but they can be a game-changer,” says Julian Malnak, director of Leadership & Talent Management at Grant Thornton. “It used to be all about technical knowledge and prowess in our industry. But what matters is how people show up, their distinctive brand, and how they carry our culture.”

 

“People just want to see the truth,” says Kajese-Bolden. “Despite the onslaught of reality TV and social media profiles [which tend to be more grounded in fiction than fact], people can see past anything that is false, fake or put on.”

 

For Noble, a former director, mining the principles of authenticity, empathy and connection as an Alliance@Work coach is indistinguishable from his work with actors. “In both cases, the work is transformational,” he says. “I feel like I’m fulfilling the Alliance’s mission of expanding the hearts and minds of people on and off the stage — giving them new ways to think [thereby] making their lives, and the lives of their team’s and family’s, better in the process.”

 

*This article, written by Gail O’Neill, originally appeared on ArtsATL. Link to the original article is here and appears with permission from Executive Editor Laura Relyea.

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Vans and Americans for the Arts are Halo Award Finalists!

Posted by Stacy Lasner
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We are excited to share that Vans and Americans for the Arts have been named a finalist for the 2016 Halo Awards for the annual Vans Custom Culture arts education competition!

 

The Cause Marketing Halo Awards are North American cause marketing's highest honor and the subject of a special section in Adweek. Winners will be announced and awarded at the annual Cause Marketing Forum Conference in Chicago on June 2, 2016.

 

Created to inspire and empower high school students to embrace their creativity through art and design and to bring attention to diminishing arts education budgets, Custom Culture is a national high school customization competition through which art classes design blank Vans shoes around specific themes. The class submissions are narrowed down to the top 50 and the top 5, and the grand prize winning submission secures $50,000 for their school's art program. Since 2012, Americans for the Arts has worked alongside Vans as Custom Culture’s official national charity partner.

 

Registration for the 2016 Custom Culture competition closes February 12, 2016. Register your school here.

 

According to Americans for the Arts' Ready to Innovate report, 85 percent of business leaders say they cannot find the creative candidates they’re looking for. By cultivating the abililty to think creatively in the workplace, arts education is a pathway to career success. Vans also believes that arts education will help future proof their “Off the Wall” brand. By inspiring and perpetuating youth culture, Vans maintains a stable customer base and will be able to find talented designers to lead the brand into the future.

 

Learn more about how art education cultivates the ability to think creatively in the workplace.

 

Read about other businesses supporting arts education.

 

Does your business run an arts education program for youth? We want to hear from you! Tell us about it on Twitter using #ArtsandBiz or by emailing partnership@artsusa.org.

 

 

Facts from the Custom Culture website.

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Executive Perspectives of Arts Engagement and Workforce Skills

Posted by Stacy Lasner
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At a breakfast panel forum of business leaders held on October 8, 2015 at the Microsoft Conference Center in New York City, Theatre Forward—a national network of theatres, companies and funders supporting 19 of America’s leading nonprofit theatres—released findings from its commissioned survey, Unmasking Business Success, affecting both the business and arts sectors.


Unmasking Business Success measured the impact arts engagement has on the development of skills which executives believe are essential for success in a competitive global marketplace. Americans for the Arts partnered on this survey.


The survey, which was conducted by Shugoll Research (a two time BCA 10 honoree), included senior executives from 200 corporations, nonprofits, and government agencies. The results illustrate overwhelming consensus that young people entering today’s workforce lack strength in key areas which arts education could help to develop.

 

  • 92% of business executives feel young people are not well prepared to enter the workforce and be successful.
  • When directly asked (aided), nearly 58% agreed that participating in the arts developed essential workplace skills required for maintaining a competitive edge.
  • 89% responded they personally participated in the arts in some fashion, and a majority said the arts significantly contribute to their career success and the development of skill they use daily in their jobs.


As encouraging as the findings are for the arts community at large, other findings from the survey are more challenging. There is a disconnect in the minds of executives. Unprompted (unaided), only 8% made the direct connection between origins and affect.


The survey launch panelists included Joanna Coles, Editor-in-Chief of Cosmopolitan; Diane Paulus, Artistic Director of the American Repertory Theater; Luis Ubiñas, Advisor, Investor and Corporate Board Member; and the panel was moderated by James S. Turley, Chairman of Theatre Forward and the 2012 BCA Leadership Award honoree.

 

The panelists expressed that we are living in a new age of innovation where employees who can think creatively and communicate effectively are crucial to a business’s success. In addition to helping business leaders and hiring managers understand the value of employees with arts training, the panelists expressed the importance of ensuring equitable access to arts education for tomorrow’s business leaders. To ensure equitable access, the panelists suggested communicating data about the effect of the arts on hireability with government leaders and educators.


Read more about building an innovative workforce in The Conference Board and Americans for the Arts’ Ready to Innovate report.


Find more information about the impact of arts training for non-arts employees.
 

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Poets’ Precision Helps Future Physicians

Posted by Stacy Lasner
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Poets’ Precision Helps Future Physicians

In an essay published in July 2015’s Academic Medicine, Dr. Caroline Welbery and Dr. Rebecca McAteer of Georgetown University School of Medicine make a case for incorporating the arts into medical school curriculum. Their research suggests that exposure to the arts can provide valuable new perspectives for physicians-in-training. They have created 8 weeks of curriculum that they call an “arts observation seminar,” which includes instruction in poetry, photography, and descriptive writing.

 

“The literary and visual arts have long-standing and venerable roles in fortifying the lessons of clinical empathy, communication skills, critical thinking, and attention,” the doctors say. They claim that arts-based training can help future physicians keep an open mind, describe their observations with precision, and articulate their ideas effectively.

For example, the doctors suggest that the study of poetic precision “provides an educational bridge to recognizing the importance of detail in the clinical realm, where exactness is critical to providing safe, high-quality medical care. Reviewing examples of literary precision can help students learn how to avoid crude or sloppy descriptions, and how to analyze observations that lack appropriate nuance.”

 

As the Pacific Standard writes, “Wellbery and McAteer argue [that] arts training can help enormously in practicing focused attention, cultivating a habit of close observation, and staying aware of one's own biases. You can't properly diagnose what you don't really see, and when it comes to perceptiveness, there's nothing like a physician with a touch of the poet.”

 

Learn more about the benefits of arts education.
 

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"It Takes a Village..." Why Aetna Supports STEAM Education

Posted by Stacy Lasner
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"It Takes a Village..." Why Aetna Supports STEAM Education

On May 7, 2015, Americans for the Arts attended a STEAM Assembly in New York City hosted by VH1 Save the Music, a nonprofit organization dedicated to restoring music programs in America’s public schools and raising awareness about the importance of music as part of each child’s complete education. Panelists from the worlds of education, the arts, business, and media came together to share best practices, personal stories, research, and ideas on incorporating the arts into STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) based curriculum.

 

The panelists included Aetna’s Senior Director of Community Relations & Urban Marketing, Miguel Centeno, who explained that promoting “[STEAM education] takes a village, and businesses are an important part of that village.” He laid out three reasons why Aetna “fundamentally supports STEAM [over the STEM education model].”

 

  1. “We support the arts because it is a workforce development imperative."
  2. “We like to support things that we know work, because we like to make sure we’re making an impact with the investments that we’re making.”
  3. “We like to support things that are employees are interested in.”

 

Centeno explained that “Aetna is a STEAM company.” Their staff is comprised of medical clinicians, technologists, engineers, financial analysts, and also marketers, who he described as artists that are charged with creating an emotional response to affect decision making. In addition to hiring employees from each of the STEAM focus areas, Aetna also supports the arts internally through an employee jazz band and choir and through the Aetna Foundation's matched giving program. According to Centeno, last year Aetna employees volunteered over 420,000 hours in communities across the country and donated over $7 million to the organizations where they volunteer. The Aetna Foundation provided a partial match for those donations, which amounted to an additional $4 million in giving. “Many of the projects our employees themselves have selected are in STEAM,” he said. “We support [employee engagement with the arts] at every turn,” Centeno added, “because if we do that than we have a more satisfied employee. And a more satisfied employee is a more productive employee.”

 

“Aetna is no longer just a health insurance company" Centeno said. "It is a healthcare company that requires innovation and ingenuity in order to be successful." Aetna is helping to develop the next generation of innovators by supporting STEAM programs throughout the United States. One example of their efforts is a partnership with ArtsWestchester through which they have helped develop arts related projects, including a mural creation residency program. “We have seen time and again that [STEAM] results in higher test scores and lower drop-out rates, and the reason that that happens is because we are able to connect with that child on an emotional level,” Centeno explained.

 

Aetna is a 2011 recipient of the BCA 10: Best Businesses Partnering with the Arts in America. Additionally, Floyd W. Green III, the Vice President and Head of Community Relations and Urban Marketing at Aetna, sits on Americans for the Arts’ Board of Directors.

 

Watch a recording of the STEAM Assembly.

Learn more about STEAM education.

Read more about Aetna's partnership with the Center for Puppetry Arts.

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Einstein and Lovelace: Scientific Innovators Who Valued the Arts

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At the 2015 Annual Meeting of the Council on Foundations, Walter Isaacson, the Chair and CEO of the Aspen Institute, gave an opening address that highlighted several groundbreaking thinkers who valued the arts, including Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein, and Ada Lovelace (the daughter of Lord Byron, who is credited as the world’s first computer programmer).

 

About Albert Einstein, Isaacson said, “His success came from his imagination, rebellious spirit, and his willingness to question authority. These are things the humanities teach….He had an artist’s visual imagination. He could visualize how equations were reflected in realities. As he once declared, ‘Imagination is more important than knowledge.’”

 

About Ada Lovelace, Isaacson observed: “She was a romantic as well as a rationalist. The resulting combination produced in Ada a love for what she took to calling ‘poetical science,’ which linked her rebellious imagination to an enchantment with numbers… Ada’s great strength was her ability to appreciate the beauty of mathematics, something that eludes many people, including some who fancy themselves intellectual. She realized that math was a lovely language, one that describes the harmonies of the universe, and it could be poetic at times.”

 

“Human creativity involves values, aesthetic judgments, social emotions, personal consciousness, and yes, a moral sense.” Isaacson said. “These are what the arts and humanities teach us—and why those realms are as valuable to our education as science, technology, engineering, and math.”

 

How do the arts inspire your work? Tell us on Twitter using #ArtsandBiz.

 

Read more about Isaacson’s speech from this article in Nonprofit Quarterly.

 

Read more about Americans for the Arts' presence at the Council on Foundations Annual Meeting.

 

Photo of Walter Isaacson from Nonprofit Quarterly.

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Creative Kicks: Vans’ Custom Culture Competition for Teens

Posted by Stacy Lasner
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Creative Kicks: Vans’ Custom Culture Competition for Teens

If you’re passionate about the arts, why not show it on your feet? Vans’ Custom Culture Competition encourages high school art classes to lend their creative designs to four blank pairs of shoes for the chance to win $50,000 for their schools’ art program and have their shoes manufactured and sold nationwide.

 

According to the Custom Culture website, the contest was created to, “inspire and empower high school students to embrace their creativity through art and design, and to bring attention to diminishing arts education budgets.” In addition to providing $50,000 for the winning school, Vans will also donate proceeds from the sale of the shoes to Americans for the Arts and will provide $4,000 to each of the four runner-up schools.

 

In an article about Custom Culture in the Los Angeles Times, Americans for the Arts President and CEO Robert Lynch said, “Programs like Custom Culture play an important part in helping to bring more attention to the importance of the arts in high school curriculums. Together with key partners like Vans, we are working to raise awareness of the need for arts education in all of our nation’s schools; encourage high school students to embrace their creativity and the opportunities it can leverage; and inspire a new generation of innovative, forward focused youth.”

 

Photograph shows the shoe designs from 2014 Custom Culture winners Rio Rancho High School in New Mexico. Photo courtesy of Vans Custom Culture.

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How Majoring in Art History Helped Corporate Leaders

Posted by Stacy Lasner
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How Majoring in Art History Helped Corporate Leaders

Did you know that, “9 percent of the 100 richest people on the Forbes list studied arts in college — more than those who majored in economics (8 percent) and finance (3 percent)?” An article on The Daily Princetonian highlights several corporate leaders who found success in the corporate world by majoring in art history.

 

“’Majoring in art history allowed me to relate to and understand the psychology of the creative mind,’ says Sara Dennis ’87, who has been senior vice president at top fashion companies, including Lands’ End. Dennis has drawn from art history again and again, because ‘the beauty of the major is that the student can explore a plethora of topics, from science to politics.’”

 

With one in five American undergraduates majoring in business, those with art history degrees stood out from the crowd. Their arts degrees made them creative, culturally aware, and well-rounded employees at companies such as Guggenheim Partners, Meetup, Morgan Stanley, NBA Entertainment, and others.

 

To read their stories, visit The Daily Princetonian.

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Aetna’s Floyd Green: How Theater Honed His Business Acumen

Posted by Kellyn Lopes
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Americans for the Arts Board Member Floyd W. Green III is best known as the Corporate Vice President and Head of Community Relations and Urban Marketing at Aetna. He has, however, spent time out of the corporate office and on the stage. From German cabarets and Atlantic City nightclubs, to Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, Green immerses himself in the many facets of theater.

 

A recent article by Forefront Magazine interviews Green about how he’s used lessons from the theater world to enhance his skills as a business leader and manager. He says, “It’s like a ‘Night at the Improv.’ You’re in the moment when you’re in a sales call or meeting. It’s all in real time, and it’s just like doing improvisation. If you’re not present in the moment, you will not be genuine or authentic.”

 

At Aetna, Green advocates for the arts as a tool to improve people’s health and offers unique ways for employees to express their emotions through creative means. Aetna is a 2011 recipient of the BCA 10: Best Businesses Partnering with the Arts in America.

 

Read the full interview here.

 

ACC_Theater_D_e

Photo: courtesy of Forefront Magazine.

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Does Your Company Need An Artist? Chicago Booth School of Business Says: Yes!

Posted by Kellyn Lopes
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Creativity is among the top applied skills sought by employers. Ready to Innovate, a 2008 study by The Conference Board and Americans for the Arts, found that 72% of companies that give to the arts recognize that it stimulates creative thinking, problem solving, and team building.In the following video, Visiting Artist and Social Entrepreneur, John Michael Schert, joins Chicago Booth professors Harry Davis and Canice Prendergast to discuss the role of artists in inspiring corporate creativity. 

 

 

John Michael Shert, a professional dancer, co-founded Trey McIntyre Project (TMP) in 2004, serving as the Executive Director and a dancer for 9 years. He was appointed the first Visiting Artist and Social Entrepreneur at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business in 2013, focusing on how the skills and attributes of artists are relevant and valuable to other sectors.

 

For more information and examples of fostering corporate creativity and engaging employees through the arts, read the Success Stories of companies who have partnered with the arts, or check out our tool-kit on Bringing the Arts into the Workplace.

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