Using the Arts to Engage Employees and Inspire Innovation



Employees are at the core of every company; their satisfaction and development are critical to its success. Using the arts, companies can generate innovative thinking among employees, ranging from creatives to scientists.

According to a 2019 Gallup report, engaged employees are more productive, more likely to stay at a workplace, and thus contribute to overall company profits. Engaging employees by leveraging arts-based strategies can help to creatively connect, reward and retain a workforce. In a recent Business Contributions to the Arts Survey, 59% of businesses said the arts increased employee creativity and growth. By integrating the arts into skill building and business development initiatives, companies can foster creativity and innovation within their staff, leading to new models, products, and ways of working. With strategic intent and consideration for business’ missions, companies can use the arts to realize goals around engagement and creative thinking.

Hallmark Cards Offers Days for Creative Renewal

In 2016, Hallmark Cards launched a program that would provide five days for creative employees to explore and deepen their creativity: #my5days. The desire to expand these employees’ skills was at the heart of the company’s purpose—as a business of storytellers, it sought to live true to its values and allow for employees to learn new skills, gain new perspectives, focus on craft, and find new ways to connect. Most importantly, employees were given opportunities to think differently and to bring that creative muscle into the workplace.

Through self-directed paths or guided workshops, employees collaborate with new colleagues and create new ideas. With the shift to a virtual workspace, these opportunities have gone online, with employees leading digital workshops for others and sharing experiences organized through a shared hashtag.

Since establishing #my5days, Hallmark has seen employee engagement scores increase 10% and creative productivity double, according to Creative Culture and Leadership Development Manager, Kristi Heeney-Janiak. With the success of this program, Hallmark is expanding opportunities to non-creative workers to encourage them to think differently. A new initiative, Imagine It, leverages the arts by embedding creative employees in the business side of its operations.

Beyond Hallmark, the company has inspired and partnered with other businesses like Starbucks to launch their own iteration. While companies that are not in the business of producing creative products may not understand how they will yield tangible outcomes, the program is ultimately about taking risks, getting messy, and bringing creative energy and processes into new spaces.

Nokia Bell Labs Integrates Artists to Humanize Technology and Innovation

As the research arm of Nokia, Bell Labs looks at the future of innovation—which it has found as the intersection of art and technology. Through the revamped Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T), artists collaborate with researchers for extended periods of time to deeply infuse their perspectives into the technology. Domhnaill Hernon, Head of E.A.T. acts as a mediator between artists and technologist, connecting how the two seemingly opposite fields can be bridged.

Hernon has seen that engineers and scientists are trained to think in reductionist, linear manners, while artists are more expansionist and non-linear. While these perspectives may seem incompatible, when scientists and artists come together, they can develop creative and human-centric technology and art.

One artist residency featured Lisa Park, who developed a cherry blossom tree that would light up when people in the room made physical contact. Her work made sensations of touch and humanity visible, which encouraged scientists to reframe their approach from “how to we increase from 4k to 8k?” to “how can we leverage technology to build better connections at a distance?”

With artists as collaborators, scientists can more easily center humanity within their work and the future of technology. Not only does this partnership encourage new framing, but it also results in differentiated technology development, ultimately setting the business apart.

Art as Connection

On an individual level, employees who have backgrounds in the arts can use that experience to build connections with colleagues and clients. There is a special bond created through the shared knowledge of creating or experiencing art—it creates a sense of community. By providing opportunities for employees to connect through a shared appreciation and background  of the arts, companies can improve recruiting and retention rates.

Among other transferable skills, business leaders with arts backgrounds bring a sense of continuous self-driven work. Through extensive training in the arts, they develop tenacity, idea-oriented thinking, and creativity. These leaders can also look at success through a more qualitative lens—music and art are about taking a piece and understanding it as deeply as one can.

Nicholas King, VP, Wealth Management at AllianceBernstein founded the After Arts Group to convene a community of business leaders with a background in the arts. He has seen numerous members at the top of their fields in medicine, entrepreneurship, and consulting credit the arts for giving them an edge. While having training in the arts by no means guarantees success in other fields, it certainly sets individuals apart and provides opportunities to demonstrate soft skills that one can only gain through an artistic practice.

These examples were shared at a new digital series for business leaders, Partnering Your Way to Success: The Arts as a Solution to Corporate Objectives. If you are a business leader interested in our series, please reach out to Danielle Iwata at [email protected]  

Many thanks to Krisi Heeney-Janiak of Hallmark Cards, Domhnaill Hernon of Nokia Bell Labs, and Nicholas King of AllianceBernstein and the After Arts Group. Both Hallmark and Nokia Bell Labs are past recipients of the Arts and Business Partnership Awards.

Two images stitched together diagonally of women painting on the ground.