Corporate Culture Goes Cultural (from The pARTnership Movement)

Posted by Jessica Stern, Aug 02, 2012 2 comments

Jessica Stern

I’m not going to lie, I really don’t know much about visual art. It’s embarrassing as an “arts” administrator because my brother is an accomplished artist, my mother is a wildly creative interior designer, and my father fashions some of the most impressive urban development project management documents around.

Now, I could tell you all about Romantic-era composers, and go on about West African beats and argue why their current grooves are an aural history lesson of the slave-trade and post-colonialism, but when it comes to visual art, I just really don’t know a lot.

What I do know is, 1) generally speaking, I like visual art a lot and 2) I love seeing art by people who don’t consider themselves professional artists.

Enter reason #17 or so why I love my job: The ongoing charge to recognize businesses that make a special effort to unleash the inner artist in their accountants, actuaries, techies, and administrators.

So, naturally I was overjoyed to receive an invite last month to attend the opening of The Standard’s 2nd Annual ARTS (Artists in Residence at The Standard) Show.

The Standard, a financial services company, is one of Portland’s largest private employers, with approximately 2,200 individuals working in the state. This 106-year-old Oregon-born company was founded originally as a life insurance company with a goal to “champion the needs of the local community.” That value of being a community champion still rings true and The Standard is continually recognized for its charitable work, in addition to being a great supporter of arts and culture.

Always on Business for Culture & the Arts’ (BCA) list of the Top Business Donors to the Arts, The Standard ranked as the #1 Business Donor to the Arts in 2010 in the Portland Metro Area and #2 in the state of Oregon. Last year, in BCA’s cumulative study of 10 years of data, The Standard ranked #6 in the state of Oregon (having contributed over $1.8 million to arts and culture in 10 years).

Whether it’s through volunteerism, employee team scavenger hunts or direct giving, in addition to insurance, this company does something exquisitely: they honor their employees.

But back to ARTS...I’m familiar with programs that other Business Committees for the Arts run in other cities like On My Own Time (Denver) and art@work (Kansas City), but I hadn’t realized that some companies take it upon themselves to highlight the artistic talents of their staff.

I wasn’t able to make last year’s ARTS opening event and so I didn’t have an expectation of what I would encounter in an insurance company’s employee-only art show. Imagine my delight when I got off the elevator and saw that this was not just a room blocked off for some drawings and paintings; The Standard dedicated an entire building floor to showcase the creative fruits of their staff!

A sample of the pieces created by employees of The Standard. (Photo by Liang Liang)

Once inside, I had to continually pick my jaw up from the floor. The employees of The Standard are TALENTED! Every medium was represented: painting, pen and ink, stained glass, quilting, beading and jewelry, photography, sculpture, you name it. I was especially delighted to see one of BCA’s Board Members showing off two exquisite oil paintings. I had no idea!

And therein lies the beauty of what The Standard has done for the second year in a row for their employees.

When you’re not a self-described artist, or you have a day job that maybe you love (maybe not?), often our time to create gets put into another box outside the workplace. That creativity tends to become part of our “other” self; separated from the time we spend in the “real world” doing “grown-up” things. By creating a space to showcase employee art, The Standard has bridged the gap between personal and professional in an inspiring way.

It takes our thinking from, “Oh, there’s Joe over there, he’s a claims analyst,” to “There’s Joe over there, he’s an analyst and also makes really interesting mix-media collages. I saw them at the employee art show last year.” We learn to appreciate our colleagues for all of themselves, not just the person we see at a desk for eight hours a day.

This experience of showing one’s art in the workplace gives employees an opportunity to open what is normally a very private part of their lives for their colleagues in order to appreciate one another’s talents.

It’s been proven that companies who blur that personal/professional line and focus on the whole self and well-being of their employees see greater productivity and less turnover. We also know intrinsically that corporate art collections make for visually stimulating work spaces, which also keep employees happy.

At a recent testimony before Portland City Council to refer a public funding measure for arts education and access to the ballot, a gentleman implored City Commissioners to imagine Council Chambers without the paintings and sculptures that enhanced the space. He encouraged them to imagine their difficult jobs without that creative inspiration.

This was a poignant moment, and one that I think about when visiting businesses. I realize how much more uplifted I am when I’m surrounded by beautiful or challenging art, even though I don’t know much about technique or the great artists that came before to inform a certain style. I appreciate the companies who provide stimulating surroundings for their employees and think about how much more pleasant a workplace it must be.

That The Standard opened its walls to its own employees not only tells me their corporate culture is one that wants to keep people happy, it tells me that they know creativity and appreciation for a colleague’s work will continually boost company spirits, encourage people to know one another a little better, and appreciate the multi-faceted lives we all live.

It tells me that by using art as a means for connection, we infuse our daily surroundings with inspiration that can only inform and encourage progress in the daily cycle of business and work.

This post 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. Visit our website to find out how both businesses and local arts agencies can get involved!

2 responses for Corporate Culture Goes Cultural (from The pARTnership Movement)


Greg Burbidge says
August 02, 2012 at 10:25 am

Great post! I'd really like to meet Joe: “Oh, there’s Joe over there, he’s a claims analyst,” to “There’s Joe over there, he’s an analyst and also makes really interesting mix-media collages. I saw them at the employee art show last year.”

Thanks for the contribution. I'm going to send this along to some folks in Atlanta.

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August 02, 2012 at 5:04 pm

I am so happy to have these articles (pARTnership Movement posts) at my fingertips to share along many lines! I am trying to initiate a movement toward the arts for economic advancement in my community and they are great ammunition!
Thank you for all your efforts!

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