The Impact of the Arts in the Innovation Era

Posted by Ms. Stacy Lasner, Oct 22, 2015 0 comments

In 1883, John Michael Kohler, who was in the business of making cast iron farm implements and cemetery crosses, looked at a watering trough and realized he could add four ornamental feet to transform it into the company’s first bathtub. 120 years later, that same innovative spark is what turned a simple dorm room project into Facebook, a $200 billion company that changed the world and ignited a new era in entrepreneurial innovation.

In CPA and business advisory firm Plante Moran’s 2013 innovation survey, 94 percent of business leaders cited how innovation ties to sustainability and growth as a top organizational priority, up from 79 percent the previous year. Similarly, in Americans for the Arts’ 2013 Ready to Innovate study, 97 percent of employers agreed that creativity is of increasing importance in the workplace. 

Dr. Tina Seelig, director of the Stanford Technology Ventures Program (STVP), the entrepreneurship center at Stanford University's School of Engineering writes in her book inGenius: A Crash Course on Creativity (HarperOne, 2012) about the opportunity that comes with the ability to reframe problems in the workplace. “Being able to question and shift your frame of reference is an important key to enhancing your imagination because it reveals completely different insights,” she says. “The simple process of asking ‘why’ expands the landscape of solutions for a problem.”

Artists are experts in asking why. They invite us to see from a different perspective. That is why more and more businesses, including 2011 BCA Hall of Fame honoree Kohler Co., are bringing artists into the workplace – to collaborate with employees and help them to unlock their ability to think critically and creatively. 

Innovation Institute participants at McColl Center for Art + Innovation.













In Americans for the Arts’ new essay in The pARTnership Movement essay series, Foster Critical Thinking, we explore how Kohler Co. retains its innovative legacy in the 21st century through the company’s Arts/Industry residency program. By having employees work alongside artists, Kohler remains up-to-date on emerging artistic ideas that could play an influence on product design. According to one artist participating in the program, working with Kohler’s engineers allowed her to solve technical problems in the production of her tile art. Working in a factory and using industrial materials and processes forces the artists to think about big questions surrounding originality and mass production.

Another way that businesses can inspire innovation among employees is by partnering with nonprofits, such as IDEAS xLab, a Louisville-based artist-led innovation consulting company for corporations (like 2015 BCA 10 honoree GE’s FirstBuild) and global NGOs, and the Innovation Institute in Charlotte, North Carolina. The Innovation Institute pairs executives with professional artists and expert facilitators to help businesspeople unleash their own creative abilities and stimulate creativity in their companies.

“The culture of innovation across the globe is more robust than ever,” claimed Fast Company in the introduction to its 2014 World’s Most Innovative Companies list.  “We think that's worth celebrating.”

For more information about how companies are partnering with the arts to ignite innovation, read our essay, Foster Critical Thinking, and view other case studies on Also, check out the other essays in The pARTnership Movement essay series to learn how businesses are recruiting and retaining talent and putting themselves in the spotlight by partnering with the arts.

How are businesses in your community partnering with artists and nonprofit organizations to foster critical thinking among employees? We want to hear from you! Share your story with us via email at or on Twitter using #ArtsandBiz and tagging @Americans4Arts

This essay profiled in this blog is the third in a series of essays being published in conjunction with The pARTnership Movement. These case studies profile successful business-arts partnerships from across the nation and the benefits to those businesses by way of engaging employees, enhancing their brand, and building vibrant communities.

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