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Employers and the Arts

It’s no secret that creativity and innovation are highly valued commodities in industries such as advertising and software development. As a result, companies in these fields have developed a number of practices designed to maximize the creative output of their employees. For those of us who work in the arts, it should come as no surprise that corporations in these sectors turn to art as one means of inspiring their employees and that artist in residence programs are often seen as means of bringing the creative energy of artists into corporate headquarters. However, I was intrigued to find that some major employers in sectors such as retail, in which the value of employees’ creativity is less obvious, appear to be getting in on the act.

Photo credit: XiXinXing / Envato Market

Recently, I came across a special issue of a magazine that a “big box”discount retailer produces for its employees, in which the company celebrated the creative talents of a handful of individual employees: a visual artist who works as a janitor at one of the stores, an accounting associate who also works a music therapist, and a sales clerk who is a published novelist. The magazine also reports on the annual company-wide talent contest, and there is mention of the company’s choir. Is this a case in which the arts are being grossly appropriated for the purpose of boosting workforce morale and increasing the company’s bottom line? Absolutely! But it also suggests that the company’s executives believe that their employees benefit from arts in some way (which in turn benefits the company) and that such activities are worth celebrating and supporting.

Americans for the Arts has recently released a series of essays addressing why businesses might want to integrate the arts in their workplaces. One article cites research on the importance of employee engagement in reducing staff turnover and increasing productivity, and maintains that arts programs can keep employees engaged. Another argues that involvement in the arts increases critical thinking skills and leads to more creative problem solving.

Understanding the relationship between employees’ arts participation and their working lives seems particularly pertinent to me, since lack of time is the most common reason people cite for not attending the arts more frequently. Like it or not, our bosses control a significant portion of our waking hours, and if you consider programs like employer-supported sports leagues, volunteerism, and gym memberships, it’s clear that they also have some influence over our leisure time. If employers recognize the arts as something that is vital in the lives of their employees — either because it increases productivity or because it provides necessary balance — it could go a long way towards changing whether workers think about the arts as an indulgence or a worthwhile investment of their time.

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