Mary Fitzgerald’s, ‘Halflife’ installation, Green on Red Gallery, Dublin
Carol Bellamy examines the benefits for artists and employees when corporates create stimulating and artistically engaging work environments.
Why do corporates collect art? Traditionally the answer to that question would have been decoration, status symbol and investment. Today, the reasons for corporate art collecting are much more complex and motivated by issues such as corporate social responsibility (CSR) and staff morale in the workplace.
Art as an investment continues to be a happy coincidence of corporate collecting mainly due to the use of emerging artists whose work will likely increase in value, combined with a flexible amount of time in which to see a return.
In our more politically correct society however, the idea of status symbols are way down the list, and instead of trying to find the ‘next big thing’ companies are now taking a wider approach when calculating the investment potential in the collection or sponsorship of art in terms of brand recognition, public perception and staff morale.
Recognising that interest in art and culture now crosses all divides, companies are honing in on the ‘culture is cool’ phenomenon and looking at the best ways to engage with the various art institutions.
For example, the RHA, one of Ireland’s principle public art galleries cites an increase in visitor numbers over the last five years of between 15%-20%. With this increase comes a notably younger, culturally interested audience. The gallery offers numerous sponsorship opportunities which carry branding of the title sponsorship and a dedicated press release to include brand logo along with targeted communications to its database and across its social media platforms.
The in-house approach to art collecting has also evolved and is now influenced by results from the many studies undertaken that show the positive effects of art in the workplace.
Results find that not only does art make the workplace more welcoming, but the brains reaction to art also stimulates creativity. It has also been found that employees feel more valued by an employer who implements an art collection for their enjoyment resulting in positive morale and a more productive working relationship, all culminating in successful business.
SUPPORTING THE ARTS
Responding to these findings, companies are now displaying art once reserved for the boardrooms in the communal open plan office spaces that make up the majority of our corporate landscape. Through the selection of local artists in this practice, a company can also tick the CSR box, by providing financial support and exposure to emerging or mid-career artists.
Celtic Realm a monumental sculpture by the Irish artist John Behan, now located at Allianz House, Elm Park, is a positive example of the importance of CSR in the arts. This sizeable commission in the late 70s was welcomed by Behan, an emerging artist at that time. Following a recent restoration this piece continues to be a subject for enjoyment and discussion among staff some 30 years later and a talking point for overseas visitors drawn to the Celtic symbolism. Behan is now a sculptor of international acclaim with visitors to The United Nations in New York greeted by his 11 tonne ‘Arrival’ ship commissioned by the Irish Government in 2000 and gifted to the UN.
When embarking on an art collection, the tradition in the past has been to engage an arts advisor, agree a budget and let them decide the direction of the collection. The use of an arts advisor is still good practice. Established relationships with galleries who have a strong track record ensures you will benefit from their advice and direction, however if a company wants to implement a staff considered CSR collection they must collaborate with their advisor taking into account the staff demographic and working environment.
Companies are now displaying art once reserved for the boardrooms in the communal open plan office spaces
When aiming to stimulate and enhance the workplace, what styles of art do you use and where? Why not ask the people who are going to benefit from it. Present employees with a selection of images and record what the response it. This approach has many positives including a feeling of self-worth and inclusion. An interesting fact about art is that ‘everyone has an opinion’ positive or negative, art evokes a response that can be verbalised, and therefore a study like this can be a valuable project.
Something else worth considering during this practice is the inclusion of images depicting local or easily recognised landmarks. We all immediately react and identify with familiar images and photography is the perfect medium to use in this instance.
As an art form, this genre is enjoying a huge surge in popularity with the inclusion of specialist sales by the world’s major auction houses. Many contemporary artists include photography in their body of work and this year’s annual RHA exhibition dedicated the entire Tony Ryan Gallery for the display of current works in this medium.
The limited wall space in our current office design – where glass walls and partitions dominate – is an ideal opportunity for forward thinking companies to combine modern technology and consider mobile art such as video and new media for communal areas such as receptions and canteens.
In a world dominated by media technology, these installations provoke immediate reaction in the workplace sparking interaction and conversation among viewers which is in direct contrast to the excluding practice of social media surfing which is the current visual of choice during a break in work.
With the correct practice, new media in the workplace can be programmed to display time appropriate images, in response for example to the post lunch afternoon lull. Subtle changes in lighting, subject and content can all be utilised to create a favourable work atmosphere.
The opportunity to create a memorable impression on clients and visitors is also not to be overlooked. Surrounding landscape and reception areas are now home to large sculptural pieces that make an immediate impact and through the use of media can very often become be the image people recall on hearing the company name. One iconic piece that fits the bill is the ‘Crann an Oir’ (Tree of Gold), by Eamonn O’Doherty, clearly identified with the Central Bank of Ireland.
Whatever the medium, traditional art, sculpture, photography or new media, the benefits of today’s corporate art collection have far-reaching implications, and it would be imprudent to ignore them.