Artwork combined with aviation. Drawings dotted through department stores. Dry cleaners volunteering to help with theater costumes. These were just a few examples of how businesses can support the arts mentioned at From Day One’s conference in Dallas. Responding to the question, “Why should business support the arts?”, a panel of experts explored not only how companies can help artistic endeavors but also how creativity can enrich corporate culture and communication, enhance the experience of clients and customers, and give back to communities.
“I think that the business support for the arts, in general, is strong, and the reason that we think it’s strong is because every five years, we do a study with Americans for the Arts, our national arts advocacy organization,” said Katherine Wagner, CEO of Business Council for the Arts in Dallas.
She continued: “The most recent study showed that the economic impact of nonprofit arts and culture organizations had grown three-fold since 2010–so that’s $1.5 billion of economic impact a year. That would not happen without business support for the arts. Business is, really, our major patron. It’s not the Renaissance; we don’t have kings that are big patrons.”
The value, panelists said, is undeniably multi-fold. “It allows folks from across work groups that wouldn’t necessarily get a chance to even meet each other, let alone work together, to come together for a common goal, a common program,” said Sean Gaven, senior vice president of lending, analytics, payments and digital strategy at American Airlines Federal Credit Union, whose parent company has made a strong commitment to the arts, notably on display in the company’s new headquarters in Fort Worth.
He and other panelists discussed the benefits to employee morale of everything from sculptures and artwork in work spaces to employee art contests.
When art is incorporated in some way at American–in a plane, an airport, a break room or a maintenance facility–it “has allowed our team members to be much more engaged in what they do. It elevates kind of the mind and body and spirit,” he said.
“You can step away from your desk and go someplace, either outside or within the building, and relax in a very friendly, warm location to either focus on work or take a quite break from work,” Gaven said during the panel discussion, which was moderated by Philip Silvestri, president and publisher of Local Profile.
Gaven added: “You walk into these areas, and immediately you’re drawn to look at the ceiling. You’re drawn to look at this amazing artwork, be it in an Admirals Club or in one of our workplace facilities. It makes employees happy; it makes a lot of our customers happy to see that type of art infused … into everything we do.”
That sentiment about customer appreciation was echoed by Mimi Crume Sterling, vice president of corporate culture and philanthropy for the Neiman Marcus Group. She explained that incorporation of art “stems from the DNA at Neiman Marcus, having been focused on fashion and art since Day One.”
The department store, she said, has “a very robust art collection which has over 2,500 pieces of art spread across our offices and stores.”
Sterling added: “The idea that [founder] Stanley Marcus had was that you need things to look at when you’re shopping. You can’t just shop, shop, shop … The art is a place for your eye to rest–so similar to restaurants in our stores, where you can rest and recuperate and re-energize yourself … If you have beautiful art to look at, that enhances the shopping experience.”
But when it comes to collaborations between arts organizations and business, explained Wagner, sometimes both sides need to think smaller to have broader local impact. Huge corporations like American Airlines and Neiman Marcus have deep pockets and name recognition, but nonprofits can still seek out meaningful partnerships on a more local scale.
“Nonprofit arts organizations, a lot of times what they look for, when they’re wanting funding … they think Toyota, they think big companies,” Wagner said. “They don’t think about mid [-size] and small businesses. But they are a really good place to get support and volunteers and services. Usually the owner is on premises, not in the headquarters in another city. Small and medium businesses tend to give what they have, what their actual industry is.”
“Dallas Children’s Theater, if you’re familiar with it, they make all of their own costumes,” she said. “And to have another stream of revenue, they wanted to lease out all their costumes–but you can’t lease out costumes without having them dry cleaned.
“So Avon Cleaners stepped up and said: ‘We will take that on for you in perpetuity. We’ll make sure that those costumes you create are dry cleaned so that you can lease them out to other theater groups and ensure ongoing revenue.’”
“So that’s a great example of what small businesses can do–or just donating services, donating knowledge,” said Wagner. Quoting a friend, she added: “There’s nothing that a business has that a non-profit arts organization can’t use.”
Wagner added a pitch for even more business support for the arts: “I think it’s strong, but it could be so much stronger … What we found is that, a lot of times, there could be a lot of people in a company that engage in the arts, that love the arts, that want to support more as a company. But if the business leader doesn’t see the value in it, it’s really hard to make that happen.”
Sheila Flynn is a New York-based journalist who has written for DailyMail.com, the Irish Daily Mail, and the Associated Press. She is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame