Workplace Culture

Ask Not What Your Company Can Do for the Arts …

By Alex Parkinson, Emily Peck

Sep. 27, 2017

A new study reveals that over half of surveyed companies think the arts promote creative thinking and problem-solving. Moreover, any human resources professional worth their salt knows that a successful workplace stems in part from a thriving culture — something the arts epitomize like nothing else.arts and business

But the arts might soon receive a serious funding blow. In his upcoming 2018 budget, President Donald Trump calls for the elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts.

This proposed defunding heightens the importance of corporate support for the arts. More than ever, companies that want to stimulate creative thinking and innovation and develop and engage employees need to demonstrate the business case. As such, here are three ways companies can bring the arts to employees and reap the benefits.

  1. Use local arts partnerships to offer meaningful volunteer opportunities. Arts organizations typically work on a local rather than national level. It’s thus no surprise that nearly nine in 10 surveyed companies report that their arts contributions go mainly to local organizations.

These local engagements present an opportunity for more meaningful, ongoing collaboration between companies and arts organizations. With deeper partnerships, employees can hone their professional skills through capacity-building volunteering opportunities that excite and inspire them.

Consider a partnership in Louisville, Kentucky. Employees working in health care company Humana’s Digital Experience Center have helped create an app for the local organization, Fund for the Arts. The app promotes ongoing arts events in the region, and the collaboration has allowed employees to experience a unique project that exposed them to new challenges and experiences.

More meaningful volunteer opportunities with local arts organizations could also take the form of board service appointments. In such instances, employees help guide the strategy and operations of arts organizations, providing them with leadership development in an exciting setting. Regardless of the collaboration, having it be local will give employees an opportunity to work with arts organizations in important ways on a regular basis. And that ongoing engagement will go a long way toward making the arts part of their personal and professional development.

  1. Use your employees’ personal artistic endeavors to foster teambuilding. Everyone has an artistic sensibility; yours might just be hiding. Unearthing it among your employees can unite them in new ways around shared interests. This in turn fosters teambuilding and collaboration, all the while enhancing company culture by encouraging employees to succeed personally, as well as professionally. The challenge lies in finding opportunities to showcase employees’ creativity.

Case in point: Cardinal Health. George Barrett, Cardinal’s chairman and CEO, grew up singing and playing instruments and wanted to incorporate his love for the arts into the business. “At Cardinal Health, we strive to foster an environment where all employees feel they can express their truest and most creative self,” said Barrett.

The company has an employee chamber orchestra and jazz band, both of which perform at their corporate headquarters in Dublin, Ohio. The groups even take their show on the road to other venues in the state. Many employees also perform with the Harmony Project, a nonprofit organization in central Ohio that performs in underserved neighborhoods, public schools, housing facilities, prisons and communities around the globe. These experiences create employee connections, help employees form stronger bonds, and inspire a deeper connection to Cardinal Health and the local community.

  1. Use the arts to address diversity and inclusion goals. Today, just a third of companies use the arts to help achieve their diversity and inclusion goals. This is a missed opportunity. The arts have the unique capability to bring together people of different backgrounds and experiences.

As an example, Aetna recently partnered with the local Hartford, Connecticut, arts organization, TheaterWorks. Cast members of “Next to Normal” came to Aetna’s headquarters for a conversation with employees. They discussed major themes of the play — namely, “invisible disabilities” such as bipolar disorder and dyslexia. The head of behavioral health at Aetna moderated the conversation, which the company livestreamed to employees across the country.

Aetna used artists to more easily begin a dialogue around a sensitive topic that often goes unspoken in the workplace. At the same time, employees gained exposure to the cast and presentation of a Pulitzer Prize-winning play.

Talent executives face a daunting challenge: developing and retaining a top-ranked workforce. They need to use every tool at their disposal to meet this test. Increasing employees’ exposure to the arts can go a long way toward building a workplace culture that, among other things, encourages employees to develop their skills, collaborate with colleagues in new ways, and better understand others.

All are key ingredients to success.

Alex Parkinson is a senior researcher at The Conference Board Inc. Emily Peck is vice president of private sector initiatives at Americans for the Arts. They are the co-authors of “Business Contributions to the Arts: 2017 Edition.” Comment below or email

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