Make Art An Inside Job

As an author I have the opportunity to connect and work with other authors. I wanted to share an excerpt from Ritch Eich’s latest book, Leadership CPR. He has written four books on Leadership and he has always been a big supporter and advocate for the arts. Ritch often writes about the connection between the arts and the business, which is vital to understand as schools continue to cut arts programming. Read what he has to say about the value of bringing the arts into the workplace.

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Written by Ritch K. Eich, leadership expert and author of four books on leadership.

The arts have long been recognized for their power to heal and keep the mental clouds at bay, and they may provide just the break your team members need to clear their minds of the sometimes suffocating strategic, financial, and operational demands of organizational life. A 2016 study published in the journal Art Therapy showed that after just forty-five minutes of free-form art without instruction, nearly 75 percent of the participants had lower cortisol levels, often referred to as the stress hormone.

Art is more than aesthetic. It has a positive—and powerful— physiological impact on the brain. Fine and performing arts have been used in health-care programs around the world to help reduce blood pressure while improving patients’ focus as well as their outlook on their jobs and on life in general.

The arts may provide the break your team members need to clear their minds of the sometimes suffocating strategic, financial, and operational demands of organizational life.

Bringing art into the workplace is one way an organization’s leadership can improve the well-being of an entire organization. Art stimulates creativity and thoughtful observation. It can combat tunnel vision in the decision-making process and, importantly, help make a sterile work environment feel more inspiring. Clients of your business may also react positively to thoughtfully displayed artworks, and this benefit might just improve the health and success of your business.

Steelcase, the global leader in office furniture, has long understood the interrelationships between art forms, design, functionality, creativity, and workplace efficiency. If you want to see one of the most effective blends of art, architecture, and business success, visit the Steelcase corporate headquarters in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The entire business environment delights the senses. Robert Pew, the former board chairman of Steelcase, felt so strongly about the impact of art that, during the construction of Steelcase’s new corporate headquarters in the 1980s, he oversaw the acquisition of hundreds of pieces of art that were integrated into the building’s design.

The works, including those of James Rosati, Dale Chihuly, and Andy Warhol, remain at the organization and are exhibited in the company’s offices around the globe.

This is no big shock, considering that Pew and his partner, Frank Merlotti Sr., the former president and CEO, were leaders who believed in—and practiced—the ideals of humility, generosity to employees, and cooperation, while delivering quality and value to customers.

Amazon has also started to transform their workspaces in order to provide unique workspaces for their employees, which they hope will inspire creativity and innovation. After nearly six years, they have built a forest as part of their Seattle headquarters, complete with a bird’s nest, more than 400 species of tropical plants, and a cascading waterfall. When asked to describe the decision to build this alternative workspace, Amazon’s vice president said, “We asked ourselves what was missing from the modern office, and we discovered that that missing element was a link to nature.” This space will allow employees to remove themselves from the typical desk and/or cubicle space and connect with nature, which research has shown can increase performance on creative problem-solving tasks by 50 percent, as well as that adding plants to office settings can increase productivity by 15 percent. Multiple studies have also linked greater daylight with improved worker health, productivity, and ethical behavior. I believe this is only the beginning of what we will see done to transform the standard workplace. As more and more companies begin to see the value in creativity and support “outside of the box” thinking, our standard workplaces of desks and cubicles will slowly fade away.

Here are five simple suggestions for integrating the arts into your own workplace:

  1. Include music in your workplace. The Nordstrom department stores were once known for their pianist-in-residence. The pianist was hired for the benefit of customers, but store associates gained equal benefit. Take a cue and install a music system for the lunchroom or a conference room and set up a good playlist to run. Ask your team what type of music they prefer and incorporate their ideas. Some executives may like classical music while others prefer jazz or rock. Choose music with broad-based appeal so that all teams can enjoy some music during their workday or lunch hour. The result will be a more relaxed and refreshed team, which often translates into more effective problem solving.
  2. Plant a small garden outdoors or on a patio. If you have the funds, consult a landscape expert to create a soothing Zen garden, or better yet, ask employees for their own ideas. Be sure to include tables, chairs, and benches so that employees can enjoy their lunches there. Don’t have any outdoor space? Transform a patio, a sunroom, or a lunchroom by adding beautiful plants, potted trees, and flowers. Place plants throughout the workplace. Add statuary from the local garden store and a water feature, such as a fountain. The result will be a calmer team that is better able 
to focus. And don’t be surprised if teams start meeting 
regularly in the newly installed garden.
  3. Create an art gallery. Consult a local gallery owner or artist to help bring in paintings, sculptures, professional photography, or other pieces of art for display the way many hospitals do. If you don’t have the budget to purchase pieces, invite local artists, art students, or even employees to display their works on a rotating basis in the hallways at your place of work. Chances are the artists will be thrilled: you get a rotating gallery and they get free exposure. It’s a win-win for everyone. 
You can also ask a local foundation or art school to help you acquire donated art. The result will be a less-sterile environment that will inspire your team and may even elicit conversations between team members viewing the art, conversations that wouldn’t have otherwise taken place.
  4. Take your team to see a live performance. Try a dance troupe or a play. Check the local newspaper listings or go online to find a production that fits everyone’s schedule, and make a day of it. Even if some team members complain that they can’t afford the time away from the office, I assure you that nearly everyone will appreciate the break and will come back refreshed and ready to solve problems.
  5. Hold a staff meeting in an art space. Take your team to 
a local museum, art gallery, or arboretum. Keep the meeting to a few hours and allow everyone to enjoy the venue afterward. The off-site setting alone will reduce anxiety and encourage people to participate more than they would have back at the office. Surrounded by an inspiring setting, without office distractions, chances are they’ll contribute more.

Business is inherently stressful, especially for those in leadership positions.

Steelcase’s Frank Merlotti believed that office environments either promote mental health and competitive excellence or deprive workers of both. He taught me that chief executives must expect excellence of themselves and their employees, and they must also check their teams for burnout and mental malaise. In fact, Merlotti insisted his own team always take their full vacation time, for renewal purposes. Bringing in the beauty, splendor, and restorative power of the arts is certainly worth the return you’ll see on your investment.

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Check out Ritch’s book on Amazon: