Making the business case for the artistic process
The life of the trained administrator(I was educated in administration and management of cultural heritage back in my country of origin) in the art field is really difficult. In primis, because 90% of the time you’re the only one who actually can speak the organisational language; you’re also the only one who believes effective communication & networking beyond your immediate field of interest to have any kind of value whatsoever for the organisation; and above all, you’re the only one who seems to be worried on making things work in the long term. “Making things work in the long term” is a particularly difficult concept to transpose to the art field, as it’s a field that ironically enough, lacks completely of a vision for the future, let alone a strategy beyond the “1% to culture!!(!!!!)” seen at the last elections .
For the scope of this manifesto, I’ll touch two main points; the cultural orthodoxies which prevent art/cultural field innovation and development, and Art Based Initiatives as a value creation practice for businesses and as a possible outlet for new art-based professions.
1_ Entrepreneurship in the arts and creativity as a drive for Workplace Innovation practices (overview of the trend)
Entrepreneurship in the arts, unfortunately, is a subject that inflames the souls and challenges longtime held beliefs, because it has to do with the business world. As Mayfield(2011) points out, in fact, there are many preconceived opinions which would see business and creativity as two separated concepts, characterising businesses as “rigid hierarchies that stifle individual creative development and hinder societal creativity”. In a sense, if we think of Martin’s (2009)framework on one’s stance about the world, it would almost seem like the business and the art field in Finland are two unmixable collectively constructed realities at the opposition of one another.
This view has been upheld and brought on by many art professionals and art education institutions here in Finland, and it’s such a strong cultural orthodoxy that even those who are allegedly pioneering the field of entrepreneurship in the arts, cannot get out of it. Recent research on the artistic profession and its relationship with concepts such as entrepreneurship and business, in fact, showcase flawed reasoning such as:
“In order to maintain the freedom so central to the arts, we must broaden the contemporary view of entrepreneurship, to become something involving the whole of society and not merely the economy.”
This kind of sentence is problematic on at least two different levels: in primis, they are equating being market outsiders with “freedom”. I’d argue that real freedom comes from being able to determine one’s destiny and one’s life; and being tied to the life of the perpetual one-off-project fund seeker(due to the weak structure of the public funds for culture, see Tervilä, 2015 and Colliander, 2015) is definitely not freedom, at least not economic freedom. Moreover, they seem to hold the view that contemporary entrepreneurship studies are concerned exclusively with the economy, and that’s factually incorrect; there has been a clear steering in entrepreneurship and corporate literature and education towards sustainability and creating shared value(CSV).
In this sense, instead of “broadening the view on entrepreneurship” I would argue that:
“We must broaden the contemporary idea of artistic creativity, to become something involving the whole of society and not merely the elites”
The idea of art as something which concerns the elites exclusively was explained already quite well by Munari; he talks about the artist as someone who’s so taken by his/her own work and the public recognition of his genius that he/she ends up being completely disconnected from “the public”, who despises him.
Moreover, there is another obvious problem with the concept of entrepreneurship in the arts; they’re concentrating on selling ONE product(the artwork/the art project) instead of scanning the environment for opportunities, and this is a big problem, because, sales are down. We're sinking in a red ocean where no one even wants to buy anything, and nobody sees the problem with this.
One other cultural orthodoxy plaguing the development of the cultural field, is this idea of artistic creativity as a gift from the sky; the obsession with the mythical figure of the artist genius(Cupore, 2015, p.10) is problematic on at least two different levels; in primis, brutally said, you cannot sell what you cannot define. Ergo, it’s very difficult to argue for the introduction of art graduates in the wider working society if the whole field just claims that artistic creativity cannot be defined and it’s innate. Also this idea of creativity capacity as a “innate talent” has been widely contradicted by research; see for example Amabile, 2011, who claims that while some predisposition for some kind of creatively inclined work can be found between the personal traits of an individual, what really counts is nourishing the process and training constantly. The second problem arising from this view of artistic creativity is that, ironically enough, such beliefs are favouring gender disparity and workplace segregation, as traditionally the “artist genius” is a male, while females are supposedly more apt to “practical” art.
So, you see the issue here: we are in a situation where exactly the people who are bound by ideological and theoretical chains to a life of struggles think that those very chains are actually what keeps them free!
In disagreement with most of what is traditionally considered the role of art in society - the artist who produces an artefact to wow the uncultured masses(Munari, 1971), I see the potential for workplace innovation(as defined by the European Union, 2019) driven by the humanities professional as a mediator for collective sensemaking and knowledge manager. In the framework where we move the idea of artistic creativity as a process(as for example explained by Munari’s "Da Cosa Nasce Cosa") and not exclusively as its final product(the artwork), then we can find that there are many points of intersection in between the fields of art and business; as Martin(2009)would put it, in fact, we need to leverage opposite world stances in order to create new models. And, as showcased by Carey&Matlay(2010), businesses and business educators are already moving in that direction somehow and this intertwining is even more evident if we consider the studies on fostering collective creativity through ad hoc leadership practices (see Basadur, 2004, or Edelman & Knippenberg, 2018, Dovey et al, 2017, or Chen, 2017).
Moreover, it is reasonable to assume that if the arts sector would take on more social or innovational responsibilities for wider societal development and improvement then also the value of the artwork as an artefact would increase in the eyes of the target customers; hence it’d be reasonable to expect an increase in artwork sales in the long term, when the artist is not seen anymore exclusively as somebody who drops abstruse theory to a public who’s not interested in it.
If we take Martin’s(2009) definition of creativity for valid - that “creativity is the ability to hold and consider two different point of views at the same moment”, then we can even claim that having different points of views, educational backgrounds and different world-biases might actually spark more creativity in organisations and in general. Even more so because of the nature of the problems society and companies face today; these contemporary issues are called wicked problems(Camillus, 2008)and require stakeholders with different skill sets and backgrounds to work together to tame and overcome these apparently unsolvable hyper-complex issues. This concept was also brought to the forefront by Amabile and Khaire in 2008; during a summit on creativity, where multiple stakeholders and business personalities discussed how to foster creativity on a bigger scale, the idea that creativity requires multiple skills in different disciplines and different life background was seen as a definitive advantage for value creation in the business field.
On a positive note in this sea of desperation, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, in Creativity(1996) reminds us that these conditions are exactly the conditions where change(or rebellion, depending on how you see it) is quietly simmering, waiting to come out:
“This is a typical reaction against a domain becoming too confining and its members mistaking the symbolic system in which they operate for the broader reality of which it is a part. Commoner’s feelings may be similar to those that young scholars in Byzantium must have felt when the church councils spent so much time debating how many angels could dance on the head of a pin. When a field becomes too self-referential and cut off from reality, it runs the risk of becoming irrelevant. It is often dissatisfaction with the rigidity of domains that makes great creative advances possible".
2_ Art Based Initiatives (ABIs) as a potential outlet for artistic entrepreneurship, network creation and access to innovation ecosystem
Art Based Initiatives(Schiuma, 2011), also defined aesthetic technologies or methods of artistic mediation are “art forms and/or artistry processes that are instrumentally used in order to deal with or solve a business/organisational issue”(Carlucci&Schiuma, 2017). They have been receiving increasingly more and more attention from business/tech academic research; these studies revolve around a wide range of benefits that the business organisation can achieve by using artistic way-of-thinking, way-of-working and vision of the world. Research in this sense argues against the effectiveness of a management driven by “rational thinking, predictability, determinism, simplification, control and hierarchy”(Axelrod&Cohen, 2000), and promotes post-modern management practices, which are stemming from the understanding that the twenty-first century business organisation needs a more human centered approach to the organisational/management structure. Carlucci&Schiuma(2017) define the post-modern management as a set of practices which recognise the techno-human nature of organisations, and uses ABIs as a way to fully deploy the human capacity of the organisations by promoting a high level of engagement and safety for the employees/team members. And more than that; Mesiek&Barry(2017) and Madjesberg(2017) see the arts having an increasingly more central role in innovation and society in general by stressing art’s role in collective sensemaking. Antal et al. (2017)also highlights how systematic introduction of ABIs in organisations can help employees in experiencing meaningful work. Pässilä et al. (2013) provided an interesting practical example of the benefits that artistic innovation methods can bring to building future-oriented collaborative knowledge in a traditionally managed and organised wood-processing company. Chen(2018) argues in favour of using art as a mean to increase the sustainability and social responsibility of companies, and Zsolnai&Wilson(2016) claim that widespread usage of arts in companies can inspire them to create more socio-ecological values and thus enrich people’s quality of life.
ABIs’ theoretical background and proved effects are in line with recent studies on management innovation, organisational innovation, intangible value creation, intellectual capital management and knowledge management as an asset for intangible value creation and increased innovativness potential. In fact, if we take into consideration for example Krasnicka, 2018, we can see that while they managed to prove, through the analysis of how Polish SMEs work, a relationship between such practices and firm performance, they also noted how this kind of research is actually quite new, not widely known and not widely applied to real life situations. At the ecosystemic level, recent literature has been pointing out how the classic top-down or bottom-up approaches to the innovation ecosystem are not enough to nurture and grow a functional ecosystem; in fact Jucevičius&Grumadaite(2014)claim:
“[...]smart development of complex dynamic non-hierarchical system becomes of key importance. It is not so much about finding the right compositions of elements, but stimulating their relations and interactions in non-linear and non-hierarchical ways. It is not about defining the system and its boundaries, but about facilitating the self- organization of its actors and emergence of the system out of multiple interactions".
As it's logical to assume, more startups actually succeeding would bring great change in the market and in the world overall and right now 90% of them fails; and while many would argue that the key to success is to make a science for entrepreneurship, the theory behind ABIs claims that we need to recognise organisational practices as increasingly more human ones; so in this sense my question is: can we popularise(Mazzola, upcoming) these kind of practices throughout the whole innovation ecosystem in order to tackle startups biggest failing causes and icrease their survival rate?
In Amabile’s(2016) update on her 1988 model on creativity, in fact, we find the question on whether intrinsic motivation and the reaping of the effects of positive affect can restart the creative process even in the face of extrinsic negative stimuli; hence it’d be particularly interesting to start working with start-ups which are in the valley of death/in a near-death point to see if all these theories on creativity can be used to generate creative value for improved performance; and if we then can prove that this intangible value can be created through these practices, then can we consider it as an asset to introduce in the business model, thus widening funding and investment possibilities?
Branding and marketing studies have already proven that the understanding of the cultural capital surrounding your idea makes for better survival chances; for example the case of Schultz(Holt&Cameron, 2010) who failed quite badly with his first concept, IlGiornale because there was no market need for his concept(the Italian espresso bar brought to the US); yet he nailed the process of understanding and being able to manage the cultural capital surrounding his business idea, and went on to make Starbucks a 30B worth of coffee house. Why is this particular example significant? Because CBInsights(2019)after having analysed the post-mortem of 298 start-ups, showcased that the first reason for failure is exactly “no market need” - which means, a technology being developed for the sake of technological advancement. Yet technological advancement cannot by itself drive socially sustainable wider societal change; technology as a what is not enough to create the how needed for broader change to happen.
As I learnt through the year I spent studying in business school, it is now quite widely recognised concept that disciplines such as the arts, social sciences, ethics and philosophy can definitely help in the process of understanding and exploiting the cultural capital, above all if the arts/humanities professional also takes up the role of cultural researcher in the organisation. The Startup Genome Project sees in the process of continuous and wide research at the company level one of the elements for startup survival. This concept was explained quite well also by Munari, who, in his book Fantasia(1977) claims that:
“the creative individual is in a state of continuous evolution and his creativity potential is generated by constantly updating and widening knowledge in every field. A uncreative individual is an incomplete individual, and his reasoning alone cannot face the problems arising in front of him, hence he’ll have to always ask for the help of the creatives ”.
And if this is true for the individual, then we can most likely transpose it to the organisation, too(above all if we’re talking about start-ups, where the company is fundamentally a team). And if we can prove that the arts/creative/humanities professionals could bring this type of intangible value to the organisation or to the ecosystem, in a framework where this kind of cultural innovation would become one of the “tools” shared throughout the whole innovation environment(see for example Chesbrough, 2014) then we can definitely transform these kind of practices into monetary investments.
Given the structure and purpose of fundings to the industry, in fact, we could loosely claim that startups and SMEs could see a funding increase when they cooperate and actively do research on such workplace innovations practices(although to be completely honest I have for now only a general overview on funding/raising capital topic), above all if the company strategy would allow them to subscribe to the principle of sharing innovation tools with and within the ecosystem; see for example Amabile et al, 2014, talking about IDEO’s culture of helping, or Bilberg et al, 2017 taking the Danish culture of sharing in the manufacturing industry as an example of how companies can start bringing this extra value to all of those operating in the same ecosystem without losing competitive advantage. And more than the mere “increase of funds” benefit; they’d receive different fundings; fundings which help build company and ecosystemic culture and values and take off the pressure of pure business performance levels.
Another interesting effect that ABIs can have in the ecosystem at large, is related to collective sensemaking in an unpredictable and constantly changing future; foresight is in fact a science which requires imagination at the core, a keen eye for wider societal issues with attention to the detail; and stimulating collective visualisation of possible futures could be a great tool for improving innovativeness performance. Where do ABIs come into play in this? A carefully planned usage of art as a strategic tool, used throughout artistic interventions or programmes, can definitely help in stimulating collective imagination, visualisation and greater understanding for strategic scenario planning. And yes, imagination is important for product development, too; take Apple; in 1987, they released a video presenting the idea of a “knowledge navigator” which was very similar to actual science-fiction at the time. In 2010, twenty-three years later, there’s apple releasing the iPad: ohlala! And yes, even more “popular” business literature has been talking about imagination as a tool for strategic foresight; see for example on forbes, 2012, 2019 or academic articles such as Shoemaker, 1997 or Ogilvie, 1998(also check Rohrbeck&Kum, 2018, for the relation in between corporate foresight and firm performance).
Of course I am focusing on strategy making, management innovation and collective sensemaking because this has been the core point of my own interest in real life application of ABIs in companies; and I was able to do so, because I did get formal business education in that sense. And this is unfortunately a nodal obstacle; as mentioned before, the practice of entrepreneurship in the arts and the concept of working life revolves mostly around doing one’s work as usual and asking for one-off project funds for it; it’s not a surprise, then, that even if there has been talk of Schiuma’s book The Value of Arts for Business even here in Finland, it can’t be translated into lasting wider strategy when it’s confined to being a cultural activity and interest is not raised in business terms.
This is maybe the biggest problem; the theory behind ABIs effectiveness, in fact, is based on the idea that the activities should be coordinated and brought on by people who understand BOTH art and business, at least at some level. When Ståle and Petäjäjärvi, in a piece written for Sitra(2017), claim: “ei ole lainkaan itsestään selvää, miksi taiteen tulisi olla osana työelämää ja mitä hyötyä siitä voisi olla” it’s kind of symptomatic of the fact that the artist sees the value in art but cannot apply it because they don’t really know the business; but the business itself cannot really reap all of the benefits from the art, because they don’t really know the art. So you see the problem? To bring this kind of concept as a larger societal change factor, one needs to get people who can, at some level, understand the both fields(or be ready to acquire new competences) and who have the possibility of working long-term within the ecosystem to build lasting culture.
In fact, this research is known also in Finland already; TAIKE organised in Helsinki a series of meetings where the same sources I have on ABIs are being discussed, which is amazing, however, they are seen as one-off cultural activities aimed at stimulating empathy and wellbeing at the workshop level in established business organisations more than a way to actually develop the field in a creative manner; in other words, they’re not postulating using one’s artistic competences to solve actual business(thus societal) problems.
**and I’m not saying it that the art professional can by him/herself solve complex business issues. What I’m saying that an art professional who would be trained in strategy making can mediate strategy making processes in companies, for example. Just to specify.**
Also, if we consider the case presented by Madjesberg&Rasmussen(2014) and we cross reference it with for example Amabile, 1997 or Amabile, 1985 then we can postulate that the more involved into the situation the people are, the more the creative process can be effective in actually coming up with new world-views and novel solutions. Hence, we can assume that we’ll reap the best results through the systematic introduction of these practices directly in the ecosystem created and managed to create value, instead of considering them exclusively as one-off cultural projects in established businesses.
As showcased above, there would be great advantages for a wide range of stakeholders, in the case of these innovation processes to be taken as real means of value creation that stems from a shared vision, emotional safety and a scientific approach to artistic creativity; however, it is very difficult for anyone from the field of culture to get recognised as an actual professional with exclusive and valuable competences usable within the innovation ecosystem.
Moreover, many artistic educational institutions in Finland fail to see the emerging career opportunities for art graduates beyond the production of the art piece as a product to sell on the luxury market. However, one way that I could go on developing this model, is to use this thesis to identify different kind of stakeholders interested in this topic, and use the thesis process to proactively contacting them to see what can be developed, with whom, and where. Ecosystems can be created, when certain conditions are met, and when stakeholders commit to working together. To do that, I will have to identify a place where all of the requirements for the birth of this kind of ecosystem are met - and while I have an idea of where that could be, I know for sure where it can’t be: it can’t be in a school which tells me disdainfully at the same time “you’re very [name of the school], they want everybody to do business” and “you shouldn’t be in this school, this is not what art is about” (and how can both these sentences be true at the same time, even?)
And one last thing: while I get often accused of not being a real artist because I’m interested in the economical aspects of the artistic profession and in the relationship between art, organisational culture and innovation potential, I would argue that it’s exactly because I am an artist and I can see clearly the benefits that a popularised approach to the artistic profession would bring to businesses first and to society at large as a consequence, that I’m doing this. I do believe that art has an important social role and that’s why I want to place it where humanity’s future, in the form of new technologies, is being shaped right now.
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