The Sotheby’s auction of Damien Hirst’s back catalogue achieved record prices in September, reinforcing the view that contemporary art has proved an excellent investment, despite the difficult economic climate. Art in the workplace can also offer significant benefits, most of which, while more difficult to quantify, can contribute to higher profits for all the stakeholders.
Shareholders experience the image of a company through its literature, particularly its annual report, and press reports on the company’s activities. Images of art are often used to illustrate a company’s philosophy, particularly in the banking and service sectors.
Investment banks, for instance, could just show pictures of money, but they can often illustrate their investment strategy far more effectively and subtly by relating it to the investment strategy in their art collection, perhaps by having some “blue chip” work together with that by emerging artists in their portfolio.
A good example of this is Deutsche Bank, which is renowned for a collection of more than 40,000 works of art worldwide, and which sponsors the high-profile Frieze Art Fair in London every October.
British Land is known not only for its art collection but, together with Stanhope, for the excellent works of art incorporated in its property developments to emphasise “quality” as a key element of the company’s activities. In the wider context, shareholders regard patronage of the arts as the human face of the company and a badge of corporate respectability.
On the human side, staff are the important beneficiaries of art in the office. We often spend more of our waking hours in the office than at home, and for most companies employees are a key resource. The quality of the working environment plays a significant role in attracting and retaining staff, and the art in that environment often makes a significant contribution in this area.
Compare the art in the office to a Chopin piano étude. Most of the base of the étude in the left hand represents the cabling, air conditioning, design layout and furniture in an office, but the melody is created by just the little finger of the right hand. In the same way, the art in an office often represents a small investment with a disproportionately high impact.
Art can be used not only to subtly convey the aims and values of the company, but also to send subliminal signals to staff that they are valued, and can encourage “out of the box” creative thinking. It can also contribute to education if information is available on the intranet and staff informed of forthcoming exhibitions and artist talks. It can even lead to the formation of staff art clubs.
Gardiner & Theobald, a leading construction and property consultancy, put artist Ian James Wood in residence to photograph some of its projects. He visited its regional offices to talk to staff about his photographic techniques and involve them in his work. The resulting images were displayed in the offices, helping to join the various offices together in spirit. They also held an in-house art competition and exhibition, which resulted in many entries and considerable interest from all levels of management.
Last but not least, art can be used to send positive messages about a company to its customers, suppliers and visitors from the wider community. It can be seen as a credible signal of success and is a cost-effective way to differentiate and build corporate identities. Who could fail to be impressed by the collections in Lovells’ various offices, or wowed by the artworks in the Foster + Partners atrium at fellow lawyers Allen & Overy’s offices in Spitalfields?
Government guidelines to planning authorities recommend that new developments should have one per cent of their cost spent on art. This has filtered through to major companies, although many spend less than this and use some of the art funds for artist-designed fittings, lighting, fences and gates for their buildings. Research by International Art Consultants indicates that many companies spend between four and seven per cent of the interior costs on art, while some large consultancy companies have spent £1 per square foot on art for their major offices.
Help can sometimes be forthcoming from the Arts Council and Arts & Business, but it is advisable to use a professional consultant to guide the art programme. A key advantage of art purchases is that the long-term benefit remains with the company and with good buying advice, the value of the work can increase, whereas sponsorship is transient and short-lived.
Businesses in all sectors, from financial institutions and service industries to manufacturing companies, have implemented art programmes over the past 20 years. Since 1985, the Art & Work Awards, which are presented biennially, have rewarded the best examples of art in working environments in the UK. The key criteria of the awards are:
• The quality of art and the scope of the collection
• A clear rationale underlying the programme
• How well the art is displayed and integrated into the design of the building
• How well it is communicated to the stakeholders
• Buy-in from top management
• Continued development
The critical factors for successful corporate art programmes are to agree the aims right at the start and, with this clarity of purpose, to consult and communicate with all involved. It is amazing how much knowledge and interest there is out there. The involvement of staff at all levels achieves motivation and lasting success. It is advisable to have a small selection committee and a flexible approach to developing the programme.
The 2008 Art & Work Awards recognise high standards in art in the working environment including:
• An award for a work of art commissioned for a specific site in a working environment
• An award for the best corporate art programme
• An award for an outstanding contribution to art in the working environment
• An award for the most artistic employee
The 2008 winners will be announced during a gala dinner in the Great Room at Christie’s King Street in London on 13 October (see onoffice 26).
The good thing about art in the workplace is that everyone wins. The company wins, the staff benefit and the artist finds a new audience.