News Analysis: Paint a creative picture for the arts and business - The evolving relationship between business and the arts is creating a more active environment for sharing creativity

The link between the corporate and art worlds has traditionally focused on firms sponsoring art events in return for allying themselves with creative and innovative projects.

The link between the corporate and art worlds has traditionally focused on firms sponsoring art events in return for allying themselves with creative and innovative projects.

This type of partnership has for the most part proved a success for both parties. News that the BBC is considering launching a sponsorship division only lends weight to the argument that this is still a growth area.

However, the relationship is at the same time evolving beyond straight sponsorship. Over the last couple of years it has deepened with executives volunteering their skills and experience through professional development programmes.

'The whole area of arts sponsorship is slowly changing. Traditionally it has been things like big banks sponsoring an event or exhibition in a passive way - partly for prestige and as a way to meet shareholders and clients,' says Diane VandenBurg, who recently left Countrywide Porter Novelli to set up her own agency VandenBurg2, advising business clients on partnerships with the arts.

Encouraging better ties between commerce and culture is also the job of Arts & Business, a national body tasked with promoting creative partnerships.

'Arts and business can inter-relate in a whole variety of ways. American Express, for example, has provided employees with a 'culture card' which offers discounts on cultural events, recognising that this is a good way of building relationships in communities,' says Philip Spedding, A&B creative development manager.

A growing trend among corporates is to become involved in using the arts as a means of internal communications. In the modern workplace where most communication is via email, the arts can provide business with a fresh and innovative way of looking at creativity.

The research and development arm of A&B is known as the Creative Forum.

Its purpose is to explore roles the arts can play within companies beyond being recipients of cash sponsorship, however important that is.

'Using the arts allows staff to use creativity to develop useful business functions. Businesses can encourage staff to volunteer for arts projects which can give staff positive feedback that they can then go back and use in the business,' says Spedding.

Unilever is one company with established links with the arts, including an involvement with the new Tate Modern gallery. In a bid to relate arts to employees within the company, two brands - Lever Brothers and Elida Faberge - which share the same offices, created an internal arts initiative Project Catalyst. 'We realised the benefit to inspire people and unlock potential,' said spokesperson Esra Erkal-Paler.

Catalyst launched last April with a focus on personal development, using the arts to look at issues such as efficiency and time management.

Workshops included using actors to discuss presentation skills, creative writing and hiring Jackie Wills, a poet in residence, as a means of injecting different ways of thinking.

According to Erkal-Paler, the aim of the project was to create a sense of involvement for workers through interaction, debate and personal input.

To date 50 per cent of workers have been involved in projects.

One way of involving staff has been through creating an art collection of both original works and Turner Prize winners to hang in the building.

The collection generated heated debate, with people voting over whether it should include works by controversial artist Sarah Lucas. The art helped turned the area into a meeting place, where people who generally didn't speak with each other would communicate.

As well as being something that PROs should be looking after for clients, the involvement of the arts with business can be used to improve internal communications within agencies.

At Hill and Knowlton, director Jason Gallucci instigated an idea to decorate the building with portraits of all 430 people who work in the office. In total, 30 artists have been commissioned using different styles including pencil, digital images and collages.

'The arts is a form of communications. We are trying to invest in it to provide something for staff and reflect the character of the company,' says H&K creative director Peter Lawlor.

As a global agency, creativity is not always perceived as strong within H&K, he says. 'This project goes against that and shows a more fun and creative side to the agency. The idea is to help change people's perception of H&K, not just those that don't work here but those that come in every day. So far we have got great feedback from them.'

A traditional barrier to involvement might be sceptical attitudes that the type of creativity associated with the arts has no tangible benefit to businesses.

'Most companies value creativity very highly. They therefore have to have stuff around to stimulate or the thinking is only going to be conventional.

There needs to be more to a work environment than four walls and a PC,' says VandenBurg.

For those that still require some incentive, A&B is willing to contribute financially.

'People now recognise arts can provide more than tickets and logos. They need to experience to understand - we are willing to put money in to encourage them to try it,' says Spedding.

At present, the main barrier to more companies becoming actively involved in working with the arts appears to be lack of knowledge about what can be done. Many have never done anything of this sort before and so it does not register on marketing budgets.

But word is spreading and it may soon become the norm that the creativity and vitality of the arts plays a key role in furthering business.



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