Today, Innovation is possibly one of the largest buzzwords around. Corporate executives around the world believe they understand it, but developing innovative business practices is more of an art than a science. We at Art Force observe the importance of art in a business, because it’s our mission to do so. But what about the companies that are known to go against the grain in order to change their industries? Does being a well-oiled machine towards your bottom line translate to avoiding the arts, or is it a physical and figurative asset which companies can leverage for competitive advantage?
We’d like to extend ourselves to begin highlighting some of the most innovative companies of the day, and how art plays a role in the relationship they have with their organization. Art should be a tool that serves the function of a company’s unique business model. It can be used to either accentuate departmental community or the entire organizational interface. It can also help to inspire and challenge the processes we’ve developed for our everyday routine. It’s said that companies are asking more of employees than ever before, longer hours and higher output, leading employees to ask for benefits that break conventional expectations. These can range from the Google buses which prowl the San Francisco community for employees, video game stations, integrated live plants, or even giant murals – which many of the featured companies have.
This week, we will discuss companies in Silicon Valley. Google lists around 65 key major companies in the region that are the defining innovation center of the United States, spanning companies in the automotive, education, and most importantly to our highlights, Technology industries. These companies love to test the limits of work culture while they experience economic growth as one of the fastest economically expanding regions in the United States. Other companies can at times look at the work cultures they’ve fostered and scratch their heads, yet for the rest of us, we look at current and future thought leaders and ask ourselves how we can learn a few lessons in workplace aesthetic.
What is an “Art Residency,” and how does it affect culture?
Companies ranging from Google to Paypal and beyond in San Francisco all have “artist-in-residence” programs. These sub-units of corporations each function to provide artists a quiet space away, to be creative, and produce art that best represents the values of the company associated. Programs often created in conglomeration with company executives, facilities managers, and art advocates within the company themselves. Artists are typically brought on full-time to produce on commission for local offices. These programs can bring notoriety, networking, and steady income to the associated artists. Success stories are numerous, often leading the artists to prolific fine or street art careers. Consider for a moment that one of the first artists for the Facebook offices is now worth over $200 Million after receiving stock offerings instead of cash.
So which ones are notable?
Autodesk, a multinational software company headquartered in San Rafael, California produces software to expedite processes within industries ranging from media to manufacturing. This organization is consistently noted for its “pier 9” program to provide a series of workshops to artists who have their application accepted. Within periods spanning 4 months, accepted artists have access to all resources Autodesk has to offer. The company foots the bill to create a “maker’s dream” with tools in woodworking, metal, and electronics to create whichever type of art that speaks for the artist’s talents and vision. Rather than viewing art as a piece of their infrastructure, Autodesk views it as a source of inspiration in the short term and in the long term, as an opportunity to understand the creative development of end-users of a variety of their products.
Image Source: Instructables.
Image Source: SFGATE.
The way in which people interact with art can be as equally nuanced as how they interact with each other. It is a deeply personal experience, one in which Facebook in Menlo Park, California has attempted to perfect. Called Facebook AIR (Artist-In-Residency program), their campus takes in two artists at a given time, to be overseen and worked with by director Drew Bennett. We can assume through the mystery of their massive investment in the art direction of their facilities, Facebook is not just creating art that permeate our expectations of work culture but also giving foundationally profound experiences of connectivity among its employees. One look at some of their most abstract pieces is enough to realize that they know art is one of few things in a technology based environment that can add elements of humanity and direction to computational work existence. Hiring nearly 80 percent local bay-area artists for the commissioned work allows Facebook to create a true culture reflective of the California culture.
“I always assumed that the places that really needed beauty were the streets, but I’m starting to see the deep desire and need for more art in workplaces as well. Still, I will never stop painting on the streets. “
Image Source: Wired.
Image Source: Buro 24/7.
Desk of Drew Bennett, Curator Facebook. Image Source: Rhizome.
What if we don’t want to staff a full time artist / curator?
What about a company that is known to create creative software for creative professionals? How do they display the company culture that facilitates inspiration for developing one of the most intuitive user interfaces among art software for sale today? Adobe Systems, a software company created in 1982, attempted to blend brand and design into one seamless employee experience. As a San Jose company, Adobe utilizes their national presence to commission local artists for their respective US offices. An example of this is the striking graffiti style work of El Mac and Mike Giant in one of their regional offices (featured below) Their California offices also prioritize the value of free communication in surroundings which accentuate strong sense of brand in their office decor, with the main elements being exposed brick, modernist walls, as well as wood support elements.
Image Source: Dezeen.
Image Source: RedesignReport.
Are they doing enough?
There have nonetheless been concerns raised about the arts finding their foothold in a quickly shifting environment. With so many individuals moving to the Bay Area for work, it is well documented how rent prices have continued to soar, seemingly to no end. Galleries and working artists ,which have long established their base in the bay area, have found themselves out-bid for their rental properties with a smaller amount of liquid assets to vie for spots. Many fingers have been pointed at corporate interests, such as the dancers who blocked the “Google bus” which takes the corporate employees to their main campus. However, we believe this is an opportunity to continue cultivating the relationship between corporate and art communities both within personal collection, as well as fostering interdepartmental connectedness of employees in offices.
For those of us on the outside of the bay area, we are left to ask, “those sound pretty cool, but how does it benefit my organization?” The company that asks questions like these is looking toward a sustaining rather than growth model of business, which is good only for short term rather than long term corporate benefit. Growth models come with an understanding that Innovation is an art, rooted in sparks of inspiration that can come from anywhere, company culture has clear effects on this as well as our affect toward our physical environment. Art is clearly an expense that needs mediation to ensure it adds value to the physical property of a business; however, benefits also exist in the potential to influence consumer perceptions of your establishment, confidence in executive management, tax benefits, supporting local community, and maintaining brand equity through the maintenance of the physical space.