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Artists in the Next Cubicle Strengthen the Economy (from the pARTnership Movement)

Pam Rubert

When Alexander Gottman’s co-workers peer into his cubicle, they don’t see family or vacation photos. They see original art.

Gottman works in the information technology department of Guaranty Bank, accessing potential risk for electronic bank transfers for business clients and monitoring the safety of their accounts.

Locally owned Guaranty Bank is committed to encouraging employee personal development and community involvement. The bank sponsored a Creamery Arts Center exhibition in June, and Guaranty Bank Marketing Director Carlye Wannenmacher suggested Gottman enter the show.

It’s not uncommon for Springfield businesses such as Guaranty Bank to employ working artists. Our community offers many outlets for creative expression, if not as many opportunities to make a full-time living in the arts.

The creativity and diversity that artists bring to their workplaces constitute strengths for our social capital networks described recently by Mayor Bob Stephens. He participated recently on a Huffington Post online panel, alongside luminaries from the Knight Foundation, that discussed the impact of nonprofits, volunteerism and civic involvement on unemployment rates.

Representing Springfield with an unemployement rate 2 percent below the national average, Stephens talked about Missouri State University’s recent report called Social Capital and Civic Participation in the Ozarks.

“Social capital” refers to social networks built when members of a community trust each other. These networks provide access to information and resources and avenues for citizen input into community affairs. People who have multiple social connections tend to create stronger communities than those with singular connections.

Much of Springfield’s strength today comes from the “bonding capital” of associations of culturally similar people. The study recommends greater “bridging capital” for stronger multiplex networks to deter brain drain that could weaken future economic development. In fact, nearly 82 percent of the study’s respondents ages 18 to 34 agreed or strongly agreed that “living in a diverse community is important to me.”

Gottman could have been an example of local brain drain, but he has found creative outlets for his art work to supplement his banking career. He grew up surrounded by art created by his father, a painter and high school art teacher. At MSU, he took a few drawing classes before focusing his degree on business management with an emphasis on entrepreneurship.

He also continued for 10 years to hone his drawing skills by joining a weekly group of artists organized by Alisha and Jeff Brundege to practice and share skills.

Gottman hopes to return to school for a master’s in business administration or an advanced degree in technology. He also wants to eventually find other groups to share and inspire his art as the Brundege group once did.

Leah Hamilton is another home-grown professional who balances roles in business and arts. After earning a graduate degree at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, she considered moving again for arts administration graduate studies. Instead, she is able to satisfy her professional goals as the executive director of the Springfield Regional Arts Council.

Weekdays, you’ll likely find her talking policy and budgets in a room full of suits. Weekend nights, you may have seen her on the Gillioz Theatre stage performing “Carmen” with the Springfield Regional Opera Lyric Theatre, or as the high-strung Joanne in “Rent” at Springfield Little Theatre.

Activity in multiple social networks develops social skills. It also commands respect, as confirmed by Hamilton’s selection this year as one of Springfield Business Journal’s 20 Most Influential Women.

The next time one of your co-workers heads out after work for an audition, local concert or other art event, why not tag along or support their performance?

You may find in yourself a hidden talent, a new passion or expanding your social network. You’ll also be helping make Springfield a more socially diverse and economically strong community.

(This post is one in a weekly series highlighting The pARTnership Movement, Americans for the Arts’ campaign to reach business leaders with the message that partnering with the arts can build their competitive advantage. Visit our website to find out how both businesses and local arts agencies can get involved!)

This post was originally published in the Springfield Business Journal

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