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The Arts: A New Business Strategy?

Valerie Beaman

Once, while waiting in a really long, slow line I overheard a very proper Bostonian advising a companion in need of a restroom to just “alter your thinking, dear.” And perhaps that’s what the arts need to do regarding corporate philanthropy.

Running the risk of rephrasing another Bostonian’s famous quote, ‘ask not what business can do for you, ask what you can do for business.’

The Conference Board recently released a new study, Making the Business Case for Corporate Philanthropy, which reveals a leaner, more focused, and transparent strategy for charitable giving. It is instructive.

Gone are the days of executive’s pet charities; philanthropy must now benefit the shareholders.

The economic recovery is being used as an opportunity to reevaluate corporate philanthropic spending. “It is no longer sufficient for corporate philanthropy to simply ‘do good,’” the report says. “If corporate giving is to succeed in the long run, it must provide a financial return.”

So, in response, how can the arts help businesses build their competitive advantage?

It is time for us to reevaluate and change our perspective about how we can help business achieve its goals and not the reverse. Ironically, this is not a radical change in how the arts have always benefited the community, just a major change in perception.

For example, it is a well-researched and documented fact that a vibrant arts scene helps businesses recruit and retain a creative workforce. So, talk with human resource managers to make sure they know about all the arts assets in the community and that they are using these assets in their recruitment strategy. Invite them to your facility. Make them aware of your programs.

A vibrant arts community provides local jobs and has a significant effect on the local economy, including tourism revenue. Make sure business is aware of the contribution arts assets provide in your community. Join local business organizations like the Chamber of Commerce and Rotary Club. Present discussions of how and why local businesses have become involved in the arts.

The arts are a creative tool with which to advance business strategies. A perfect example of this is discussed in this ARTSblog post. The post explores the collaboration between Aetna and the Center for Puppetry Arts to address health and wellness as part of their Healthy Children/Prevent Childhood Obesity Initiative.

Arts-based business training is becoming more widespread facilitating creativity and innovation and engaging employees. Theaters like the Guthrie in Minneapolis have developed comprehensive business learning programs. These innovative programs transform theater skills into applications businesses can use to improve job performance, team building, creative thinking, presentations skills, leadership skills, and interpersonal communication. Movement, music, poetry, and visual arts are demonstrating equal success in business applications.

Pro bono volunteering is another excellent way for business and the arts to collaborate. Employees can enhance their current skills and develop new ones by joining a nonprofit board or engaging in skills-based volunteer work. Both opportunities test their skills in a setting outside their job.

More and more employers are encouraging their employees to volunteer in the community. In fact, the Deloitte Volunteer Impact Study shows that millennials who participate in workplace volunteer activities are more likely to be proud, loyal, and satisfied employees. Nonprofit arts organizations gain skilled business aid and increased connections with the business community.

These are just a few examples of incorporating the arts into business strategies. And, happily, these are strategies that won’t threaten an arts organization’s mission. Certainly traditional sponsorship opportunities still exist, as long as they align with a corporation’s branding and business goals, but we need to explore and expand upon these other ways of engaging the business community.

The idea of shared values is gaining traction, but we need your stories to illuminate and make concrete the advantages of these new arts and business partnerships. The pARTnership Movement website will launch later this fall. Meanwhile, let’s use this forum for spreading the word and altering our thinking.

What new ways has your organization found to partner with business?

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