Gregory P. Crawford is president of University of Miami from Ohio.
As a university president, I often pass across our campus on my way from one meeting to the next. A joy of those journeys is the wealth of visual arts – sculptures, sculptures, monuments – that adorn our space. In front of the Center for the Performing Arts stands heart in hand, a gravity-defying bronze sculpture of a mother and child by Ursula von Rydingsvard that evokes warm feelings of security and compassion. Behind the Engineering Building is an enchanting ceramic structure whose blue abstract markings give a new effect from each vantage point, a reminder of the myriad of possibilities different perspectives can generate. On Western Campus is the Freedom Summer ’64 Memorial, an amphitheater designed by architect Bob Keller to honor the 1964 martyrs who trained there and went south to fight for racial justice. The design makes history real with contemporary quotes carved into the smooth limestone; the jagged rocks at one end remind us of the battle and call us to finish the job.
In between meetings, I often pause at these installations to reflect on their meaning, the creativity of their creators, how they make me feel, and the powerful ways they explain our values and empower our community. Art can move our emotions, reduce stress, stimulate creativity, stimulate critical thinking and offer space for personal reflection and shared conversation. Art in the workplace brings all these advantages for an organization.
I believe that well-curated, outstanding works of art can enhance the well-being of an individual, enhance the culture of the organization and improve the quality of the greater community. Visual arts enrich any environment as an expression of human creativity, culture, passion and aspiration. They invite viewers to reflect on their beauty, consider their meaning and often act on their inspiration. They affect viewers with an immediacy and power that transcends words – consider how much modern communication relies on images rather than sentences and paragraphs. Images often show the history, identity and values of the organization.
Art and image offer opportunities for personal reflection, innovation and growth; cultivate group identity and unity; and unleash creativity, innovation and problem solving that benefit the greater society. This can apply to art displays in the workplace – corporations, small businesses, non-profits, public agencies and others, as well as universities. Here are some ways art can influence employees and the organization.
Experiencing art can be both intensely personal and widely shared. Art can improve an employee’s attitude, perspective and satisfaction in the spaces of an organization. Some studies suggest that art can less stress. This could potentially help employees increase their focus and productivity.
Art raises questions in the viewer about techniques, concepts and content: how did the artist construct this? What does it mean? What is the takeaway? These questions can sharpen thinking skills and spark interesting conversations with others. Unlike some subjects, the dialogue is likely to remain respectful and refreshing even if the people have different perspectives, because subjective interpretations of art are welcome.
Art can create or enhance space, in a lobby, lawn, conference room or office, where people gather to do business, brainstorm, celebrate, eat or relax. The choice of art can reflect the history, culture, values and activity of the organization. Unlike mass market art, this can be linked to the sense of place. His presence can inform and inspire viewers on topics such as company history, founders, locations, facilities, and even products and services.
Art can also reveal an organization’s values. In my opinion, investing in art already indicates a high value for creativity, beauty, ideation and promoting a positive workplace. The contents of a painting or sculpture can convey a connection to DEI, such as a crowd of different people partying together; on sustainability, such as a multimedia tapestry composed of recycled materials; or to global connections, such as indigenous art from different continents. Over time, art can be rotated to reflect new awareness, understanding, and obligations.
An organization’s dedication to the arts can also enhance the quality of life of the community. Companies and organizations that invest in important art can become major attractions.
Art can also have an unexpected impact on the economic health of a community. U.S. Department of Agriculture studies by Tim Wojan and others show that rural innovation in general is almost keeping pace with urban innovation, even larger in larger companies and more patent-intensive areas. In “The rise of the rural creative class,Richard Florida reports: “Wojan and colleagues’ analysis shows that there is a strong statistical link between art, innovation and economic dynamics in rural areas. And this leads them to conclude that art is a direct force in rural innovation, not just an indirect one. factor that helps attract and retain talent.”
An important feature of the modern dynamic world is the desire to integrate life and work in a way that ensures that everyone will thrive. Art is not an addition to such a life, but a vital feature that can inspire individuals, unite groups and enrich society as a whole.
In my office, I have four guest chairs with upholstery inspired by Myaamia ribbon work, a beautiful and meaningful art form of the Miami Tribe that gave Miami its name. I remember that the Myaamia and Shawnee maintain relations with the land that is our campus today. Our university deepens its ties with the tribe by sharing its artistic heritage. Educating tribal children and working on the renewal of Myaamia and other indigenous languages have a major impact on the wider society. The ribbon art embodies all of that.
What do you see when you walk around your building or on the grounds of your organization?
Everyone who works there sees that, everyone who comes there. What do they learn about your organization? How do they feel about themselves and about you? How could art create that impression? You can choose art that reflects your local community and supports its artists. You can make your values such as diversity, involvement and excellence visible in the people, themes and quality of the pieces that enhance your workplace.