Driving Workforce Engagement Through the Arts

The Arts & Business Council of New York (ABC/NY) develops creative partnerships between the arts and business communities in New York that both enhance the business skills of the arts sector and promote creative engagement within the business sector (learn more our arts-based employee engagement services here). Each year, ABC/NY hosts forums that bring together the best of arts and business partnerships.

More than 75 professionals from the corporate design, corporate social responsibility, and talent management fields came together May 11, 2017, in the beautiful Steelcase offices overlooking Central Park to delve into how the arts could meet their bottom line employee engagement goals.

Employee engagement has been highlighted by Deloitte and Quantum Workplace as one of corporate America’s biggest issues: 87% of companies say that culture and engagement are their top challenges. Creativity of employees is also sorely lacking at many firms: 89% of executives agree that creativity is a top skill.

This panel discussion and networking reception, sponsored by the Arts & Business Council of New York, Steelcase, AFD Contract Furniture, and Pace University explored the ways in which the arts community rises to meet the needs of businesses, while strengthening the arts ecosystem. Anita Napoli, an applied researcher from Steelcase, opened the discussion highlighting how our work environments dictate our productivity. She paralleled experiencing the arts outside of work—and its demand of us to be fully present—with incorporating the arts and good design into the workplace, helping employees become more present, creative, and productive in their daily work.

Representatives from event sponsor Pace University.

Cara Conceller from Culture Amp, a tech-based platform to measure employee engagement and experience, moderated a discussion featuring panelists Suzy Myers Jackson, executive director of Opening Act, and Pam Hacker, director of corporate social responsibility at HBO. They embodied how a symbiotic partnership between the arts nonprofit and private sector can work for mutual benefit. Opening Act teaches life skills to high schoolers in New York City through theater and improv. HBO’s internal teams connect with Opening Act to deliver a critical service in the form of personal narrative workshops led by Opening Act staff and alongside Opening Act teens. These workshops promote connection with colleagues and with the broader NYC community, trains employees to build and share their personal narratives, and engages employees in the HBO company charge to “tell the world’s stories” while supporting the next generation of great storytellers.

Elizabeth Thys, co-founder and CEO of Brooklyn-based limeSHIFT, shared stories of her team’s work with national companies and business schools to invest employees in company and social values. limeSHIFT’s magic bullet: team-based projects based in visual arts that disrupt the physical office space and inspire innovation. One example was a floor-to-ceiling collage they installed in YouTube’s corporate offices comprised of employee-submitted images of things that represented them and that made them smile. Guided by a local artist, employees created a focal and conversational piece for the office, invited conversations about diversity, and built a social atmosphere and community amongst staff.

Andrew Graham, chief innovation officer at Designtex, remarked that he is inspired everyday by the hard work of artists at Designtex. He hires artists on staff to integrate their designs into the furniture fabrics and other applied materials they produce. Not only does he ensure art is incorporated in their products; he also says that internally, art has the unique ability to help open the spaces for employees to share their stories in service of a more transparent and egalitarian workplace, which ultimately makes them all better people.

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