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With funding from the EU, Jaana Erkkilä and Carita Pettersson set about testing the benefits of different forms of collaboration between the arts and business

6 min read

There are various projects in the field of arts and business collaboration, and a lot has been promised in the name of artistic intervention. Creative industries are supposed to save the economic life of the entire planet and succeed where traditional industries have failed. Art is supposed to heal burnout and bring people together.

Well-known author in Nordic literature, Monika Fagerholm, warns of the risks associated with artistic interventions in business. According to her, artists should be aware that they may be required to make too many compromises and thus instrumentalise their art. She participated in two interventions and her experience is that anchoring the process with management is extremely important. Successful interventions at workplaces depend also upon the branch of the arts; the right match is highly important.

Artists should be aware that they may be required to make too many compromises and thus instrumentalise their art

She is one of the artists involved in a project called ArtGoesWork run by Novia University of Applied Sciences, an EU-funded project that was set up in June 2010 and ends this December. So far there have been over 250 participants in more than 80 sessions and 19 interventions in different organisations. The project has employed 12 artists for various lengths of time.

The ArtGoesWork project has chosen to work with artists who have established themselves in the field of art and who are recognised as highly qualified professionals. We believe that, if artistic interventions are to promote anything good in society, especially to contribute to diverse processes in workplaces, the interventions have to be conducted by professionals who would be wanted as specialists in their own specific fields. Our second goal has been to find work for artists. The wellbeing of an artist often relies simply on the possibility to work and get paid for it.

Another artist, Åsa Salvesen, is a professional actress, theatre director and journalist. She immediately looks to define the needs and requirements of the platform when entering an organisation. She says that drama may provide people with a set of concrete tools, which she has brought from theatre, to enable workers to deal with their everyday jobs.

The project has introduced three different ways of conducting interventions in organisations and companies, dividing the approaches into arts-based methods, art as such (a performance or art exhibition, for example), or an artist in residence in a workplace. Experience has shown that organisations are more willing to receive workshop-like activities, which participants associate with some kind of recreational activity. It has been more challenging to convince management that art as such or even artists in residence could promote workplace creativity and wellbeing. A workshop is relatively easily arranged and it does not demand as much commitment from an organisation as to have, for example, an artist in residence.

Drama may provide people with a set of concrete tools to enable workers to deal with their everyday jobs

However, we managed to come to an agreement with YLE, the Finnish national broadcasting company, to have a composer in residence. This was due largely to personal contacts the project leader had at YLE. Juho Kangas, a young composer, was employed to compose a piece of music and to use the YLE as his starting point. He participated in meetings of the company’s innovation team and had freedom to compose whatever he liked. The only limitation was that it should not be an arrangement for anything bigger than a quartet. The performance of the composition took place in February and was streamed live to YLE offices throughout the country. The Golden Horns Quartet gave an unforgettable performance.

From the very beginning of the project ArtGoesWork employed a researcher. We wanted to study what really happens during the interventions and whether it is relevant to say that art promotes wellbeing. Cecilia von Brandenburg has been observing and documenting the interventions. “By familiarising themselves with artists’ working methods, employees have opened up new perspectives in their own work,” says Ms von Brandenburg. “Artists in their own work have to face processes that are difficult to visualise. Workers have had positive experiences of facing new, unexpected situations and uncertainty in training with the artists. Working with artists has brought a positive experience in work self-management.”

Monika Fagerholm

Monika Fagerholm

Another very similar EU-funded project in Finland is called TAIKA and has been collaboration between several universities and universities of applied sciences. One common challenge for both projects is a relatively strong concern from the art world about whether art should be used as an instrument or not. There are strong views for keeping art clean and free from instrumental values.

On the other hand, it is very clear that contemporary art has changed from being an isolated island somewhere on the margins of rest of the society. A change in attitudes can happen through education. We realised in the ArtGoesWork project how important it would be to offer an alternative study programme for artists who have interest in working in organisations and who see that their art could be realised in various social contexts.

The University of Lapland has started a Master’s degree in applied visual arts. The programme is funded by the EU and aims to integrate artistic skills, as well as practice-based and scientific knowledge to create ecologically and ethically sound experience environments, services and art productions that are based on the cultural heritage and traditions of the area and its people.

The studies include project-based collaboration with cultural institutions and tourism companies in Lapland and the Barents region. Skills gained through the study programme can be applied to a wide variety of aims from promoting wellbeing to furthering business and creative industries. The main thing is to let your prejudices go and see that art is not threatened by applying its practices to all areas of contemporary life.

Selling interventions to companies requires a lot of negotiating with artists and managements. We all have diverse backgrounds and concepts about art, and all this has yielded richness. But we strongly recommend that anybody wanting to work in this field should take a deep breath and be prepared for thorough planning, lots of arguments and extremely high levels of motivation. Above all, you need a good sense of humour – not least the capacity to laugh at yourself.

The ArtGoesWork project has been run by a five-strong team: Jaana Erkkilä, manager of research and development at Novia University of Applied Sciences; Carita Pettersson, project leader; Cecilia von Brandenburg, project researcher; Birgitta Snickars von Wright, artistic tutor; and Thua-Lill Eliasson, employment consultant.


250 participants so fair in over 80 sessions

19 interventions in different organisations

12 artists employed by the project