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Building An Engaged Team Through The Arts

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Photography by Hillary Ehlen and J. Alan Paul

There’s no question that, in today’s business climate, the environment you create for employees has real value. It’s no longer enough to have a good benefits package; you also have to think about creating engaging, team-building activities and having a design aesthetic. If you don’t, the myriad young employees entering the workforce will go elsewhere, and you’ll be left without the kind of bright, youthful minds you need to grow your business.

Talk to any HR director, and they’ll tell you they’re spending a significant amount of money per employee to create experiences that excite their team, help build camaraderie and build a stronger corporate culture. Let me introduce you to one program that accomplishes all of that and actually helps build another layer of intelligence in your employees.

The Art WORKS program, offered through The Arts Partnership, is a flexible program meant to engage employees at all levels of your business in shifting their work lens by applying artistic thinking and processes to their more traditional jobs — accounting, project management, development, leadership and more.

I spoke with Myriad Mobile Vice President of Sales & Marketing Camille Grade and former TMI Hospitality Director of Operational Performance Standards Deena Sutton about how the program has been a net-positive for both of their companies.

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Pieces from an Art WORKS artist hang in Myriad Mobile’s Downtown Fargo offices.

The Arts Partnership’s Art WORKS Program

What It Is

Hanging local art in your office is a great first step, but canvases on the wall can become invisible after a while. What makes The Arts Partnership’s Art WORKS program so valuable is the active learning and team-building that comes with it.

After having some deep conversations with key stakeholders in your business, TAP selects three artists for your season. Once or twice during that time, depending on the package you select, an artist comes to do an artist-employee engagement activity. TAP provides wine and cheese and works with each artist to create a program meant to challenge the thinking of your employees. Each presentation/activity takes about an hour.

With a number of the pacakages, an artist’s work is hung throughout your offices for a period of time — typically four months. The art is intended to activate your space and also keeps empoyees engaged since it changes out throughout the year.

How It Works: An Example

  • A photographer talks about their process for selecting what to specifically frame in their camera when they’re looking at a wide landscape where many features have value.
  • We hand out small frames and sends employees out to shoot images in the office with their phones.
  • We upload them, talk together about the various perspectives of similar images, and analyze what they choose to focus on and why.
  • We talk about how, when you start a new project, you have numerous areas to focus on and how it can be overwhelming.
  • Taking the emphasis off of a “work” assignment and engaging in a no-pressure art activity helps employees think differently about their choices. It also helps them reach out to collaborate, ask questions and share their ideas with colleagues they may not know well.

Myriad Mobile

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Camille Grade is the vice president of sales and marketing at Fargo-based mobile-development company Myriad Mobile.

What was your initial interest in the Art WORKS program?
Camille Grade: Myriad Mobile has always had a strong focus on design; it’s one of our differentiators in the market. Creating software is a multi-disciplinary process, and it makes sense that the fundamentals of the arts are part of the process.

What value did you find for your team in participating in the program?
Grade: The supplemental activities were great. It allowed our team to flex their creative muscles and participate in a group activity outside of the normal day-to-day responsibilities we all have — team bonding! Participating in the program also helped our team think about what they wanted our office to look like. Some of our team members brought in their own original artwork to display in our office, too.

Did you ever talk about the art or the program with any clients or potential clients who came to the building? If so, what was their reaction?
Grade: When giving clients tours of our office, we would often talk about (the Art WORKS program). Not only was it a great conversation piece; it was a great way to talk about the broader community and what makes us unique.

You’re a tech firm staffed by mostly younger employees. What value did you see for them as individual, STEM-based team members?
Grade: Beautiful, functional design is and always has been a crucial piece of our development process. We don’t create software in a technical vacuum.

I think it’s also important to talk about process. Artists have a process for creating art; our team has a process for creating software. Both processes have technical and artistic elements.

What were the unexpected benefits of participating in the program?
Grade: It gave employees ownership of their workspace. It was fun to hear team members talk about what they liked about the art, how it was displayed on various walls, where we could put more art, etc. It was really important to us to have art in all spaces of our office so that all members could be a part of the experience.

TMI Hospitality

Deena Sutton is the former director of operational performance standards at TMI Hospitality.

For Former TMI Hospitality Dirctor of Operational Performance Standards Deena Sutton, the program allowed for some fabulous discoveries:

“Art WORKS was a huge asset to the culture within the office. It gave the opportunity for members of different departments to spend time together, and it was a chance for employees to get away from their normal routine and stress levels and tap into their creative side. Some employees didn’t even know they had a creative side, but with the right atmosphere, they found that they, too, could be creative.

“I loved attending the program so that I could step away from my phone and emails and get the creative side of my brain refreshed and awakened. I could also spend time with employees in different departments and make a connection with them. This made it easier and more comfortable when we had projects to work on together down the road.

“I also learned that when you have a challenge at work, sometimes the best solution is to look at the challenge from a different (point of) view.”

For more information about Art WORKS, head to:

TheArtsPartnership.net/Programs/ArtWorks

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