The Arts within Enterprise


Photo credits: Ruses and Refusals, 2019, Madison Bycroft ©

Is the engagement made for an artist as a consultant to increase creativity in the enterprise; are they an artist-in-residence expected to produce artwork; are they embedded into the production process in an avant-garde scheme? Of course, the intentions of the artist exist and differ from those of the institution.

The relationships of the art(ist) and the enterprise span the base and the superstructure dimensions of digital transformation.As part of our research of the Arts within enterprises, we have explored the forces and effects at the heart of arts’ and organisations’ co evolution. Our overarching questions were about the role of the artist in the realm of public and private organisations in the era of digital transformation. What is this role, how is it seen by different actors in the process, and how is it evaluated by the organisations and artists themselves? As we take a proactive role in our study, we ask how far can these interactions go, and what can be done to deepen them maintaining the co-evolutionary process in which both the arts and the organisations change in the context and acknowledging the asymmetry of the power relationships.

We opened the conversation in this space with a literature review, conducted through academic, archival, and discourse analysis. It provided a historical and contemporary context for how art practices have been integrated within organisations and organisational decision-making, and how artists have imagined new forms of enterprise.

The review covered artist-enterprise engagements across different timescales and levels of interaction; the goal was to identify a number of key features that would guide further exploration of arts impact on the digital transformation. We start with power relationships and business arrangements: what material outputs are expected from the artist, who owns the art and where does it go and how is the artist employed and supported? With remuneration levels usually below those of typical salaries in (tech) companies that host them, artists enter precarious asymmetric relationships that may make critique or influence on the enterprise difficult. This brings us to the next feature of the interaction: intention. Is the engagement made for an artist as a consultant to increase creativity in the enterprise; are they an artist-in-residence expected to produce artwork; are they embedded into the production process in an avant-garde scheme? Of course, the intentions of the artist exist and differ from those of the institution.

What is success in such interactions and how is it measured a question that spans across years of work within this section of the research has been opened in the review, observing examples of internal and external impact of the arts-enterprise engagement. These again are rooted in the intentions: did the enterprise bring the artist in to improve its own internal structures and processes, or to improve its reputation, increase visibility, or open new relationships for business? With the interests, intentions, success visions, and associated power varying across different arts-enterprise engagements, the role of negotiation and resolution of contradictions in creating (more) fair, emancipatory interactions is found to be crucial. This guided our further work, and our conviction that systemic policy directions for supporting these engagements are necessary. We found that future policy designed to support artist engagement with enterprise needs to support artist and general critical education in advanced digital technologies as well as providing independent funding support to allow critical engagement with enterprises. Concurrently, by supporting critical and creative education in enterprise focussed disciplines such as technology research and business education policy can support a reduction in both perceived and actual asymmetry between enterprises and
artists in these domains.

The three general categories of arts-enterprise interactions were identified earlier: residing, consulting, embedding. “Residing” signifies artists whose role is explicitly denoted as “artist (-inresidence)”, whereas “consulting” sees artists hired for short-term engagements with clear aims and goals. In enterprises directed or owned by artists we would see “embedding:” art practice central to operations of the enterprise, even if not labelled as such. In our Mapping of Arts Integration within Enterprise, we covered a range of examples and placed them into the context of these categories. We took a step further, again proactively searching for metrics of success, fairness, and impact; we formulated scales of engagement: from equal to unequal relationships between artists and enterprise; from highly collaborative, interdependent artist/enterprise practice to the independent artist practice; from long-term, sustained engagement to short-term interactions; from practice as highly defined by enterprise to that as self-defined by artist; from being for the benefit of a specific target audience to reaching wider publics and; from arts having a strong influence on enterprise to having a weak or minimal impact on enterprise.

Interactive, interview-based case studies of arts-enterprise engagement in contemporary practice allowed us to further map out how arts are integrated into different organisational formations: technology campuses, private industry, research and development, and in independent enterprise.

Direct engagement with artists and the ecosystems surrounding digital transformation was imperative in understanding the current situation and the visions of better, improved interactions. As in-person events slowly returned as an option in the COVID-19 pandemic, workshops by, with, and for the artists served as a space for exploration of success and ideas around arts-enterprise interactions. Ideas for “success metrics”, opinion surveys and experiences on successful interactions co-evolved in these spaces—allowing us to recognise the artists as the best target for the survey and gaining a vision of the industry through the lens of their experience. Combined with mapping and case study work, these inputs crystalised into policy recommendations, which is our call for systemic action.


Artsformation is a collaboration between Fondazione Studio Rizoma, European Alternatives, Norwegian Business School, Copenaghen Business School, Trinity College Dublin, waag, Latra, KEA, transmediale, FACT, La Vallée. Artsformation has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 870726. The content of this post represents the views of the author only and is his/her/their sole responsibility.

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