Business Community: Invest Deeply In The Arts To Ensure Your Own Success

Written by: Fargo Inc

Photo by J. Alan Paul Photography

The business-arts relationship in Fargo is a two-way street.

Reciprocity: Why It Matters

reciprocity (n.):

1) shared, felt or shown by both sides
2) serving to reciprocate or consisting of or functioning as a return in kind
3) mutually corresponding

This is the basis by which The Arts Partnership — and really, the arts community in general — operates in the Fargo metro. The arts are in a reciprocal relationship with all the sectors and the larger community … or at least they should be.

But what do I really mean by reciprocal relationship?

A healthy, reciprocal relationship should equate to both sides feeling like they are giving and receiving benefits equally. Both sides should have a vested interest in the success of the relationship and feel as though they couldn’t be as successful if they were on their own.

One of the most important of these reciprocal relationships in town is that of the business and arts communities.

What the Arts Give to Business

High value for attraction and retention of employees
“Local arts” and “culture” are common answers to the questions: “What do you want to do tonight/this weekend/this summer? What is there to do around here? You want to move where? But what will we do there?”

Community and creative place-making
Both for the overall sell of the metro and inside your business, where employee culture is a key factor in many people determining where they want to work.

Marketing materials
The architecture, performances and community highlights that wind up in corporate annual reports, marketing and ad campaigns, and more.

A highly educated workforce
One that has above-average access to arts and culture, thereby helping to ensure these employees are ready for your 21st-century job.

Small-business owners
A staggeringly high number of entrepreneurs since artists are their own startups.

The “cool” factor
Important for all towns that are part of “flyover country” since we can’t compete with mountains, oceans, deserts and coasts.

Tax benefits
In the case of nonprofit arts organizations, the write-off you’ll get for sponsoring events, programs, performances, openings and more.

A new, invested audience
And one who reads and learns about you when arts leaders publicly thank your business for its sponsorship (as well as when your business’s name and logo show up on their marketing materials).

The fact is that the arts community gives these and many more benefits whether you, as a business, are actively participating and supporting them or not. You can choose to never walk through the door of a theatre, museum, gallery, or performance hall and still reap the benefits listed above. But then is that really reciprocal?

What Business Can Give to The Arts

Financial support
This can be money to support programming, in-kind donations, products or space.

Showing up
This can be by attending events, both as a team and individually. And this is a really important point: Leadership has to set a tone and lead by example. If your executive team attends the arts and places value in them, it’s much more likely that mid- and lower-level employees will, too.

Reciprocity: The Real-Life Impact

When businesses make significant investments in the arts, they’re likely to see transformations that far exceed the typical ROI of a charitable donation, marketing investment or employee-engagement program.

Consider Art WORKS, for example. As I wrote about in Fargo INC! this past winter, this program engages employees with all the usual benefits of a golf outing or office olympics, but beyond creating camaraderie and generating a fun, shared experience, Arts WORKS actually helps to shift the way employees think about their current role and work.

What Is Art WORKS? A Refresher

The Arts Partnership’s Art WORKS program 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.

When the arts are an integral piece of employees’ work time, you’re likely to keep employees longer, and they are likely to push through challenges by trying multiple, creative solutions.

When businesses invest deeply in the arts nonprofit sector, you are building the long-term success of that sector, which will ultimately go a long way toward ensuring your long-term success, too.

Arts nonprofits that are able to pay competitive salaries, hire an adequate number of staff, program audaciously and take the necessary time to be truly strategic an thought leaders in the community can directly impact your ability to attract and retain the best employees and grow your business.


Because people want to live where there are fun, cultural things to do, so you have to be able to not only show that your community has all those various interest points but that you know about them and have some relationship to them, too.

I recently met with a very successful local entrepreneur who took me on a tour of his offices, where he happened to introduced me to his director of design and marketing. He mentioned that she liked to paint and that she had some work up in her office. I commented on it and found out she had a visual arts background.

Long story short: We met for coffee, and she had never heard of The Arts Partnership, despite having a somewhat recent arts degree from one of our local universities. She was immediately interested in learning more because she was feeling kind of lost where her art was concerned.

Today, she’s a board member of The Arts Partnership, has volunteered for a number of our art events, and is building us a new website (with enthusiastic support from her company). She’s even started to get some of her fellow team members excited about our work and volunteering with us, too.

That’s just one example of building employee investment in both your business and the community. That’s a reciprocal relationship.

The Arts Partnership

How might you and your team get involved? Send me an email at [email protected]. I’ll take you out for coffee, and we’ll figure it out together. I can’t wait.

The Arts Partnership President and CEO Dayna Del Val contributes a monthly column that explores the ways the local arts and business communities can work together to create economic opportunity and add aesthetic value to Fargo.

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Brady Drake is the editor of Fargo INC!