This Is Why The Arts Are Your Investment

Written by: Adrienne Olson, Kilbourne Group

Photos via Kilbourne Group

On Fargo’s last 1 Million Cups of 2019, Carrie Wintersteen, founder of Theatre B, danced her way on stage and sang her announcement.

“If your company has a recruitment problem, the arts are your investment!”

“When people talk about moving to anyplace, they are interested in housing, schools, neighborhoods, safety, and so many other things,” Wintersteen explains. “The other great selling point of a community is the arts. Arts and culture form the identity of a place and set one city apart from another. Also, once the kids are taken care of, the parents start to look around and ask, what am I going to do here?”

Twenty years ago, as Wintersteen and her family tried to find arts and cultural amenities to be part of, they found limited options for live theater performers.  

“People need third places, fourth places even, where they can have meaningful relationships and activities. I needed to figure out how that could happen in the theater,” said Carrie. “That’s part of how Theatre B got started.

Employees at the former TMI Hospitality work with artist Steve Knutson to create a collaborative piece of art.
Employees at the former TMI Hospitality work with artist Steve Knutson to create a collaborative piece of art.

“Once you take care of basic needs, the differentiator is the culture. How does it get created? How does it take care of multiple generations and diverse socio-economic status populations? The more mix and intermingle you can get among diverse participants, the more attached people feel. They feel safer, and like they know their neighbors. That’s what helps people put roots down.” 

Jobs can be found in warmer places, Wintersteen reminds us. We need them to feel attached to this place and want to stay.

Dayna Del Val, President and CEO of The Arts Partnership, has first-hand experience with how transformational art experiences can be. 

“Across the board, almost every person has had a bad art experience. Someone said they couldn’t draw, write, or sing. Every four-year-old thinks they are a professional artist. Every four-year-old has the confidence of Picasso,” Del Val says. “Somewhere between four and adulthood, someone or something has killed that in you.”

Employees at Office Sign Company work with artist Mark Elton to create collaborative animals and respond to the photos of Scott Seiler in Haiku format.
Employees at Office Sign Company work with artist Mark Elton to create collaborative animals and respond to the photos of Scott Seiler in Haiku format.

Shared art experiences can reignite or nurture the creative side of every single person on your team. “You see someone go from bashful, to proud. And that’s a powerful moment,” Del Val says.

Wintersteen and Del Val shared ways the arts can contribute to your recruitment and retention efforts.

1. Call The Arts Partnership (TAP).TAP can help you explore ideas that could accomplish your goals through art. There is little to no commitment in making a call to our arts advocacy organization, which can connect you to artists, recommend ways to incorporate art into your organization or event, or simply serve as your first point of contact to help you explore the opportunities available to you.

2. Take out an advertisement in a playbill. At the very least, you’ll be helping to offset operational costs which allows the artists to focus more on their craft. And your company gains exposure to a new audience.

3. Sponsor a full program. You might need to be comfortable with a certain level of risk because in art, you can’t always control the outcome. But you can shape it and through truly engaging with the art, you and your team will be transformed by it.

4. Lend your expertise to an arts program. Theatre B partnered with Sanford Health’s Cancer Survivorship Program to bring the play WIT to life on North Dakota stages. The performance of the story of a college professor dying of cancer who agrees to undergo experimental treatment was highly informed and shaped by guidance from Sanford doctors and members of a Stage 4 cancer support group. “It was an example of a really amazing partnership,” Carrie says of experience, which she describes as one of the biggest highlights of professional career. Sanford saw it as an opportunity to address physician burnout, which is amplified by the need to detach from the emotional side of the work. Through the play experience, Sanford employees were immersed in the emotions of what they deal with every day.  Dr. Shelby Terstriep of Sanford Roger Maris Cancer Center certainly felt the value in the partnership.

“Burnout is a hot topic in medicine,” Terstriep said. “We know that when clinicians are burnt out their empathy goes down.  Arts and culture are vital components to combat this. The arts bring beauty to life. They provide an escape, relaxation, time for introspection and a sense of community, all of which are needed to help balance the trauma we see as clinicians. 

“Having a vibrant arts community is vital to attracting team members. When I go to recruiting dinners, a minority of my time is spent describing what the clinic or hospital is like. Recruits want to know how they are going to build a balanced life in Fargo and I am thankful I can describe a community that is rich in these things.”

5. Immerse your team in the creation of art.Think about what your corporate environment looks like and challenge yourself to incorporate arts and culture into your team building. Art is an ultimate neutralizer. If your goal is for people to get to know each other regardless of title, uncover strengths and weaknesses, build comradery and friendly competition, a shared art experience can give that to your team.

6. Share your space with art. Performance art can be mobile. Do you have an open space that could serve as a temporary play stage? Do you have walls? The Arts Partnership’s ArtWORKS program will bring local art into your office and change it periodically. Then take the next step and allow The Arts Partnership to create an engaging, hands-on art experience between your employees and the artist. Add local music to your next employee gathering.

7. Be a champion of the arts.Be willing to start somewhere and see what it becomes. Buy out a performance and treat your employees to an artistic experience. Investing in this way creates a high impact for the arts organization and diversifies the ways your employees are engaged with their community and your company.

8. Reward employees with art experiences.Spending money on crystal engraved trophies? Purchasing plaques that are destined for the garbage someday? Giving year-end gifts? Consider redirecting that spending to a local artist who can take your budget, your parameters, and your wishes to create original art that expresses your appreciation in a genuine way.

9. Never take arts and culture for granted. Art doesn’t get produced for free. Pay artists for their work. They are skilled workers with a dedication to their craft, and they should not be expected to give away their product for free. Art event take a lot of volunteers. A thriving arts cultures often takes a public-private-non-profit partnership. What role can you play in making sure arts and culture is thriving in the communities you call home?

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