Full-Stack Art Engagement - Op-Ed by Robin Peckham

 Image: Shawn Maximo/DISimages

Image: Shawn Maximo/DISimages

The single greatest place for art, in fact, must generally be within a company or organization, providing alternative thinking strategies, improving environments, and boosting morale...

With artist commissions, collaborations, and crossovers now a core part of the modern corporate arsenal, it has become common sense that these programs belong within the marketing department: an artist cosign becomes a piece of content that can be transformed and transmuted for the sake of advertising, if not directly promoting products then at least lifting the brand image into the transcendental realm of art and culture. This is all well and good.

But, when corporations see art as a tool for branding and marketing, they sometimes miss out on some of the most important contributions that art could potentially make. The single greatest place for art, in fact, must generally be within a company or organization, providing alternative thinking strategies, improving environments, and boosting morale—a form of internal communication rather than simply a way for a brand to communicate its values externally. If the values that contemporary art represents, after all, have not been fully internalized and drawn into organizational structure, the purpose of the art program is effectively neutered before it has even begun.

Many corporations would be better served if they could understand branding through art as part of a full-stack application of art throughout the company. To name just a few of the roles that contemporary art plays in different sectors: corporate social responsibility (art philanthropy that intersects with adjacent missions, for instance in social justice or environmental stewardship), organizational culture (artists embedded in working environments), property portfolios (art works from corporate collections embedded in working environments), research and development (integrating artistic thinking into the product process), and networking and negotiating (by inserting key individuals into trans-organizational networks and hierarchies based on cultural capital).

Decision-makers looking to initiate, renew, or re-up arts programs for the sake of branding should take the time to first think through what they’re trying to convey: Creativity? Impact? Intellect? Cultural Fluency? These are all important values, but to be communicated effectively they need to be present in everything the brand does, from approaching and dealing with artists to bringing art deeper into the company’s culture.

Robin Peckham is a curator and media professional living in Shanghai. Currently artistic director of Modern Media Group and editor-in-chief of LEAP, the international art magazine of contemporary China, he also previously founded the exhibition space Saamlung. He has organized exhibitions for institutions including K11 Art Foundation, Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, City University of Hong Kong, and Fosun Foundation.