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Artists are using their creative insight to advise business on strategies and methods of production. Catherine Morel and Philippe Mairesse explain how.

Photo of tower of lamps, steel & umbrella
Students' artwork expressing their thoughts on the creative economy

Philippe Mairesse

The relationship between arts and business is changing, and with the advent of the creative economy it would seem that the tables are turning. Whereas it used to be that management and finance principles were rigorously applied to arts organisations (KPI anyone?), or that artists would have to fit into models designed for the industrial age (corporate patronage), what we see now is businesses looking for the specific skills and competences of artists.

Increasingly, artist consultants use their knowledge of creative processes to advise businesses on strategies and methods of production

Two main factors can explain the need to revisit the artist’s relationship with business organisations. First, as organisations are increasingly manoeuvering in an environment characterised by VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity), they need to acquire a new way of thinking, moving away from the rationality of the previous century.

Second, the two buzzwords in management today are creativity and innovation. Without them, businesses are doomed. Creativity, we are told, is the oil of the twenty-first century and the creative economy has placed it at the core of all industries. The question is how to nurture and manage it? Can artists help?

Artistic interventions

Having an artist in residence is certainly a good start and can bring some unexpected rewards, as when Audencia Business School, under the auspices of the Fondation de France (Nouveaux Commanditaires scheme), decided to commission an artwork by artist Pascale Martine Tayou. The preparatory meetings, which brought various employees from across the institution together with the artist, were the most thought-provoking and subversive meetings they had ever been invited to. Surreptitiously, he helped in moving away from what could have become a corporate branding exercise into a complete rethink of the school’s missions.

If, at the beginning of the curriculum, sending French management students to art history seminars at the Ecole du Louvre is doing marvels at wetting their appetite for arts and giving them an aesthetic sense, sending some of them for a whole year to a local art school helps them develop quite different skills. Business schools need to rethink their pedagogy to better prepare students for tomorrow’s world.

Confidence with creativity

This led our school in Nantes to co-design an MSc in Management and Entrepreneurship in the Creative Economy (MECE) with the Glasgow School of Art. Being taught by artists and designers in a studio environment, creating artworks and using design processes helps develop the students’ confidence in their creative potential and in expressing abstract management thoughts in 3D. It promotes a better understanding between managers and artists, helping them to work better together at developing experiences with a strong creative element.

The Sonic Flâneurs project, initiated by the MECE programme, brought one artist and a group of students together to create a sound map of Nantes and promote a different and sensitive way of discovering the city. The project was developed in cooperation with Stereolux, an arts organisation promoting music and digital arts, and presented within the frame of Scopitone, the annual digital art festival it produces.

Students could therefore experience not only the creation of an artwork but also its production and diffusion to audiences. The next step was to scale up the project so that the sound map would add value to the city and involve its inhabitants. In this case, students and artists are not solving any existing problem. More interestingly, they are developing a collaborative artwork, raising interest in it from the community and finding the finances to make it become a social reality.

Artist-led learning

Increasingly, artist consultants use their knowledge of creative processes to advise businesses on strategies and methods of production. This is the essence of a current research project called ALL (artist-led learning), which places and observes artists in residency in higher education organisations to bring new perspectives on management pedagogy.

The artist manager provides businesses with new methods for organising and managing people and production. A recent project co-designed with Nantes local authorities helped MECE students explore how arts-based methods can re-invent processes for collecting the city’s waste.

The call for creativity offers artists the opportunity to help re-shape organisations and the way they do business. The question is whether artists wish to and can break away from the art world and its supposed autonomy. We also have to make sure that ‘art thinking’ does not become the new ‘design thinking’ which has been emptied of its creative content to become another management tool.

Catherine Morel is Director of the MSc in Management and Entrepreneurship in the Creative Economy and Philippe Mairesse is Artist and Associate Professor of the Department of Communication and Culture, both at Audencia Business School in Nantes, France.
Tw @Catherinemorel5