How can art affect and transform space? This question not only guides our work at limeSHIFT, but also serves as the subject of much discussion and contemplation in the greater art world as well. As the definition of “art” continues to change and expand, more and more artists are responding to that very question, creating site-specific works in populated public spaces. So, what kinds of answers are these artists proposing? And how can we extrapolate meaning from their abstract works?
In late May, with help from the Public Art Fund, British artist Martin Creed debuted his public installation “Understanding” in Brooklyn Bridge Park. The piece consists of a rotating, 25-foot-tall red neon sign that reads “Understanding,” and is on display on the park’s Pier 6, making it visible from the Brooklyn Bridge and parts of lower Manhattan’s waterfront. Concrete seating surrounds the base of the massive, spinning neon attraction. “Understanding” both interacts with and imposes on the space around it. From its arresting location to its striking subject matter and literal glow, passersby cannot help but engage with Creed’s work.
While the piece itself is quite a physically imposing presence, it’s more figurative impact on the space seems to be the opposite. Usually, big bright signs serve to advertise products, telling their viewers what to think, do, or buy. In this case, however, Creed has designed the opposite into his piece: ambiguity. Challenging the typical uses of the medium at hand, “Understanding” asks questions rather than answers them. Impossible to ignore, the glowing sign invites hundreds of people per day to think about what understanding means to them.
Martin Creed’s piece in Brooklyn Bridge Park serves as a powerful example of the ways in which art can affect and transform its surroundings. In the middle of a bustling New York City park,“Understanding” reminds the busy passersby to pause, contemplate, and perhaps even try to understand what it means to understand. As Creed so deftly demonstrates with this piece, one of the most powerful ways art can affect the atmosphere of a space, either physical or figurative, is to actively engage with that space, engineering a level of ambiguity into the work that allows for dialogue to emerge between the art itself and its viewers. In the spirit of Creed’s work, I encourage you to bring your own experience to the piece now and engage in that dialogue as we do at limeSHIFT. So, what does understanding mean to you?
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This script was branded on an over-sized T-Shirt hanging in the Carpenter Center at Harvard for exhibition ad usum “to be used” by Pedro Reyes.
Reading Doris Sommers, The Work of Art in the World, got me searching for examples of Pedro Reyes work, who is the epitome of an artist who disarms us with both the beauty of his work and his process which is often spiritually transformative. He is the type of artist limeSHIFT strives to engage in order to create change within organizations and in communities; his work is not just sculptural but also engaging and he strives for it to be participatory and useful for social and psychological transformation. Read More…
‘They’re so frightened of being wrong they have exempted themselves from being fashionable’ says British artist Grayson Perry in today’s headline in The Independent. He is referring to the personality-free trend in fashion which could be extrapolated to the fearful norm-driven world we live in.
Is being inoffensive, non-descript and safe serving the civilization? How does this transfer to style in the workplace?
Any workplace has its subcultures. Take a hospital, the doctors generally don’t mix with the nurses, and the technicians are a culture of their own. Some would attribute these divisions to hierarchy, but there is also an element of workstyle. Each subculture almost has its own language; there are types of people that prefer certain types of work. These differences are not inherently bad; they just are. If these types of people worked better together, understood one another’s language and yet had no expectation that one would begin to behave like the other, you might get a more interactive, dynamic work culture.
What if we had a cosmopolitan approach to dealing with different work styles? Instead of attempting to create a melting pot or a smoothie out of our diversity, how about fully imagining the potential of each person and appreciating that supporting unique style has more potential to create delicious possibility?
Cooperation is often confused with compliance or conformity. Perhaps because it’s easier for the mind to grasp, there is often a push in societies and workplaces for everyone to adhere to the same norms.
Collective potential is maximized when we steer away from conformity and more toward imaginative collaboration based on the appreciation of the potential of many independent and unique styles. In order to effectively mix different styles, it’s important to understand the distinct nature of your own style and that of others.
An understanding of aesthetic or taste can help identify different styles without them being seen as a source of conflict, but rather an appreciation of human possibility.
Realizing collective potential requires three types of action:
For more from Grayson Perry on creativity, identity, war, refugees, check this out:
“From the ice age, they still made culture…. When we’re fighting wars part of the reason is for the freedom for us to express ourselves.”
In the words of Raqs Media Collective:
“The best kind of art, like the rain, invokes a re-ordering of the cognitive and the sensory fields. It asks of its actual and potential publics to open doors and windows and let the other worlds in. This re-ordering–subtle slight, sure, sharp or soft as the case may be, whether it is a desultry drizzle across a few frazzled or jaded synapses, or the neurological equivalent of an electrical thunderstorm and sudden downpour — is why we bother with art in the first place. When it rains art, we do not reach for umbrellas. It makes sense to let ourselves soak, as long as we can, like children dancing in the season’s first rain.”
In the same vein, my art practice does not discriminate audiences in the application of art but almost always disrupts a habitual pattern to inspire a personal or social shift. As Creative Director of limeSHIFT, our art interventions have influenced empathy, community and leadership in private companies, universities and neighborhoods in Boston, Chicago, and New York City. Many of our working practices are directly informed not just by individual artistic processes, but also by the working modes of artist collectives.
Artist collectives have occurred throughout history, often gathered around central resources, for instance the ancient sculpture workshops at the marble quarries on Milos in Greece and Carrara in Italy. Collectives featured during both the Russian revolution when they were set up by the state in all major communities, and the French Revolution when the Louvre in Paris was occupied as an artist collective.
An artist collective is an initiative that is the result of a group of artists working together towards shared aims. These aims can include almost anything that is relevant to the needs of the artist, ranging from purchasing bulk materials, sharing equipment, space or materials, through to following shared ideologies, aesthetic and political views or even living and working together as an extended family. Sharing of ownership, risk, benefits, and status is implied, as opposed to other, more common business structures with an explicit hierarchy of ownership such as an association or a company.
The aphorism “a rising tide lifts all boats” is associated with the idea that improvements in the general economy will benefit all participants in that economy. Beyond sharing materials and ideologies, artist collectives have showcased time and again that collaborative processes tend to benefit all of the members of any given community.
“I don’t take pictures, the pictures take me.” – photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson
What is it about the corporate environment that makes listening such a difficult-to-achieve skill?
A sampling of the 345m Google search results from the phrase “listen better”:
Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts, argues that there is a cultural bias towards extroverts in the business world because we tend to favor action over contemplation and charismatic over bland personalities. Yet, considering a third to half of the population are introverts, it would behoove us to reconsider. Especially since, introverts “listen more than they talk, think before they speak.”
In fact, according to Adam Grant of the Wharton School and Francesca Gino at Harvard Business School:
“In a dynamic, unpredictable environment, introverts are often more effective leaders—particularly when workers are proactive, offering ideas for improving the business. Such behavior can make extroverted leaders feel threatened. In contrast, introverted leaders tend to listen more carefully and show greater receptivity to suggestions, making them more effective leaders of vocal teams.”
While listening may come naturally to introverts, are there ways to effectively cultivate it (besides reading how-to articles)?
I recommend a creative outlet. The link between listening and creativity is tied to relinquishing control. We have to let go of the outcome, be receptive and embody vulnerability to truly explore an idea and, in fact, a conversation. The act of being able to live for an extended period of time in ambiguity requires the same mentality whether creating a new type of art or listening to an unfolding discussion.
A frequent refrain from artists is that the material “speaks” to them. Whether your material is a blank canvas or an employee, letting creative ideas surface requires the act of listening. Give it a try and you may be surprised by the results.
“Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance.”
As the new administration fails us on inclusivity, corporate America has an opportunity to set an example. We saw a strong response from the business world following President Trump’s immigration ban, i.e. Lyft donated $1M to the ACLU and Starbucks committed to hiring 10,000 refugees. However, companies need to be thinking and acting on Diversity & Inclusion all of the time not only because of values, but because it makes good business sense:
The below framework offers an overview of how Diversity & Inclusivity flows through organizations.
Bersin by Deloitte’s Diversity and Inclusion Framework
Cultivating a diverse and inclusive culture is a win-win for companies. Diversity & Inclusion drive innovation through:
1. Employee Resource Groups
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2. Knowledge Management
3. Diverse Employee’s Perspectives
Diversity comes in different forms and companies should strive to be as inclusive as possible.
Visible and Invisible Diversity Traits
Steve Jobs said, “The source of wealth and capital in this new era is not material things … it is the human mind, the human spirit, the human imagination and our faith in the future.” Let’s cultivate that and create better businesses in the process.
If you’ve ever wondered why caring about employee engagement is important, the above intimidating statistics may catch your attention. Yet, the conversation among business leaders is rarely on whether or not employee engagement is important (it is!). The disagreements instead lie in how to improve it. Employee engagement is a tricky problem to diagnose since it depends on an intricate set of drivers from across the organization, including ones outside of the employee’s defined role, such as Work/Life Balance, Physical Work Environment, Play, People, Sense of Accomplishment, Brand Alignment, and more.
Figure 1. Drivers of Employee Engagement
Source: “Employee Engagement in Theory and Practice: Why Should You Care About Employee Engagement?” (2015) Microedge.com. MicroEdge, LLC.
With limited time and resources, what should leaders focus on? Research points to the following as the top four issues to improve engagement: Role Design, Organizational Identity, Career Ladders and Community.
Figure 2. Employee Motivation Ranked by Company Process
Source: McGregor, Lindsay, and Neel Doshi. “How Company Culture Shapes Employee Motivation.” Harvard Business Review, 20 Apr. 2016.
At limeSHIFT, all of our workshops establish collective intention setting. We help employees connect with their own source of purpose and connect that with the people and environment around them (People, Place and Purpose). Under this lens, we view Role Design as more than the tasks assigned to the employee. Effective Role Design means an individual has a clear purpose within a collective context. It helps to set boundaries, empowers individuals within the collective and creates ownership by building out spheres of influence (see our methodology in Figure 3). Thus, our work also influences both Organizational Identity and Community.
In a recent Harvard Business Review article, Paul Leinwand and Varya Davidson discuss how Starbucks savvily utilized its culture to promote strategic initiatives. The bottom line:
“Let people bring their own emotional energy to an enterprise where they feel they have a stake… thus leverage the company’s culture to bring its strategic identity to life.”
Two key ideas jump out of this statement: “their own emotional energy” and “stake.” Translating into limeSHIFT terms, we see “individual purpose within a collective context” and “ownership.”
People, Place and Purpose.
Align individual and organizational values and give people a sense of ownership in the company and employee engagement will drastically improve. We know because we’ve seen it. The spark of excitement from a new collaboration. The renewed vigor for work. The pride that tilts an employee’s chin up slightly higher. Those are the clear signs of engagement that we get to see after a limeSHIFT workshop.
Figure 3. limeSHIFT’s Co-Design Methodology