For most companies, arts-led CSR strategies are the exception rather than the rule, with most focusing on areas such as community, environment, diversity and so on.
Although clearly areas which deserve the attention of business – to exclude the arts as an enabler of these strategies is short-sighted. The arts could and should be integral to building awareness and support of an organisation’s CSR strategy and in engaging the stakeholders in the widest possible sense.
Artists have long been associated with the challenges of responding to the world around them, to develop work that is inclusive rather than exclusive, to provide an alternative literacy to people without a voice and, where relevant, create links between communities who may never otherwise interact. The skills, knowledge and creativity of the arts and artists in this respect are a key tool in enabling businesses to build an effective CSR strategy.
As an example, look to the work of the Dublin Docklands Development Authority, charged with creating a world-class city quarter in an area of Dublin that is undergoing dramatic change and significant social regeneration. To support this process, the Authority actively engages the community that live in the area and are most affected by the change with significant arts programmes. Successful projects include a photography-based competition, ‘Caught on Camera’ which saw schools and community groups use some 1700 disposable cameras to explore and record people, events, landscapes and the cultural mix in the area; as well as ‘Honk’, a musical performed in The Helix by children from Docklands following support by the Authority for free drama classes for 16 junior and primary schools in the area.
The Docklands Authority have found again and again that these projects are an effective way to create opportunities to engage with the community in an interesting and exciting way while, at the same time, providing opportunities for young people to discover their inherent creativity and capability.
These examples specifically address the issue of community but it is easy to extend this principle into other areas. Not only can the arts enable businesses or individuals to understand their cultural, social, political, economic and natural environments, they can work with business to develop creative ways to address these issues.
Once devised, a major challenge for companies is to engage staff in the new CSR programmes. Those who lead the area of CSR are naturally passionate about the impact on organisational behaviour and the opportunity for change, but does it go beyond them into the wider workforce? We believe the arts can play a role in bringing CSR concepts to life, and ensure engagement by the wider stakeholders.
Many factors compete for our attention in the workplace, and CSR is just one of the messages that you might hear amongst the chatter of corporate communication. If we are to become engaged in a process or activity we must find a way for it to compete and, potentially, complement this culture. This is what the arts seek to do on a daily basis and, in its many forms, art is entertainment.
A recent collaboration between The Central Bank and the Gallery of Photography creates just such an image; literally. In a stunning series of pictures, one artist, Michael Durand, used images of staff together with shredded banknotes to “signify the actual monetary value that society has assigned to certain functions: from recycling to charitable donations to reality TV shows”.
An image which features a staff member sitting at a desk with a tiny pile of notes showing the average annual donation to charity per person in Ireland, set alongside a photograph of another employee in a car park next to a large volume of shredded notes representing the cost of a Mercedes Benz Maybach is thought-provoking, and strikingly visual, to say the least.
At Business to Arts we believe that the arts have the ability to bring an alternative perspective and a voice to many CSR initiatives and, critically, allow businesses to differentiate their CSR agenda from others to their internal and external stakeholders. New ways of thinking, working and communicating can evolve through working with the creative minds in the arts and businesses that realise the opportunity to leverage this will increase their chances of converting the rhetoric to true responsibility.