By James Balmond, Director of Balmond Studio & Azara Jaleel, Edior-in-Chief of ARTRA Magazine

Canvas versus cubicle; sculpture versus spreadsheet. The apparent dichotomy between the cultural and the corporate is clear. Expression and function are immiscible - like oil and water.  But is this really the case?

Life is multi-faceted. In order to extract the maximum benefit from such complexity, we compartmentalize. This strategy involves the creation of hierarchies and categories based on purpose, value, importance, potential and so on.  However, concepts are never fully distinct. Rather they share commonalities - overlapping areas of engagement and progression. Take the corporate and the cultural: far from being polar opposites, these two entities actually have a symbiotic relationship based on positive reciprocal connections. In fact, the closer and more intertwined culture and companies become, the greater they benefit from each other.

ARTRA identified these possibilities early, becoming a figurehead in steering Corporate Cultural Responsibility (CCR). The objective with this coined terminology reflects a vision of supporting corporates in the development of a robust art promotion and acquisition strategy - helping companies, employees, local artists and economies to thrive cohesively. A shareholder may ask, how can the integration of the cultural & corporate environments benefit me? An exploration of the dynamic links between the cultural and the corporate leads to understanding and actionable insight.

1) Embedding the company within the socio-cultural fabric.

Art in the workplace can serve as an outlet for highlighting local culture and community, creating a bridge between the workplace and its creative environment. Artistic expression and its stimulating characteristics can also be cultivated in the workspace through a series of art or cultural conversations; specifically curated to meet a defined set of business objectives, such as increasing employee productivity or proactivity. Successful corporate collections often feature local artists forming a direct reference to the proximate cultural milieu that in turn legitimizes, affirms and integrates brand on a local and national level.

2) Investment opportunity  

Not only for a company, art acquisition stimulates local micro economy for the short term, which in turn affects macro economy in the long term. Property value increases in tandem with cultural investment, as art acts as an attraction point augmenting building decorum and spatial experience. In fact, many international corporate new builds commission large-scale pieces as a property value enhancer. The incorporation of art increases secondary investment opportunities (such as selling retail or office space) due to the potential foot traffic to, and PR opportunities for, the building/company.    

3) Demonstration of a philanthropic side – positive narratives around cultivating national identity, supporting local communities and cultures.

The role that art takes within public spaces is immeasurable in its worth as it is a medium of influence and of relation. Art humanizes the environment, providing a juncture between past, present and future, between disciplines, and between ideologies. Therefore, art becomes the narrator and mutual bystander, steering both culture and heritage through imaginative stimulation. This in turn, enhances the value companies provide to their customers and the nation at large, by preserving and celebrating alternative narratives.

4) Creativity cultivates company culture & employee engagement.

To perceive an organization as a structured legal entity composed of tangible assets is an antiquated notion. The reality: companies are only as good as their people, and people thrive in colourful, connected and cohesive cultures. Corporate culture is just a shared way of thinking and behaving – the bonds that unite organization, people and brand. We’re talking 
about mission, vision, values and working philosophies. The stronger a person’s understanding of, and identification with, corporate culture, the better an individual’s work performance. The statistics legitimize the concept, as companies with flourishing cultures are 1.5 times more likely to experience revenue growth of 15% or more over 1-3 years.*

The inclusion of art and creativity within organizational culture has a positive impact on multiple levels. Firstly it can strengthen employees’ connection to brand and company. This is because art pieces can communicate brand identity in a non-verbal way. Moving beyond brand connection, creative stimulation also strengthens the bonds between people. If a sculpture, or talk from a local artist, raises issues of common concern and collective identity, workers will discuss these ideas with each other. This socialization process leads to increased productivity and performance within the collective.

Some corporates are taking these ideas even further, allowing workers to choose and position art pieces, or create communal murals. This is a signal of trust on behalf of a company and it is also gives staff a sense of control. Both these factors combine to increase worker satisfaction and consequent output.

In the post-millennial knowledge-based economy, people are a company’s most valuable asset. Software, structures, strategies and services can be replicated. But a powerfully motivated human being cannot be duplicated. Human ingenuity, creativity and proactivity: these determine the success of an organization.

Following the reasoning above, companies should always put their people first. A big part of this strategy is about keeping employees happy, healthy and mentally stimulated. Exposure to cultural stimulate can meet these objectives. Think about it: cultural expression is a natural product of the human experience. It is how we express our fears, hopes and aspirations, whilst simultaneously decoding and interpreting existential intangibles. Therefore, something so quintessentially human must also be present within the working sphere to help us retain our sense of self.

Offices can be places of extreme tension and stress. Cultural exposure acts as a release mechanism.  Studies have shown that viewing an artwork can help restore mental energy, reduce stress levels and lower feelings of internal anger caused by task-related frustration. This mechanism is known as positive distraction. Essentially one is removed from circumstantial context and transported to a new situational mental plane, creating positive emotive responses.

The cross-pollination between the cultural and the corporate unlocks so many possibilities. Currently however, the concept is in germination in Sri Lanka. We are seeing the first shoots emerge from company soils, however there is much cultivating to do. Ultimately the fate of cultural integration in the workplace is determined by the mindset of those in power. Innovative leaders need to start defining their organizations in terms of people and not just profits, culture rather than infrastructure, wellbeing and satisfaction as opposed to statistics. This requires both a sensitivity to, and understanding of, the human condition. Tapping into this way of thinking reaps dividends for companies, cultures and people alike.  


Are you part of an organization looking to include cultural diversity? Do you want to introduce some of Sri Lanka's finest artists and legacies to enlighten your collective?  ARTRA Services will gladly offer counsel and guidance through talks, presentations and guidance on the local art scene and all it entails. For more details, call us on +94772305054/+94114545355.

1st October, 2021 Applied Art | Sustainable Design