Take your team to the opera: how the Arts can positively shape us

April 08, 2019
Spread the word!

By Ian Taylor, Executive Director at Sheffield / AltoPartners New Zealand

Arts and culture; the celebration of creativity, intellect, history and different societal perspectives, are an integral part of a dynamic community and are catalysts of societal well-being and achievement. In this article, we aim to highlight the relationship between the maturing of human the experience and the promotion of arts and culture in schools, communities and businesses.

…the intrinsic skills gained from enjoying or studying the arts and the effect this has on innovative thought can have significant beneficial impacts on business leadership and decision-making.

Firstly, what role do arts and culture play in fostering better leadership and management? Well, it seems it is the intrinsic skills gained from enjoying or studying the arts, and the effect this has on innovative thought that can have significant beneficial impacts on business leadership and decision-making. Albert Einstein claimed that we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking that we used when we created them. To be successful in business and compete on a global stage, it is important to embrace unique ideas and be prepared to adopt alternative points of view. Two examples of this summarised by the Harvard Business Review show how exposing top professionals to masterful art pieces and instructing them to describe what they see is an interesting exercise into opening minds and improving observational skills. The participants of the exercise invariably looked at artworks through a lens constructed from their own experiences. This caused details to be missed in which case they were encouraged to adopt different perspectives and look again, describing in depth not what was in front of them but what they saw afresh.

When we consider the role of an artist in paying attention to the details, while simultaneously ignoring them to step back and observe the whole picture and how the interconnecting brushstrokes work together, we can appreciate important parallels with top-performing leaders. We also know artists to be perfectionists, striving for excellence, while also encouraging feedback and criticism as they appreciate they are only as successful as their last canvas. Also, we know them to be certain of what drives them and their own passion, but also reflective of contemporaries and the inspiration they are surrounded by.

The benefits of a strong creative industry, manifested through arts and culture, is known to permeate through all levels of society, generating jobs and income, fostering innovative thought and the acceptance of diversity. Specifically, regarding the economic benefits, in 2010, Angus and Associates on behalf of the Wellington City Council conducted an Arts Wellington Economic Impact Survey of the 40 member-organisations of the Wellington Arts and Cultural Development Trust. They sought to identify the total income and expenditure of each organisation to ascertain the cost of running arts and cultural organisations while investigating the positive commercial value they brought to their region. It was found that a total of $141.4 million was spent amongst 38 contributors of the 40 member-organisations. $83 million of this expenditure went towards marketing, operations and overheads and $58.4 million was spent on wages and salaries, supporting 2,041 jobs. The majority of the contracted services and spending was done in support of local business which generated further income in the community and contributed positively to the local economy.

As we can well appreciate, today’s children are tomorrow’s leaders, and so the positive behaviours they glean while in school will facilitate their journeys to leadership positions later in life.

The effect of promoting arts education and cultural experiences in schools is seen in a review conducted on the Sistema Aotearoa pilot programme implemented in Otara in Auckland for 6-11 year old children and supported by the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra. The programme is open-access with no auditions required. It exists to teach participants a musical instrument through group-based pedagogy and provide them with the opportunity to play in an orchestral setting – all absolutely free. The aim of the programme was to not only generate positive outcomes for the participants themselves, but also for their families and the surrounding community. An evaluation of the effectiveness of the programme found that participants had much higher success with reading and mathematics than their non-participating peers. It was also found that the programme’s participants began to establish positive relationships with teachers which was thought to be an extension of the positive connections they had with Sistema Aotearoa tutors. Families of the participants also began to adjust home-life to support on going participation and achievement in the programme which, of course, had positive effects in parent-children relationships and children’s self-esteem and confidence.

Greater success in non-arts achievements derived from involvement in cultural and art activities is also highlighted by Rachel Bolstad in her report for the New Zealand Council for Educational Research. Several US-based studies suggest that children with arts participation performed significantly higher through a wide variety of academic measures than those who had not participated in the arts. Creative thought, high personal and cognitive competency underpins current and future academic success. These things were found be fostered in schools which promoted arts education.

The impact of arts and culture on health and well-being cannot be ignored either. Several studies have been conducted the world-over on this topic. All point to the positive individual mental and social benefits of community arts participation that forms a basis for optimal health and well-being. Well-being is the state in which a person can maximise their potential by utilising creativity in their work, increasing their productivity, strengthening bonds with those around them and having a positive impact in their community. Perhaps arts participation is so valuable to human health because it aligns strongly with the NZ ‘Five Ways to Well-being’ model of mental health which supports connection, taking notice, ongoing learning and development, being active and giving back. Not only is well-being directly enhanced through arts participation, but stress, anxiety, depression, low self-esteem and social isolation are all reduced. This lends further weight to the argument that we all will be happier, better adjusted people and have a greater sense of fulfillment in life and work when partnerships in arts and culture are a priority.

Our current Government supports this viewpoint; that better individual, social and environmental health and well-being are imperative for strengthening families, communities, workforces and the economy. It introduced the concept of the Well-being Budget in December 2018. In it all policies will need to not only have cost-analyses conducted, but also well-being impact summaries provided. This will apply across all government agencies and initiatives, and funding applications will need to address key priorities. These include generating low-emissions regional and business opportunities, improving technological economic and social endeavours, improving Māori and Pasifika skills and circumstances, improving the status of child well-being and the elimination of family violence and enhancing the mental health status of youth. It recognises that environmental and societal well-being must be at the core of public policy. This broader perspective, balancing the numbers against a wider range of outcomes, is both challenging and exciting as we contemplate what constitutes a ‘rich’ nation.