— Cultural Sources of Newness

Culture and CSR: Neither icing on the cake nor static pillars

When Berliners first saw the new WZB campus designed by James Stirling, they dubbed it “die Geburtstagstorte” (the birthday cake)–inspired by the timing (the 750th anniversary of the city) and the pink and blue stripes around several parts of the building that are reminiscent of thick layers of icing on a cake. When I went to the Staatsgalerie in Stuttgart to speak at the 3rd Forum on “CSR und Kultur”  this week, I felt like I was visiting an older sibling of the WZB, because I was surrounded by familiar Stirling forms and colours. However, although we used many images during the presentations and discussions about the relationships between CSR and culture, “icing on the cake” was definitely not among them!

Staatsgalerie Stuttgart

The Forum participants from companies and cultural institutions first had the pleasure of being introduced to some of the museum’s new acquisitions, then we walked around the collection to hear curators explain how they had selected pieces to use in a special program they had designed for Trumpf GmbH + Co KG’s  tailored management development program on globalization. For example, under the influence of Paul Gauguin’s painting “E Haere oe i hia” (“Where are you going?”), the participants wrote postcards home from the island, describing what they were thinking and feeling there.


E Haere oe i hia, Paul Gaugin, courtesy Staatsgalerie

Later in the afternoon the speakers from the company Sabine Jüstel and Gerd Duffke reported on how positively the participants had responded to the learning experience offered in the museum: the program had moved them out of their usual context and stimulated them to reflect on their own values in preparation for engaging with people from distant cultures with very different values. The other works used in the program were Ernst Ludwig Kirchner’s large sculptures of a naked man and woman that had been inspired by exhibits he had seen in museums in Germany, and Sam Francis’s “The Over Yellow 1.” which fuses European and Japanese painting styles. In each case, the art experts provided background information about the pieces and stimulated the participants to reflect and share their responses together.

The pilot project is perceived to be so successful that Trumpf will continue it with the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart and a business consultant specializing in Asia. In response to a question about measuring the impact of such a course, the two speakers from the company stressed that the evidence for the effectiveness of such an approach to management development cannot be measured in simple cause-and-effect terms because a course is just one element among many others that influence how managers deal with the challenges of engaging with people from different cultures. They also emphasized that it takes time for such activities to bear fruit, so impacts on the bottom line cannot be expected immediately anyway. Their observations of the managers and the feedback they received made them confident that the exercise is valuable. Their advice: “Just do it! Es funktioniert (it works).” The presentation by the two speakers from Trumpf highlighted several additional features that are likely to be significant for the ability of the company to undertake and benefit from such a project. The company is engaged in several other arts-related activities with strong support from the CEO, Nicola Leibinger-Kammüller,  who was quoted as saying “Kunst lebt bei Trumpf und Trumpf lebt Kunst” (Art lives in Trumpf and Trumpf lives art). So, while this particular program is new, the idea of working with the arts has a certain amount of legitimacy and tradition in the company. They also envisage exploring other themes in future, such as innovation and active listening.

For the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart this is a new experiment, expanding its range of activities as a cultural institution providing services to society. The idea of addressing the topic of “CSR and Culture” at the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart was initiated a couple of years ago by the regional German branch (DNWE) of the European Business Ethics Network (EBEN) . Representatives from the Baden-Württemberg branch of DNWE wanted to find a partner with whom to address values in business and society in a fresh way. The objectives are to “strengthen and promote innovation, creativity and the sustainability of the region” by stimulating a mutually enriching interaction between business and the arts.

For this 3rd Forum the speakers from the Staatsgalerie and from the regional branch of DNWE (Frank Dietrich and Alois Hauk, respectively) presented two strong theses.

Thesis 1: The richer the cultural context, the better the chances are for economic development. (Je reichhaltiger ein kulturelles Umfeld, desto besser die Chancen für die wirtschaftliche Entwicklung.) They pointed out that this thesis builds on ideas about corporate cultural responsibility that Michael Hutter wrote about in 2004 (reference below).

Thesis 2: Culture is an instrument and a task of CSR. (Kultur ist ein Instrument und eine Aufgabe von CSR.)

Frank Dietrich also offered several different ways of visualizing the role of culture in CSR. One of the traditional CSR models of 3 pillars, standing for economic, social, and environmental dimensions of sustainability, offers a logical point of departure for visualizing the role of culture. He proposed that art is “the reified image of values in society” („geronnenes Werte-Bild”), so engaging with art helps make values addressable. Culture can therefore

  • be positioned as underpinning the three pillars;
  • be seen to connect the three pillars;
  • be contained within the social pillar; or
  • be added as a fourth pillar.

Which of these images is the most helpful to develop work in this area? Thinking back to the new acquisitions we saw in the museum, I wondered whether a completely different image might offer a more promising way forward, because the pillar image is static and does not reflect the tensions and complementarities that exist in practice between the various dimensions of sustainability. For example, the quite extraordinary piece we saw by Richard Deacon, “Red Sea Crossing”, with its huge twisted waves of oak beams, strong and intertwined, could stimulate novel ways of thinking about CSR and the role of culture therein. (Dear Reader, you will have to visit the museum to see this piece; it is too recent for me to be allowed to insert a photograph here.) Maybe a reflective walk through the Staatsgalerie collection would lead to the discovery of additional generative images with which to enrich the conceptualization of the topic?

The Staatsgalerie Stuttgart and the regional business ethics network have not found answers to their questions in the literature, but they do not want to wait until researchers resolve the issues. So they are moving ahead with their thinking and experimenting and seeking more partners who want to undertake the learning journey with them, for example, in programs to develop competences in companies like Trumpf, or to heighten awareness of CSR in all kinds of organizations (including cultural institutions, as one participant pointed out).

It was stimulating to share my research on artistic interventions in organizations with the participants. Possibly the most challenging aspect of my preparation was to choose among the many interesting cases I have studied across Europe since starting the research program at the WZB. This time I decided to draw on an example from Germany in which a medium sized company worked with a graffiti artist to address leadership issues, and an example from Spain in which an Irish artist worked with a media company to develop new ways of generating content—and as a valuable “by-product” also discovered how to build working relationships with diverse local stakeholders (including a museum) whose presence they only became aware of thanks to the wide-open eyes of the foreign artist.

When I described the multiple roles that  intermediaries are playing in bridging between the world of the arts and the world of organizations, a participant asked whether the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart might be such an intermediary in the Trumpf project. Most of the intermediaries I am studying are specialized organizations, but in some cases other constellations are emerging. In this particular case, my sense is that the intermediary is the steering group composed of representatives from the company, the Staatsgalerie, and the consultant with expertise in Asia. The advantage of such a structure, if the members invest time and effort, is that they can bring in their different perspectives to develop ideas and address problems that might emerge in the process, learning together and from one another while maintaining their professional identities.


Reference provided by Frank Dietrich:

Hutter, Michael & Henschel, Barbara, “Corporate Cultural Responsibility. Zur Pflege der

Ressource Kultur”, 2004