— Cultural Sources of Newness

From Keynote to Poetry: Learning about and with artistic interventions

Echoes from the opening keynote of the Creative Clash conference we held at the Goethe Institute in Brussels yesterday (March 19) resonated at the end of the day in the closing poem. From talking about artistic interventions in organizations to experiencing one. In between: presentations of three research reports and panels with policymakers (Members of the European Parliament, representatives of Directorate Generals), managers, and members of the art world. The program was punctuated with discussion opportunities to involve the ca. 150 participants who were seated in four sections according to the sense they preferred to learn with that day: feeling, hearing, seeing, or thinking. And half way through: the opening of a select exhibition that Mari Linnman curated of artworks from artistic interventions in organizations in Sweden and the Basque country.

The research reports prepared for Creative Clash by the WZB, TILLT and KEA are/will be available on line (see info below*), so I will focus here on the keynote “Artistic interventions in the creative economy” that Michael Hutter (WZB) presented and the poem that slammer Sebastian 23 composed in situ and performed for us.

Materials at Creative Clash Conference March 19 2013

Materials at Creative Clash Conference March 19 2013

Michael set the stage for the day with his statement “I believe that the Creative Economy is much bigger than the sector of the cultural and creative industries, whatever definition of the sector you might prefer.” This opening gambit was an important message for policymakers who have discovered/fallen prey to the charm of “creative industries” an important niche, but a niche nevertheless, whereas “the Creative Economy is what comes after the Productive Economy.”  Addressing the Creative Economy as a whole challenges organizations (and policymakers) because it “indicates a whole new way of doing business, and a new way of consuming goods. To put it into the tiniest of nutshells: In the Creative Economy, the new is normal. That’s why the Creative Economy is driven by chance, not by causeUncertainty plays a positive role, as a welcome opportunity to reach the unexpectable, rather than the traditional negative role, as the unavoidable risk of failure.”

As Michael pointed out, there is “a puzzling problem in trying to support the development from the Productive to the Creative Economy: How do you search for the new?” And here comes the value of tapping into cultural heritage: Michael paraphrased from Greek philosophy to help policymakers understand what is at stake.

“The question was first posed by Plato in his Meno dialogue, and is today better known as the innovation paradox: ‘if you know what you are looking for, why search? And if you don’t know what you are looking for, is there any point in searching?’  In other words: traditional, rational, causal strategies cannot reach the  new because the new is defined as that which does not follow logically, coherently from whatever there was before. The new contains an element of surprise, of being overwhelmed, of being dependent on circumstances and timing. That is why accounts of successful novelties and innovations frequently refer to notions like chance, coincidence and serendipity.”

The keynote moved elegantly from Greek antiquity to the present and future by pointing out that “the dependence on chance rather than cause is the fundamental reason why artistic interventions will be so important in the Creative Economy.”


Michael Hutter explaining the role of artistic interventions in the creative economy (photo ABA)

Michael Hutter explaining the role of artistic interventions in the creative economy (photo ABA)

I offer excerpts from the key steps in Michael’s reasoning here:

  • “Many chance events are undesirable and we have found ways to avoid them or make them improbable, but some are highly desirable and intentionally provoked.
  • Outdoor experiences serve the purpose, or travels to other cultural regions and scenes, or the learning of skills and practices that diverge from someone’s major occupation.
  •  The interruption is experienced as stimulating, because new phenomena are discovered, and new interpretations of old phenomena are found to be inspiring.
  • The interruption that triggers the new in organizations is formalized as intervention. In the course of the intervention, persons, practices and products from another world of logic enter the world of the organization’s logic.
  • To a certain degree, conventional consulting projects fall under the definition of interventions. The client firm expects to find solutions which they are unable to search for in their own logic. The logic of the consulting company – often mystified as highly unique in its self-description – is still a commercial logic, therefore not so distant from that of its clients. Yet, already that cognitive distance is able to eliminate ineffective routines and establish new working relationships.
  • In looking for another logic that promises more creative clash, the world of the arts is the prime candidate.
  • The logic of the Arts, instead, encourages an increase in the number of variations. In order to be perceived as variations of artworks, artistic discourses have to maintain a rigorous standard of quality in achieving the works, be they rap songs, sculptures, or poems.
  • Friedrich Nietzsche found a wonderful expression for this very peculiar mode of action and mode of observation by the audience.  He spoke, in the case of the classical Greek poets, of dancing in the chains of self-imposed constraints, ‘to make it hard for oneself and then spread the deceit of easiness over it – that is the feat of art (Kunststück) which they want to show us.’
  • In turning to the logic of the Arts, this sort of self-serving, authentic satisfaction can be set to clash with the functional satisfaction of goal-attainment that characterizes rational behavior in organizations.”

Michael concluded, therefore, that: “artistic interventions are uniquely suited to initiate the clashes, turbulences and storms that provide the Creative Economy with its essential resource, a never-ending stream of new ideas, new constellations and new experiences.”

A lot of ground was covered during the presentations and discussions that followed this keynote address. Instead of trying to analyse or summarize them academically, I leave you with Sebastian 23’s rendition:

Sebastian 23 Artistic intervention at Creative Clash conference March 19 2013 (photo ABA)

Sebastian 23 Artistic intervention at Creative Clash conference March 19 2013 (photo ABA)


Artistic Intervention

(A spontaneous performance poem by

Sebastian 23, March 2013)


I am an artistic intervention

At a conference about artistic interventions

That is a level 2 inception

As an artistic intervention

And I’d like to thank you all

For talking about me very friendly all day

And for trying to figure out new ways for me

to get paid in the future

I listened very closely throughout your

speeches and discussions

And I got quite a few ideas from it

Let’s transform mindsets

Like they were dancing forklifters

Keep in mind

If you see a dancing forklifter

Keep your distance

It’s probably a drunken transformer

Let’s tear down hidden walls

If we find them

Let’s create news spaces

By mixing aces and spades

Let’s tilt perspectives

And call the train station

To tell them

We are going to be delayed today


If the mountain does not come to the prophet

It’s probably

Because it is a mountain

And has no legs

Let’s clash creatively

Like a chameleon and a rainbow

Let’s think outside the box

Like Schrödingers cat would do

If it was alive – or dead

Let’s illuminate representations

Which is NOT a fancy way to say

“Let’s burn books!”

Let’s raise funds

Like critics raise eyebrows

Let’s serve creatively by interrupting work

And teaching everybody to do something new

I want bus drivers to paint their passengers

I want policemen to sing a search warrant

I want firemen to write a poem about smoking

in bed

I want artists to work

I want my jokes to work

Let’s open up

Like eyes do in their youth

Like I just did with you

Let’s interrupt the endless stream of ideas

So now

As an artistic service from me to you

A part without ideas

I have no idea what that was about


Let’s have a little Winwin

Let’s play a role playing game

I’ll be the artistic intervention

And you’ll be Hearing, Seeing, Feeling and


And now

Let’s move to a world of a different logic

The artists logic:

All greek are men

Socrates is a greek

Hence Socrates is a dancing forklifter

Let’s map our brains

While we have a new idea

And see if there is a spark

Let’s enter organizations

Like a circle enters a square room

Like a squirrel enters a room filled with nuts

Like a room enters a room filled with


Let’s support artists

Carry their paintbrush

Clean their typewriter

Beat up a critic

Let’s do

Something new

Just because it rhymes


* 1. A special “limited edition” of the research report Anke Strauß and I wrote on impacts of artistic interventions was distributed to the conference participants and it will be available online soon. In the meantime, see the summary I provided in the post I wrote on Monday before the conference

2. The results of the survey I designed with Anna Grzelec (TILLT) to map the intermediaries that product artistic interventions were analysed by Anna together with Tiago Prata. Their report can be downloaded from the Creative Clash website.

3. The third piece of research presented at the Creative Clash conference was the study that Anna Vondracek conducted while she was working at KEA, on ways of funding artistic interventions in Europe. It, too, is available for download from the Creative Clash website.