— Cultural Sources of Newness

Witnessing the moment of conception: A potential New Patrons project

After conducting so much research on the impacts of artistic interventions in organizations and the roles that intermediaries play in the process of linking artists and organizations, it was particularly interesting to witness the potential beginning of a new project. I introduced an experienced intermediary for the Fondation de France program “Nouveaux Commanditaires  / New Patrons  to the CEO of a French Group. Over lunch I listened to their exploratory conversation and observed the zigzag movement between clarifying and blurring understanding, as they posed each other questions, explained the structures and processes of their organizations, and started formulating desirable and unwanted outcomes.

The Group was recently formed by combining a large company  with two smaller ones in the same sector. The largest company of the Group has a long tradition of connecting its knowledge-intensive business activities to values and people associated with the world of the arts. Now the relatively new CEO is interested in taking the relationship further and somehow making the company site express the values underpinning the organizational culture more visibly. But he does not want to put a new sculpture in the garden nor a painting in a frame. He would like the process of developing an idea to engage people in the organization and then attract people from outside. Ideally, he would like the outcome to interest people from the community, so that the company is experienced as contributing cultural value to the region.

Based on her many years of experience as an intermediary with diverse New Patrons projects, Mari Linnman  described the process of initiating and realizing an artistic intervention in the New Patrons program. At the heart of the project, she emphasized, must be a real desire for art, initially expressed by a person, then developed and carried by a group—the new patrons. The project must be meaningful for the new patrons/their organization, and for the larger societal context in which they are embedded. Figuring out the meaning is the first challenge that the intermediary helps the New Patrons with, so that they can formulate a commission for an artist to work on. Mari then presents the proposed project to the Fondation de France, which ensures that the idea is worthy of their support—i.e., it needs to be of artistic and societal value. In Mari’s experience, the process of developing the project idea with the artist is an adventure that the New Patrons benefit from enormously. The confrontation of different ways of seeing things between the artist and the stakeholders in the organization can open spaces of possibility that none of the participants imagined could exist beforehand. So the final outcome is often very different from the ideas formulated at the outset, but without the formulation of those ideas at the outset, the journey cannot begin.

What desires did Mari elicit from the CEO over lunch? “The artwork should help us become what we want to be—more agile, mobile, innovative, audacious.” He believes the organization already lives some of these values, but not enough. His sense is that the artwork should be digital, so that it is visible on site and accessible online by members and partners of the organization all around the world. He imagines something that is fluid, changing, responsive, interconnected. For example, when stakeholders visits the artwork, either in person or via on the Web from anywhere in the world, they would be able to identify with it  and some how affect it by their very presence or act of clicking into it. He expressed his desire clearly, yet emphasized that he is not the kind of leader who takes charge alone, he wants people in the organization to take projects on and shape them.

So did I witness the very first minutes in which a CEO started becoming a New Patron? There are numerous strategic and practical questions he needs to clarify before deciding whether and how to embark on fulfilling the desire Mari elicited from him. He needs to consider how this potential project could fit with other initiatives in the organization. He needs to figure out how other people in the organization can join him in constituting a group of New Patrons. Indeed, should it be focused on the whole Group, or on the largest company in the Group. Should it involve international partners from the outset or should it evolve towards them later? The question of funding will also have to be addressed, first for the phase of delving into the adventure of developing the idea with the artist into a clear artistic proposition (ca €7-10K), then for the second phase of realizing the artwork. But not until the desire has grown beyond a single person and the sense/the meaning of the project has been formulated. I hope to report on the continuation…

For more information on artistic interventions in organizations and their intermediaries, see:

Berthoin Antal, Ariane. (2012). Artistic intervention residencies and their intermediaries: A comparative analysis. Organizational Aesthetics 1/1 44-67. (http://ojs.wpi.edu/index.php/orgaesthetics/article/view/7)

Berthoin Antal, Ariane (with R. Gómez de la Iglesia and M. Vives Almandoz) (2011). Managing artistic interventions in organisations. A comparative study of programmes in Europe, 2nd edition, updated and expanded. Gothenburg: TILLT Europe, 168 p. (http://www.wzb.eu/sites/default/files/u30/report_managing_artistic_interventions_2011.pdf)

Negrier, E., Michel, L. Yaounanc, D. (2006). Une politique culturelle privée en France ? Les Nouveaux commanditaires de la Fondation de France (1991-2004), Paris. Editions L’Harmattan.