VIEWPOINT Valerie Eickmeier: Business needs to harness power of arts

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Valerie Eickmeier

Business needs to harness power of arts

Indiana will more fully reach its potential in economic development for the 21st century when its common goal is to build a community where commerce and creativity can thrive.

The world is entering an era some business leaders and economists are calling the “Conceptual
Age.” They trace the economic growth of our country from agriculture to industrial manufacturing, technology and the Information Age. Today, our country’s primary economic growth and resources are not the same as they were 10, 20 or 50 years ago. We live in a society of abundance. Agriculture and manufactured goods are imported globally and technology jobs are readily exported. So, what does it take to be successful in this new Conceptual Age?

Economic success in the 21st century requires visionary people with all skill sets who provide new and unique solutions to common problems. To be successful in the “Conceptual Age,” we must understand the connection between diverse, and seemingly separate, disciplines; we must know how to link apparently unconnected elements to create something new.

Innovative ideas and creative solutions result from people merging their expertise in multiple disciplines. It takes skilled collaborators. Creativity generally involves crossing the boundaries of domains. Professional artists and designers are especially adept at working in various realms. They have advanced critical thinking and analytical skills and are highly trained in perception of relationships with attention to nuance and adaptability. Visual artists are trained to examine information and ideas from multiple perspectives, to synthesize information, to evaluate and understand the interconnectedness, and to generate and explore new questions. They offer different, yet highly beneficial, ways of thinking.

According to a recent issue of the Harvard Business Review (February 2004): “An arts degree is now perhaps the hottest credential in the world of business. Corporate recruiters have begun visiting the top arts grad schools … in search of talent … . With applications climbing and ever more arts grads occupying key corporate positions, the master of fine arts is becoming the new business degree.”

The visual arts prepare workers for highly transferable and critically important skills: creative thinking, understanding the relationship of visual form and the production of cognitive meaning, skilled applications of tools and materials, meeting strict project demands, working collaboratively, and articulating complex
processes in visual terms. Art and design schools around the country are adapting their curricula to better prepare graduates for these demanding roles.

The U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Outlook states that the employment opportunities for visual artists is expected to grow faster than average for all occupations through 2008. Creative thinkers are in demand for startup businesses and projects in a wide range of cultural activities and institutions.

Human capital has become the primary determinant of a region’s economic vitality.

Establishing relationships with professional artists and designers provides many benefits to corporate and public agencies. As we enter a different era, competing for economic growth and stability, perhaps we should create a new model for decision-making as well-one that includes more art and design professionals on corporate and education boards and invites visual artists to serve on steering committees for city planning, parks and recreation, and public works.

Combining the talents of business and arts communities will bring expertise and growth to both. These partnerships and collaborative efforts will contribute to the cultural enrichment and economic vitality of central Indiana. Expanding the leadership role of the artist or designer just makes good business sense.

Eickmeier is dean of the Herron School of Art.

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