For companies looking to inspire creativity, spark passion and generate interesting new ideas, stark white office walls can be a deterrent. As more research emerges on the topic, companies are moving beyond painted walls and turning their attention to art in the workplace. According to a study by the Business Committee for the Arts and the International Association for Professional Art Advisors, 82 percent of employees said art was important in the work environment and 73 percent said their view of the company would change if art were removed.
“Art has the power to be much more than merely a decorative element. It conveys the human experience, and when in a workplace, art can be a source of inspiration for both clients and employees,” says Katarina Wong, founder and curator of MADE and former director of curatorial and community engagement for the New York office of Edelman, the world’s largest global public relations firm.
‘Art has the power to be much more than merely a decorative element.’
Major companies have even started picking up on the trend. In 2007, Goldman Sachs commissioned New York-based painter Julie Mehretu to create an 80-foot-long-by-23-foot-high mural for the entrance hall of their lower Manhattan office. In 2009, the mural was completed and put on display. Today, it’s viewed inside by thousands of employees each day and even more passersby on the street, as the mural is visible through the building’s glass facade.
“For companies looking to add art to their offices, I suggest they ask themselves what they want the art to reflect about themselves. Are they a cutting-edge, tech-savvy, high-energy company? Or perhaps they are a practice that needs to convey confidence and calm,” Wong says. “Anything placed in a space—art or otherwise—tells a story of those who inhabit it. In a business context, art is an opportunity for companies and organizations to help clients, guests and employees get to know and experience who they are.”
For U.K.-based curator Katie Henry, the importance of showcasing art in office spaces is nothing new. Since founding her aptly named firm Art in Offices in 2012, she’s helped dozens of companies fill their bare walls with interesting and inspiring artwork.
“When you’re thinking about an environment for people to work in, it’s so mind numbing to only have a white wall to look at, or worse, corporate posters. You need those few microseconds away from your desk to escape, just to stare at something nice,” Henry says. “Paintings are something you can get lost in—they give you inspiration, they’re chewing gum for the eyes while you’re thinking about something and they make a space so much more dynamic.”
She recognizes that navigating the art world for affordable pieces can be tricky, so Art in Offices offers three options: Companies can rent art starting at £40 per month, buy art from £500 or rotate art every few months through her subscription program, which starts at £100 per month.
“We act as a broker essentially between clients and artists. We sign artists that already have a body of art that they’re trying to sell,” Henry says. “When we go to a space, I can think through a stock of artwork that we have that might fit. We get a sense of the company, ask about the personality and then we talk to them about preferred colors and preferred styles to find the right match.”