In summer 2014 we had one of those rare discussions at the sunny but drafty courtyard of Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin für Sozialforschung (WZB):1 The talk was chastening and stimulating at the same time. Professor Ariane Berthoin Antal has spent much of her time doing scientific work for artistic intervention in organizations. We talked about her research and people that build connections between business and art. We also talked about how fragile such connections can be and what happens if art is just used to stabilize the already existing organizational environment. But the big point was if art could influence our business-oriented society in a positive way.
“I believe art and its impact will be kept to a minimum if we don’t achieve change in management and with shareholders. Some people would decide to do something very different in their life. From a negative perspective you could become more frustrated. No doubt, art is very powerful but it needs a lot to change something at the shareholders side. There is a real danger that art just feeds the system and puts even more pressure on people.”
One can see if effort to change an organization fundamentally is meant to be serious. It depends on how open-ended the effort is and on the decision maker’s behaviour. Are they ready to transform themselves? Are they ready to change their way of thinking, asking questions and instead of competing against each other? Or do they continue to desire innovations and predefined short-term results at the same time? In that case Ariane Berthoin Antal is convinced about “the existing danger, that art remains elitist and boring and finally without effect. Managers and employees still get rated on how productive and efficient they are. […] We can’t know what is going to happen if the artistic attitude and artistic acting really started affecting people. It could also be hell. […] You have to keep this in mind as a possible result of your search. Art-projects are open-ended. If you don’t stick by here you limited art before it begins.”
Nothing makes us doubt our conversation partner acts on the assumption that such an effort fails in reality. The system is too powerful to transform it from the bottom-up. Willingness by decision makers is too weak. As little as they (decision makers) believe in a fundamental change of organizations, as promising as the path of the New sounds to them: “Sometimes I think it’s better to create many new forms of organizations in order to achieve change from the outside rather than trying to change something from the inside. New networks that experiment and invite other people to experiment together, like you do. Maybe one gets kind of a butterfly-effect. This might be more effective than trying to change something in established organizations.”
Read the full interview with Professor Antal (German only)
Picture Source: WZB / Prof. Dr. Ariane Berthoin Antal