Is art good for business?

The relationship between art and business is not only possible but also advantageous.

Especially in the last thirty years, the phenomenon of Corporate Art Collections has been consolidated in Italy too. Today, it has to cope with the subject of how it is to be managed and fostered and it has to challenge the ever smaller budgets imposed by the economic crisis.

If the phenomenon has historically involved the banking and insurance sector, above all in its early stages, today, on the other hand, it involves a wide variety of businesses, which, for one reason or another, decide to invest significant economic resources in purchasing works of art and cultural heritage.

Art and business have always followed different routes. Business has instrumental rationality and aims to achieve a concrete result, where standardisation is necessary to cope with risk containment and to optimise costs, time is extremely fragmented; the rationality of art on the contrary is governed by sentiments and passions, it is not affected by standardisations or sequential thoughts, it does not live time as stress and above all always interweaves a multitude of stories. Art could, therefore help the enterprise to be more innovative and less poor in terms of content. The collision between these two languages generates a new plan where the aseptic laws of the business world are integrated by a creative movement full of futuristic and revolutionary ideas.

The Italian sector of business collections, however, appears to be about 10 years behind the global scenario and for the future several challenges must be overcome. Indeed, if there is no doubt that art in business can generate significant competitive advantages both in terms of reputation and in terms of performance, for this to happen the managerial and networking capacity must be further developed  between the various so-called  artsy business realities and between them and the rest of the art world. This is one of the most important indications that comes from the latest investigation into the Corporate Collections in Italy, carried out by the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore of Milan in collaboration with Axa Art and Banca Intesa San Paolo.

Can art ‘make a difference’, if it is included in the corporate environment? Can a corporate art collection influence the economic trend of an enterprise by playing an active role? The objective of the investigation has been to understand whether the corporate art collections produce impacts on the organisations and if they are quantifiable by analysing some economic-financial indicators present in the year’s financial statements.

The innovative aspect of the Cattolica study consists of having introduced a quantitative research method (rather unusual in this field) by comparing a sample of 124 companies (representing about 30% of the domestic cases) with the year’s financial statements of over five hundred thousand Italian companies and, subsequently, showing the results obtained to an interested audience (managers of corporate art collections and of cultural activities) who were asked to provide a comment, feedback and a personal viewpoint as regards the range of potential advantages that Art can bring to business organisations.

The results:

The results obtained from the qualitative and quantitative research have been summarised in ten points:

On average, the companies possessing a corporate art collection have positive economic-financial indicators in time.

  1. Within the respective production sectors the enterprises with corporate collections have recorded better performances.  
  2. If the analysis seems to confirm that art is good for business from a quantitative viewpoint, it still remains difficult to assess the impact and the benefits brought by art to the company.
  3. Culture needs time. The impact produced by an artistic experience, by a corporate art collection and in general by an investment in art, must be monitored in a much longer time range compared to an economic initiative which produces immediate effects.
  4. The companies involved sustain that investing in culture deserves being fully included among the investments and the economic choices that a company may perform with a view not only of promotion or image, but also of development and innovation.
  5. From the interviews, it emerges that, in the relationship between artistic interventions and economic advantages, a fundamental role is played by the people and particularly by the company employees, whether they be directly or indirectly involved.
  6. It can be deducted that the most innovative and forward-thinking relationship is the one capable of directly actively and repeatedly involving the employees and the artists in workshops or arts-based training experiences.
  7. A further advantage highlighted by the qualitative investigation, concerns the capacity of the companies investing in art to cope with discontinuities and changes.
  8. A common element, highlighted by the people interviewed, is the necessity to systematise and rationalise their artistic interventions with respect to their own organisation.
  9. Art finally emerges as an instrument to strengthen the corporate sense of belonging in an increasingly global and multicultural setting. 

Concluding, from analysing the year’s financial statements, it would seem possible to assert that, generally, companies possessing an art collection enjoy ‘good health’, recording better economic-financial performances than those not possessing one. However, it is still rather difficult to manage to quantify this relationship between the economic solidity of a business and possessing a corporate art collection. The Università Cattolica research thus represents a first step towards a greater awareness of the corporate art collection phenomenon in Italy and of the numerous advantages that an artistic experience may bring within an organisational environment. The hope is that ever more enterprises will rely on Art according to a concrete and structured logic because only in this way it can  become a strategic and operative instrument, a concrete possibility for constructing new learning models and an engine for economic growth.

The Executive Service headquarters have also become a multi-purpose venue for celebrating art. The passion for beauty and interest in culture have transformed the Lounge of the Milan office into a space suitable for hosting temporary exhibitions by the likes of Daniela Gilardoni, Carla Sanguineti Alessandra Bisi.