The art of business in Sweden

Art clubs have long been a fixture in Swedish corporations but as Dagens Nyheter has discovered, culture as health promotion is the big new thing in Swedish cultural policy.

As artists are assigned to work with the employees of corporations like Volvo and Astra Zeneca, some lucky staffers have been able to write plays during coffee breaks; others work with shadow pictures to rethink their corporate slogans. But is an art break really better coffee break?

Dagens Nyheter has picked up on the initiatives taking place all over Sweden and what they mean for big business. While all the usual advantages were outlined, artists’ fabled ability to “think outside the box” was, of course, predominant.

The Culture and Business Network advertises the great potential for image-building inherent in the hire of a real live artist:

“Through association to the values conveyed by culture – like quality, perfection, success, creativity, innovation – a corporation can strengthen and change its image and the image of its products and employees.”

The workers who’ve been blessed with the presence of an artist seem to be pleased with the new initiatives, though at first they can be a little sceptical – especially when they already have a lot of “real work” to be getting on with. Some of the pairings have gone exceedingly well: sound artist Jesper Nordas, for example, worked with Volvo Technology and ended up working in product development for the company.

But what’s in it for all the artists who take part in the new schemes?

In a word: money. Sweden’s art academies train far more artists than could possibly be supported by today’s art and culture market, so those who won’t take a job in a coffee shop clearly have to think up something else. Artist-run initiatives like Stefan Karlsson’s Brand Happening in Gothenburg were among the first to exploit the possibilities of a relationship with business, and remain the more interesting of the Swedish schemes.

Stockholm’s Business Economics Institute recently came out with a report on artists’ projects within business, and found that even when the artists were positive towards the project, they rarely saw their work as a part of their own artistic practice. It seems that for most, it turns out to be simply another job.

All the same, everyone seems pleased with the direction that Sweden’s various cultural and business organizations are taking, and artists will likely continue to work in at least some corporations and public-sector offices in the years to come. But that’s not all – this week we learned about another Swedish initiative to keep artists paid.

It seems that after a lifetime of dedicated service, Swedish workers are as likely to be awarded an artwork as a gold watch these days. DN reported last week that those working for more than 25 years in Västerbotten’s council or the Umeå city offices can now choose 6,000 crowns’ worth of art rather than a more traditional gift.

And apparently more and more faithful workers in the north are choosing art over gold. Again, everyone’s pleased, and it seems that if you’re making couch-sized paintings in Umeå it couldn’t be a better time to be working.

Sources: Dagens Nyheter