Artistic interventions in organizations


The speed and scope of change in society are stimulating decision makers in private and public sector organizations to seek new approaches to creating value—economically and societally. This search often entails trying out fresh ways of framing and responding to issues. In a growing number of these organizations stimuli are being sought from the arts by bringing in ideas, practices, and people from the world of theatre, music, painting, sculpture, dance, and literature, for example.

The research undertaken here is designed to analyze the conditions under which these artistic interventions in organizations may serve as sources of newness. The research encompasses interventions involving diverse forms of arts and different time spans, levels of intensity and participation. The underlying assumption of practitioners is that bringing people, processes, and products from the “foreign culture” of the arts into the workplace helps to stimulate new ways of thinking and acting by irritating routines, challenging established mindsets, and developing new skills. In such meetings with the artistic cultures, members of the organization become aware of the distinctive features of their language, perspectives, and practices, and have the opportunity to generate variations in ways of seeing and doing things from which to choose in future. An additional assumption that drives such projects in organizations is that artistic ways of knowing encompass aesthetic and emotional aspects that are generally overlooked at the workplace, and attending to them is expected to activate the senses and thereby help people to develop new ways of seeing and doing things.

Very few empirical studies have been conducted to establish whether the high hopes placed on these interventions are justified. Instead, the literature on artistic interventions in organizations is dominated by anecdotal evidence from practitioners (artists, consultants, managers), who generally tend to emphasize the positive experience that employees report during or immediately after such interventions. The longer term impacts and the possibly problematic impacts of such interventions have remained invisible. The purpose of research is therefore to understand: a) Under what conditions and how do the interventions of people, practices, and products from the arts in the workplace lead to new ways of seeing and doing things that become embedded as organizational learning? b) At which phases of learning processes are which kinds of artistic interventions considered most effective and sustainable by the different stakeholders?

In order to address these questions, the research will explore: c) How do the various participants define expectations and assess the value of artistic interventions? How do the different sources of judgment (arts, business, academia) play themselves out/interact/suspend in organizational settings? What is the relationship between expectation of effect and actual effect? The theoretical framework for studying artistic interventions in organizations draws on several strands of thinking, in particular organizational learning, organizational aesthetics, and cross-cultural communication.

In contrast to the optimistic thinking predominating in publications about artistic interventions in organizations, the research undertaken here posits that many artistic interventions may not automatically stimulate strategically significant newness in the form of organizational learning. It is possible, but not inevitable, that artistic interventions generate modifications or variations in ways of seeing and doing things in the organization or they may leave no lasting trace. They might subvert established practices, or they may mask them and cement existing structures instead of addressing underlying issues (Berthoin Antal forthcoming).

A multipronged strategy is being pursued:

  • A data base of artistic interventions (projects, companies, providers) to generate an overview over the field and as a resource for our own research.
  • Case studies on completed and ongoing artistic interventions in several European countries, such as the 2.5 year artist in residence program in a French consulting company (Berthoin Antal 2011).  Since 2009 we have participated as the research partners in a European project network, TILLT Europe (Berthoin Antal 2009), conducting case studies and developing a research methodology to understand processes and impacts of artistic interventions in organizations.  In addition, we engage in experiments with artistic interventions to permit the exploration of potential new configurations, such as our work with the Studio for Social Creation at the Max Stern Academic College Emek Yezreel (Israel), bringing in participants from the areas of social entrepreneurship, conflict engagement and the arts. Since action research plays an important role in this field we co-edited the special issue of the Action Research Journal on Arts and Action Research (Mary Brydon-Miller, Ariane Berthoin Antal, Victor Friedman and Patricia Gayá Wicks 2011).
  • A series of “artful conversations” with the diverse stakeholders in order to collect and confront different perspectives on the interventions and criteria for assessing them (see Artful Conversations 2008 and Artful Research Workshops 2009).
Main content

Selected Publications

Berthoin Antal, Ariane & Nussbaum Bitram, Ilana (2013). Reflexiones sobre el rol de Conexiones Improbables en las intervenciones 2011-2013. (pdf)

Berthoin Antal, Ariane & Nussbaum Bitram, Ilana (2013). Trabajadores, Responsables y Artistas: Perspectivas sobre las intervenciones “Píldoras Creativas” y “Conexiones Improbables” 2011-2013. (pdf)

Berthoin Antal, Ariane & Nussbaum Bitram, Ilana (2014). Recomendaciones de los participantes de las intervenciones artísticas en organizaciones realizadas por Conexiones improbables 2011-2013. (pdf)

Berthoin Antal, Ariane & Nussbaum Bitram, Ilana (2014). ¿Qué valoran los participantes de las intervenciones artísticas en organizaciones realizadas por Conexiones improbables 2011-2013? (pdf)

Berthoin Antal, A., & Nussbaum Bitran, I., (2014). Beneficios personales y organizacionales de las intervenciones artísticas realizadas por Conexiones improbables 2011-2013. (pdf)

Berthoin Antal, A., & Nussbaum Bitran, I., (2014). Características de las organizaciones participantes en las intervenciones artísticas realizadas por Conexiones improbables 2011-2013 (pdf)

Berthoin Antal, A., & Nussbaum Bitran, I., (2014). Retos abordados por las intervenciones artísticas en organizaciones: Ejemplos de Conexiones improbables 2011-2013 (pdf)

Ariane Berthoin Antal (2014), “When arts enter organizational spaces: Implications for organizational learning”, in: P. Meusburger, A. Berthoin Antal, M. Ries (Eds.), Learning organizations: The importance of place for organizational learning. Dordrecht, Springer. pdf

Berthoin Antal, Ariane, Anke Strauß (2013), "Artistic interventions in organizations: Finding evidence of values-added. Research report, Berlin: WZB,  52 p. (pdf)

Berthoin Antal, Ariane, "Artistic intervention residencies and their intermediaries: A comparative analysis", in: Organizational Aesthetics, 1/1 44-67, 2012. Abstract

Berthoin Antal, Ariane (with R. Gómez de la Iglesia and M. Vives Almandoz), Managing artistic interventions in organisations. A comparative study of programmes in Europe, 2nd edition, updated and expanded. Online publication. Gothenburg: TILLT Europe, 2011, 168 p. pdf.

Ariane Berthoin Antal, “Manifeste, corporel et imprévisible: l’apprentissage organisationnel de la Résidence d’artistes”, in: La Résidence d’artistes Eurogroup Consulting, Catalogue 5, 2011. pdf

Mary Brydon-Miller, Ariane Berthoin Antal, Victor Friedman and Patricia Gayá Wicks (Eds.), “The changing landscape of arts and action research”, Special Issue on Arts and Action Research, Action Research, 2011, 9(1) 3–11, DOI: 10.1177/1476750310396405

Ariane Berthoin Antal: Research report: Research framework for evaluating the effects of artistic interventions in organizations, TILLT Europe: Göteborg, 2009, 81 p. pdf; Research Report: Summary pdf