art education&management, art review&curating
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Training artists for innovation: Competencies for New Contexts

photo: Wilma Hurskainen: “He Doesn’t Like Water”, 2012

The book Training artist for innovation: Competencies for new Contexts was published in 2013, (the Theatre Academy of the University of the Arts in Helsinki in Finland). It discusses the topic of artists who are trained for creating innovation in various contexts outside their own artistic practice. The book is  based on a  project, which  gathers together different agents in European countries, who are leading artistic innovation. Kai Lehikoinen and Joost Heinsius are the editors of the book.

The book-project brought together artists, companies, organizations, universities and cities, which have experienced artists working with them.  The idea for the publication came from the challenge that both society and businesses need new solutions and interventions, as they face changes.  Professional artists with artistic interventions can respond to challenges of today, bringing in new questions and ways of thinking. Artists “offer contradiction, as well as confrontation and friction, and they provoke new ideas.”  

Training Artists for Innovation: Competencies for New Contexts argues that artists who take the challenge for artistic interventions need specific training to establish their artistic know-how for new contexts. Artistic competencies can be trained, so to speak. Innovation can occur where artists, with their own practice and methods, contribute to the arts sectors and organizations, to the business world and sectors, where societal policies are made. The book responses to a framework of European context, but the idea can be shifted to other parts of the world.

A very basic question; are artists not innovative by nature, opens up a dialogue between artists and new contexts.  According to editors Heinsius and Lehikoinen, “A gap has risen between the arts and society that needs to be bridged and closed” .

Art can intervene not only on the walls of office spaces, but it can come to peoples’ working life as well.  This statement is inspired by models learned from community art, and by the experience coming from social and health sectors, where art has always been respected as part of human life.  The new innovation comes in the intersection, where businesses and organizations want to raise their creativity,  and understand their creator capacity in conjunction to human-based factors. As the book shows, the arts can add value, for example, by  bringing in emotional and aesthetic dimensions. Artistic interventions can boost creativity and raise energy, bring in new ways of listening, managing, and interacting with others. The book emphasizes that the term artistic intervention is understood as “interdisciplinary professional practice that takes places in business settings and involve professional art-making and creative arts practices”.

What are, then, the issues that interventions can tackle? Topics and issues of course vary, and depend on each context. Artistic interventions can be connected to strategy and concept development, to work processes, to team-building and social interactions, and to public relations, for instance. In the level of cultural policy, the arts have a key role, together with other creative sectors, to add into the diversity of society. In a larger societal (European) policy level, the following seems very relevant and welcomed, when thinking of the creative economy:

“At the national level, the starting points differ from country to country.  In some countries, it is the perceived gap between the arts sector and the rest of society that needs to be acknowledged – that is, the need for the arts to appear as relevant to other sectors in society. In other countries, innovation development welcomes the arts as the perception of shifting from technological innovations to social innovations and creativity.”

Training Artists for Innovation: Competencies for New Contexts  is a book that asks a relevant question of,  how to do it with the arts. It gives several examples of the relevant competencies that artists can embody for their interventions. Gerda Hempel and Lisbeth Rysgaard,  from Danish Artlab, write in their chapter Competencies – in real life, about their own model of working with artists and businesses.  What they suggest is that artists need to manage a variety of specific tasks that relate to understanding the culture of the organization: such as developing and describing the concept, knowing how to sell and negotiate, and,“how to engage and conduct the process, how to extract learning and evaluate, and how to support the implementation within the organization.”

Their chapter reveals that when artists share a common denominator, the artistic base, methods and tools vary in different art forms. For example, a violinist in the opera house has a different approach than an avant-garde performer who works in an experimental performance space.

Artlab founders and consultants Gerda Hempel and Lisbeth Rysgaard bring in the artist perspective of working with businesses. They open their Artlab Entrepreneurial Model (that is based on their 12-year experience in the field) and reflect this in relation to real artists, who they interviewed. This shows how artistic interventions function from the artists point of view. The model itself is like a metaphoric artistic house, which includes 4 interactive work spaces and a storage. Its aim has been to help professional artist who want to go entrepreneurial and find new job opportunities, or look for new management skills for their career. The house allegory with 4 spaces  includes: The Shop/Back office, The Workshop/Development, The Scene/Artistic intervention, The Shop/Front office, and Storage/place for new ideas. Artlab’s  model functions as a visual guideline to see  parallel tracks. It offers artists a tool to plan and prioritize their work.

Training Artists for Innovation: Competencies for New Contexts has a message for everybody working in creative industries. It offers chapters with real examples, and discusses  how real artists have solved their tasks, approached different organizations and worked with businesses. The book is a guideline to discussing competencies that artists need in order to work with various sectors.  It clearly opens a discussion, which goes to two directions. 1. Artists need more than ‘just’ their own artistic skills and competencies to go outside their craft. 2. Yet, artist have special skills and innovative qualities that (only) come from their artistic work and expertise.  To bring these two to meet; some common ways can be created.

In summary, artists need special qualities to work with organizations and companies; this includes knowledge of those cultures. They should have pedagogic competencies to set up methods and approaches for intervention. Artists also benefit from research competencies to find information, and to critically view the information and other collected material. What artists also should learn about, are skills in project management and marketing. 

(The book Training Artists for Innovation: Competencies for New Contexts is licensed under Creative Commons as BY/NC/ND, and it can be downloaded from the page/click the book’s link)

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