Amongst the Nonsense of Arts in Business

Financial controllers learning circus skills. Quality managers learning to juggle. Sales agents sculpting their personal blockages. Project team leaders ridding themselves or hidden anger by reciting Shakespeare. You might think I am making it all up. You might believe I am joking when I tell you that the emerging industry of arts based training and development is worth tens perhaps hundreds of millions of “bottom line” pounds. Well, I am mad but north-north west, but when the wind is strategic…
There is much hokum and half-thought out but well meant offerings. Arts based trainers can be broadly divided into two overlapping camps.
There are the opportunists who have identified a new way to generate much needed income from the business world, often working in an arts sector that is referred to daily as under-funded and even mis-funded. The daily rate for an arts based training event can sometimes be the equivalent of a months earnings for an actor and even six months for a painter or sculpture.
The second ‘camp’ comprises those artists who wish to reach a wider audience for their work, and who wish to influence the way people work in organisations, usually in terms of opening up values discussions, enhancing creativity, communication, and even management skills. Of course many arts based trainers and developers are happy to sit in both camps.
There are clearly rich pickings to be had.
My own view, as an arts based trainer myself is this. Business should be aware that they are seen as ‘rich pickings’. They should be very wary of the promises made and should seek out proper references and where possible, evidence of previous tangibly measured benefit and proper evaluation of what they are about to spend their money on. However, that is if the business need is a ‘training one’ Where tangible skills and competencies are required to be developed. Where the motive is broader, simply to stimulate creativity, to gain inspiration, the client should be prepared to be more instinctive and go with ‘gut feel’. Often some of the most challenging and potentially inspiring artists and artist trainers, have a portfolio of work and processes that do not lend themselves easily to evaluation and performance measurement’.
Indeed, as in really challenging mainstream training, feedback sheets might actually be negative, evidencing discomfort and unease in participants.
The benefits my be deeper and long term. For example a radical change in attitudes or behaviour. Good feedback sheets may well be the sign of a ‘collusion of mediocrity, where apparently ‘happy sheets’ actually hide a collective ‘relief’ that the arts based training didn’t (thank heavens) manage to ‘rock the organisational boat’ in any real or significant way.
Art has the potential to turn training and development events in your organisation into “critical incidents”.  
A critical incident in a workshop is usually something which, after the event, is looked back on as being significant. Significant enough to be remembered. Significant enough to stand out in ones heart and mind. Potentially significant enough to lead to a change in attitude or behaviour.
Major change is often described in dramatic terms, just like the describing of a play or a film. The use of theatre, specifically in training, is no frivolous or entertaining side show to the main “event”, he training itself. The use of drama can impact directly as an “intervention” in the process of change. It can encourage re-evaluation, rethinking, re-framing, emotional response and even behaviour change.
Confronting characters from a play which has important things to say about the human condition, about life, about work, about questions of change and transformation, the audience can see aspects of themselves in the “mirror of the drama”. They can see characters and behaviours that inspire them, that anger them, that that make them uneasy, that make them laugh or cry and, most powerfully, that really positive and negative aspects of their own personal and organisational selves.
Much training and development activity simply is not significant or critical enough to inspire change. It is not impactful enough to act of an intervention in the change process.
No matter how experiential the “tools and techniques”, no matter how slick the Powerpoint slides or the workbooks are, change and transformation will not last beyond the journey home from the workshop or training event. It will be lucky if it is remembered even on the following morning back at work. Just like a bland play or an unmemorable movie. it may be impressively constructed, but it is too easily thrown away.
Unfortunately much arts based training also falls into this category. The theatre scripts are poorly written, the characters funny, but stereotyped or poorly drawn, The workshop processes resemble too much poor training with the art “plugged in” in a false or bland way. Concepts are “tacked on” and the need for the arts based trainer to self validate by “proving relevance” of art to the client overtakes the organisation’s need to engage in an original and emergent and significant event which will be powerful enough to inspire individual, group and organisational change as an “effect”. simply put, the drama isn’t powerful enough to last beyond the closing “thank yous”.
For the arts based training to work, the event itself needs to be put together as a work of art, arising out of a joint sense of restlessness to express. If the participants are the “audience”, then the organisational “pain” is the inspirational “push” for the arts based trainer to respond with an “event” that is impressionistic in terms of being designed, formed and delivered in a way which arouses interest and reaction in the audience and the artist both, and/or is expressionistic in that it is developed in order to impact and change hearts and minds in its audience, to express new ideas, feelings and calls to action and change.
It will have to challenge the status quo, to confront safe mediocrity and risk the discomfort of reactions which ay initially be hostile as entrenched attitudes and behaviours are questioned, and as organisational inertia is fought. 
In many arts based training interventions, the participants and, often the artist, are never the same again, as an outcome. Something of significance (though not necessarily enduring beyond the need for it to exist) is created, is “put out there” and the world is a different place for its having come into being. Many arts based trainers, like many conventional trainers, are simply not up to this task and offer instead, the equivalent of saucy sea side picture postcards, popular standardised creations, valuable in themselves one can admit, but not significant enough or specifically powerful enough to engender a “change response”.
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