"Demon Eye 1," by Steinar Jakobsen, 2005, oil on alucore. From the Schwartz Art Collection of the Harvard Business School.

“Demon Eye 1,” by Steinar Jakobsen, 2005, oil on alucore. From the Schwartz Art Collection of the Harvard Business School.

In a recent development in the corporate art world, many of the most important business colleges and schools are now collecting art and using it as a learning tool.

As I was updating the information for the new 2013 edition of the International Directory of Corporate Art Collections, I discovered a surprising and unexpected growth sector—business schools and colleges have begun to form art collections as a necessary component to their business curriculum.

During the past 20 years, it has become more recognized and accepted that art in a corporate environment has numerous benefits—for employees, clients, and the company itself. So it is heartening to see that many of the most important business colleges have developed an art program as an adjunct to their more traditional course offerings.

Primarily a North American phenomenon, some of the business schools with important collections include the Wharton School of Business in Philadelphia, Harvard Business School, the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago, the London School of Economics, and the Stephen Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan.

"Black on Black Spirals," by Alexander Calder, 1970, gouache. From the Ross Art Collection at the Ross School of Business, University of Michigan

“Black on Black Spirals,” by Alexander Calder, 1970, gouache. From the Ross Art Collection at the Ross School of Business, University of Michigan

While many corporations have art collections and programs because of their benefits to employees, clients, and shareholders, for the business school it is more about opening the students’ minds to the idea that they can make a statement without being literal or obvious. To them, art is a suitable complement to a challenging curriculum.

Harvard Business School’s collection of more than 200 pieces, assembled over the last two decades, is displayed in public areas frequented by MBA students. Inspired by the growing collection, a small group of MBA students founded the HBS Art Appreciation Society in 2001. It quickly grew into one of the largest student clubs on campus, sponsoring events in Boston area galleries and museums, as well as an annual weekend in Manhattan to meet artists, tour exhibitions, and attend theater.

While the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago is known for its history of turning out future CEOs, it is also home to over 300 works of art by approximately 75 artists.

The Wharton School of Business in Philadelphia, started in 1991, has over 300 late 20th-century works of art in the Balser Art Collection. Housed throughout the Steinberg Conference Center, it was created to provide the students, faculty, and visiting executives, with a cultural and educational resource. The collection offers a broad range of contemporary styles with works by well-known artists including Albers, Dali, Miro, Pearlstein, and Warhol. Most of the artworks were acquired or commissioned specifically for the Center, and there are plenty of opportunities for viewing them.

The Ross School of Business of the University of Michigan has a collection of more than 250 contemporary works on paper and sculpture. According to the school, the art provides a cultural experience for its students in addition to a business education. The works in the collection—located throughout the school—encourage broad participation in civil society and openness to new ways of seeing and thinking. Some of the artists represented include: Howard Ben Tre, Jonathan Borofsky, Alexander Calder, Dale Chihuly, Jim Dine, Richard Estes, Helen Frankenthaler, Red Grooms, Al Held, Sol Lewitt, and James Rosenquist.

The art collection of the Mason School of Business at the College of William and Mary in Virginia reflects its self-proclaimed identity as a home of “revolutionary” thinking. The school intends the collection at its new Miller Hall to encourage a creative, entrepreneurial spirit and an awareness of history.

As the benefits of art in the workplace become more accepted and  trends continue to make the work environment a more stimulating and creative space, we expect more and more business schools to recognize that art is an important adjunct to a business education, and to convey that idea to upcoming business students and future leaders of companies.

(This post, originally published on CorporateArtWorld.com, is one in a weekly series highlighting The pARTnership Movement, Americans for the Arts’ campaign to reach business leaders with the message that partnering with the arts can build their competitive advantage. Visit our website to find out how both businesses and local arts agencies can get involved!)

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One Response to “A New Trend: Business Schools & Corporate Art Collections (from The pARTnership Movement)”

  1. [...] growing number of business colleges and schools are using art as a teaching and learning tool, and some are amassing important collections of modern and contemporary art. Meanwhile, MIT is [...]

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The pARTnership Movement


The pARTnership Movement is a new initiative from Americans for the Arts that provides businesses and arts organizations with the resources they need to make meaningful collaborations; partnerships that not only support a healthy, creative and artistic community, but that also give businesses a competitive advantage.
For more information please visit www.partnershipmovement.org.

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