Nesta report aims to ease route into business for artists

The National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts is boldly attempting to match-make fine art graduates and big business, in the service of stimulating innovation in industry.

Nesta’s latest research paper, The Art of Innovation, asks how fine arts graduates contribute to innovation. Drawing on interviews with 500 graduates from the University of the Arts, from 1950 to the present, the report discovers potential synergies between the way artists and entrepreneurs regard innovation.

Fine art graduates, the report finds, value risk and novelty, shunning imitation. UK businesses, from previous research in 2006, named creativity and innovation as the most important skills that they would expect graduates to need in ten years’ time.

However, the report warns that it will take highly sensitive educational policy-making to get artists and business working together. The report’s editor and senior policy advisor at Nesta, Hasan Bakhshi, is of the opinion that business disregards fine arts graduates, because it perceives that they lack commercial understanding.

Fine arts graduates, on the other hand, prize careers that allow them to consider themselves artists – not something that business traditionally offers. The report identifies self-imposed barriers – such as fine arts graduates’ notion of selling out – as impeding collaboration between the two factions.’It is going to be particularly difficult creating educational policy in the fine arts area – the problem is that you sap creativity as soon as you start analysing it,’ says Bakhshi.

So why bother forcing art and business together when designers already exist as trained creative problem-solvers to industry?

‘Fine artists are by their nature not tied to anything other than themselves and their thoughts about the world we live in,’ says former Master of the Royal Designers for Industry and Studio Dempsey founder Mike Dempsey. ‘To put them in an environment where they have to grapple with a specific business problem is alien to what they do. Designers grow up responding to business briefs.

‘But while it would be strange for an artist to be cast adrift in the boardroom, I see an opportunity for fine art graduates to work with designers on particular client problems. Designers are trained to work to a brief, but this can ghettoise them. A fresh perspective is always a good thing.’

Bakhshi believes that policy needs to be targeted at art school education and tailored carefully if it is to spark a working relationship between artists and entrepreneurs.

‘If you blunder in with unfocused policy, you will at best achieve nothing and at worst disengage artists from the entire process,’ he says. ‘Also, it would be perverse for policy to go against certainties like the fact that fine arts graduates will bend over backwards to be in careers in which they can continue to identify themselves as artists.’

The Art of Innovation tries to bridge the chasm between business and fine art, and finds its best answer in the career demographics of fine art graduates, who are already working in – and most likely innovating in – the public and private sectors.

Just over 40 per cent of the 500 graduates interviewed work in the arts and cultural industries, while 6 per cent work in the media and 11 per cent in design and crafts. A further 20 per cent work in education and 4 per cent are in the healthcare sector. Perhaps carefully targeted training in business could extend their reach into other commercial sectors.

The Art of Innovation was published on Monday, along with an accompanying policy paper.


The roots of Art education: Trade and Industry

• Art and design was the first area of education to receive public funding in the UK – in 1837

• That year, Parliament invested in art and design education to improve the knowledge of art and design principles in the manufacturing sector

• The Government believed that this was necessary to raising competitiveness against European exports after the passing of free trade agreements

Source: Nesta’s report The Art of Innovation

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