Hot Links | Week of October 23

Photo by Getty Images

Photo by Getty Images

Kind (as in the snack bars) is investing in the development of empathy, through a program funded by its corporate foundation.

Landscape architects and urban planners are pushing human-centered design into life-saving territory.  

Who says there's no critical thinking in Silicon Valley?  Alumni of the world’s tech giants on the pitfalls and perils of the so-called “attention economy”.

Jan Gehl on the relationship between life and form, and the importance of prioritizing the needs of humans and nature, in the development of “good” cities.

The robots are coming for the workforce, unless corporations choose humans’ livelihoods over almighty “efficiency”.   This alarming chart details the jobs that will be eliminated first, and should be a call-to-action for anyone who views it.

Art as the Crux of Human-Centered Innovation

Image via Sacha Wynne

Image via Sacha Wynne

Notes from our Founder and President's recent talk at the Pratt Institute in New York City.

The Arts at the Crux of Human-Centered Innovation

I’m not sure how familiar you are with business jargon, but industry has largely co-opted terms from the art and design world, and pulled them into what McGill University’s Nancy Adler calls the “dehydrated language” of management.  Creativity, design thinking, and storytelling - are buzz terms used widely in the corporate world, but few businesses are actually putting their actions, or their money, where their mouths are.  Art/culture/design, after 30 years of culture wars, is undervalued or devalued in a culture that is currently obsessed with STEM and big data. 

In 2006, Adler asked the business sector “now that we can do anything, what will we do?”   The answers she proposed illuminated how crucial the artist’s perspective is to meaningful innovation in business.  The answers, provided by the private sector since were apparently: continued focus on STEM and Big Data, to increase efficiency and convenience. 

But should efficiency be prioritized over all else?  How many Frankenstein’s monsters has this quest for convenience birthed?  It’s acknowledged that big data is subject to human error – it’s not infallible – so why the blind trust?

We need business to turn to artists, because only they can lead the private sector forward in ways that that secure the future for nature and humanity.  Artistic ideas are grounded in universality, in reality, in the communities they serve.    Artistic innovation creates at its core: to teach and learn more about life, science must destroy.  It is art that builds and rebuilds as it teaches and learns.

For businesses seeking to reach customers, this perspective is crucial.  We cannot be explained through statistics, but we can be understood through our stories.

So, where do we go from here?  How can artists challenge the business paradigm?

1.     There is always room for more narratives that offer solutions, so don’t hesitate to create a new one, no matter how far out it may seem initially

a.     STEAM initiatives have powerful potential - The strengthening of an ecosystem in which the arts, humanities and sciences, along with the public, private and non-profit sectors operate symbiotically would be incredible. 

However, art need not be viewed as something that enables STEM. We need to articulate its inherent value.  The intrinsic needs to stop apologizing for lack of “rigor”. Instead, perhaps we need new measurement tools to gauge impact. 

b.     There aren’t enough human-centered solutions that expand upon the idea of “social good”.    There are so many needs that remain under-adressed and are ripe for innovation – from low employee morale to lack of work/life balance, from systemic racism to intra-cultural bias.

2.     The art/culture perspective fills gaps in the dominant narrative, by providing access to a plurality of perspectives and encouraging empathy

a.     The disparity between the election results and the prediction from mainstream media outlets exposed the chasm between stats (numbers) and stories (people).  Communities are real and vital.  There is a difference between the real self and the digital self, and art is provides ways of reaching people meaningfully.

3.     The symbiotic relationship between the arts/culture and business shouldn’t be approached as “selling out”, but rather in ways that create opportunity for generating and sustaining arts practice, which in turn bridges gaps between people.

a.     In a fairly recent New York Times article on tech innovation, writer Allison Arieff quotes Jessica Helfand – author of Design : The invention of Desire – “ empathy, humility, compassion, conscience are the key ingredients missing in the pursuit of innovation”.  It is the artists who can bring these “key ingredients” to the fore.  

b.     Silicon valley has made a mint from building businesses upon algorithms that target human behavior, but they are formulas and life is anything but formulaic.  This signals opportunity for artists to create new paradigms that replace focus on shareholder value with prioritizing stakeholder value.

Technology has changed the way we (and the speed of how) we discover, but there are billions of dollars invested in products and services that have no real meaning or value.  This is an opportunity for artists and designers – to co-create alongside the traditional industries (or on our own), in ways that do more than just produce distractions and insta-millionaires.  We have the power to create in ways that benefit and bring together all segments of society.


Solidarity at standing rock showed us the power of culture and community to bring about positive, human-centered change.  It’s no surprise that artists from within and beyond the community played integral roles on-site, helping to spread awareness and expand the sense of shared goals.  To quote Patti Smith – people have the power.

Hot Links | Createquity on The Impact of the Arts and Culture

Arts participation contributes directly to quality of life by increasing self-reported happiness and life satisfaction.
— Createquity

Our Founder, Sacha Wynne, recently had the honor of collaborating with Createquity’s research and editorial teams on a few articles.  This includes a recently published feature article that explores the impact of participatory arts activities on the health and quality of life of older adults. 

From Createquity: 

With both the U.S. and global populations aging in unprecedented numbers, this article sheds light on the promise of participatory arts activities in alleviating some of the challenges that come with getting older, and the ever-growing need for creative aging. 

In particular, the evidence on participatory arts activities and the health and quality of life of older adults indicates that:

            • Singing improves mental health and subjective wellbeing (i.e., perceived quality of life)

            • Taking dance classes bolsters cognition and motor skills, and even lessens the likelihood of developing dementia later in life

            • Playing a musical instrument has myriad positive effects, including dementia risk reduction

            • Visual arts practice generates increases in social engagement, psychological health and self-esteem

Just how the arts benefit society is one of the most studied topics in arts research…[Createquity] has sought to determine how the arts contribute to or detract from wellbeing in various ways, and the strength of the evidence supporting each mechanism. 

This week, Createquity released another article and an infographic summarizing their findings to date.  Per Createquity, “this will be the world's first resource that not only depicts the state of evidence demonstrating the various benefits of the arts, but tracks shifts in that evidence base over time.”

We encourage you to explore the findings of these pivotal reports.

The WÆRK Team 

Weekly Links | August 12th

 A Few Perspectives on Why Art Matters | Human-Centered Design in the Non-Profit Sector | The Future of Art/Tech | More Internet-Driven Homogeneity

Weekly Links | Hopeful Perspectives | Humanity at Work | Participatory Lit Fun

What captured out attention on the web this week?  Opinion pieces, news items and events that are focused on bringing people together through our most fundamental means: art and hope.

We were heartened by Rebecca Solnit’s piece on hopefulness in action, in our tumultuous times.

We were introduced to the work of the Be Human Project and its mission to make the workforce more human-centered.

We marked our calendars for the U.S. Department of Arts and Culture’s participatory lit event this Sunday (July 24th) in Brooklyn, NY.

Have a wonderful weekend!

-WAERK

Photo by LDProd/iStock / Getty Images