By Sue Williams Originally published by Commercial Real Estate on March 18, 2019

Artworks that adorn the walls of office buildings are taking on a much more important role than merely providing a bit of colour – they’re sparking creativity, generating a sense of community and belonging, and lessening stress, according to experts.

Emilya Colliver, founder and director of Art Pharmacy Consulting, which advises a range of businesses on art and culture, said art could have big benefits for office workers.

“I think it really does have an impact on the people working in those places,” she said.

“Particularly with the rise of hot desking, it can help employees pick up more of a sense of community by looking at the art as shared symbology in different spaces as they move around. The problem in those circumstances can be a disconnect, but carefully selected art that has meaning or a relationship to those people and spaces does create a sense of belonging. There’s now so much research being done on art and wellbeing.”

A recent UK report looking at how visual arts impact on people’s wellbeing found that exposure to art reduced anxiety, increased self-esteem and stimulated collaboration.

“We have been through a period where that attention to art in buildings was diminished, but today we are seeing a resurgence.” Amanda Pieriboni, Dexus
Artwork in the Dexus building at 175 Pitt Street, Sydney. Photo: Art Pharmacy Consulting/Jodie Barker

At Dexus, a real estate investment trust which manages office, industrial, retail and healthcare properties across the country, art is an increasingly important consideration.

“We have been through a period where that attention to art in buildings was diminished, but today we are seeing a resurgence,” said Amanda Pieriboni, Dexus’s head of city retail developments. “We are now conscious of the importance of artwork in a building.

“We understand how it can bring a human element and fine detail to the surrounding streetscape and how it can help to create places where people can meet and have interests. It has a lot to do with the focus on the people who occupy the buildings and their experience.

“While councils have played a role in encouraging property developers and owners to contribute artwork in their buildings, we believe it’s incumbent on the people who create those spaces to take responsibility rather than have the obligation imposed on them. It’s important for us to take the responsibility to bring art into our developments as early as possible.”

Similarly, real estate investment firm ISPT which has a shopping centre focus, also invests in art. “Art is an important part of our approach to place making,” said Chris McCluskey, general manager of development services.

The foyer at Australia Square, 264 George Street, Sydney.

“It’s not just about having great spaces, but about curating those spaces to give customers a new experience – perhaps not new every day but on a regular basis – to give them an evolving cultural element that they can touch and appreciate and be stimulated by. We’re certainly finding in our commercial buildings where we are doing this, that the tenants are becoming happier, more engaged and in stronger communities.”

Among recent projects by Art Pharmacy Consulting has been the installation of a number of artworks for Dexus at their Market Street office in Sydney. They’re designed to reflect the company’s construction and property background and curated to highlight both its values and to suit the site.

For ISPT, Ms Colliver commissioned six local artists for a 12-month digital artwork at their Creek Street office in Brisbane, inspired by elements of Queensland. The first was by Chris Bennie, a video work featuring himself in a wide expanse of river, disrupting the landscape, across two screens.

Financial services company Deloitte Australia has a long relationship with Art Pharmacy, and last year asked them to commission the making of a sculpture for their new welcome lounge of their Sydney CBD building to signify ‘the human spirit’ to mark the 2018 Invictus Games. Jonathan Biet and Sophie Bain created ‘an army’ with no two pieces the same, ‘embracing the imperfections we all have that make us individuals’.

“I think art is an absolutely critical part of making an office a destination and a hub of creativity, and helping people to solve problems in different ways,” said Nicola Mansfield, a designer in Deloitte’s experience design team. “When anyone can work from anywhere, you have to make the office appealing enough to attract people.

“Also, computers now do so much of the repetitive work, so people’s work is more about collaborating to drive new ideas and solve complex problems which are becoming more difficult all the time. So we need to provide inspiration for creatives, and art can really help with that process.”

Online gallery Direct Art Australia has been finding demand is rising steadily from office and hospitality businesses for quality works. More and more businesses want to make their workspaces more appealing, in order to lure new talent and retain great performers, according to director Julian Mahoney.

“Paintings can also have a soothing effect to help create a relaxing ambience which can fight stress, or they can be aimed at promoting creativity and productivity,” he said.

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