How great thou art



The social norms of a museum don’t align particularly well with the rebellious spirit of contemporary art. But we found the right social norms – in all places – at the corporate campus of a financial services company.

The West Collection – one of the nation’s most important collections of work by emerging artists – is housed at SEI, in the Philadelphia suburbs. The campus’s employees, who originally had no particular fondness for contemporary art, now cherish the art in ways few museum visitors ever have.

That is due in large part to revolutionary curatorial practices, such as letting employees choose pieces from the Collection for their workspaces and even allowing employees to “steal” pieces from their colleagues.

We worked alongside the collection’s curators for two years to isolate lessons that could be shared with the rest of the art world. Among our findings: “We need a happy medium between the ‘wild’ of the artist’s studio and the ‘zoo’ of a traditional museum. In this ‘nature preserve’ for art, viewers’ reactions would inform the experience, but the integrity of collections could still be preserved.”

Take note

Music is so ubiquitous in New Orleans that it feels like a natural resource. But every note of every song is the product of somebody’s hard work, and most of those somebodies are getting a raw deal.

We tackled this problem as part of UX for Good, the initiative GreenHouse developed with Jason Ulaszek. Together, we enlisted a dozen of the country’s best user experience designers to join us, music industry executives, local performers and leaders of community organizers in figuring out how to improve musicians’ quality of life.

Our final report read: “To maintain the culture of music, musicians need access to different resource sets than other participants in the economy and social safety net. If we want musicians to keep doing the things musicians do, we need to design solutions that are compatible with the way musicians must live.”

We went on to detail several solutions, from re-tooling tipping to building new technologies for music career management. Our findings related to tipping spawned several new companies, through which musicians can automate tips from their fans.

UX for Good, which won the user experience design industry’s top award for our work in New Orleans, has also tackled challenges related to schools and genocide museums.

Food, sunshine and love

There’s a movement today that argues the arts should occupy an equal place with math and science in school curricula. But in work we did on behalf of the Creative Coalition, we came away with a radically different perspective.

We concluded that enthusiasm for the STEM subjects — science, technology, engineering, and math — runs so high on the education scene not just because those subjects lead to high-profile jobs, but because student performance in STEM is easily measured in objective terms. If that’s the scorecard, art doesn’t stand a chance.

But what can be objectively shown is that humans need art to thrive, in the same way they need food, sunshine and love. Therefore, schools must absolutely fight for art’s place within their walls — just not in the same way they aim to raise SAT scores.

“In today’s schools, no curricular subject (even STEM) claims to increase quality of life metrics — there isn’t even a place to declare victory if they do,” our report read. “But social programs do, from school breakfast programs to mandatory vaccination plans. These programs ultimately succeeded when the benefits they provided were viewed as every child’s right — researchers track what happens when kids don’t get a measles shot or a hot breakfast. We should start talking about art’s impact with the same urgency.”

We were enlisted for this work by Tim Daly, president of the Creative Coalition. It is one of several projects in which we’ve untangled the social norms related to art, including those in hospitals and corporations.

Bringing art to heal

At first glance, it appears as if the social norms of the military and the arts are incompatible. That perception is so pervasive, in fact, that it threatens art therapy programs at military hospitals.

That was the challenge we were asked to address at Walter Reed Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, where an art therapy program was showing very good early results. We worked with medical staff, military leadership and arts professionals to look for some way to reconcile values of the two fields.

Surprisingly, it turned out we didn’t need to. By digging into the military budget and the realities of the military experience, we discovered that the arts are already a critical element of what the Pentagon does. At the time, the budget for military bands alone was bigger than the budget for the National Endowment for the Arts, the federal agency that supports arts institutions and arts programs in all 50 states.

The key was simply the arts speaking the military’s language. “Walter Reed’s leaders could evaluate all of their arts programs using the same metrics the Pentagon uses to assess its own efforts to reintegrate soldiers into civilian life,” our report read. “This data could not only bolster the role of art at Walter Reed, but serve as the basis for new military arts programs.”

We were enlisted in this effort by Mike Orlove, director at the National Endowment for the Arts. It is one of several projects of our projects related to the social norms of health care, including our work with Harvard on mobile health, our work with a start up on the role of patients, and our publication on the social determinants of health and professional education.

Whirlwind experience

Michael Orlove is a director of the National Endowment for the Arts, responsible for artist communities, presenting and multidisciplinary works, and international programs. He was previously senior program director for the City of Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs, launching untold numbers of festivals, arts series and programs in his 19 years.

Orlove said of us, “Working with GreenHouse is an exhilarating, 360-degree whirlwind experience. Their work in educational, business, not-for-profit, and corporate communities around the world is driven by an utterly original approach to problem solving, requiring highly accomplished and creative people to leave their egos at the door and dive in. They approach the work with integrity, respect, and incredible wisdom.”

We have worked with Mr. Orlove on a variety of projects, including our effort on behalf of Walter Reed Military Medical Center and Jeff Leitner’s address to the Association of Performing Arts Presenters.

Million pieces

Known publicly for his decades as an actor in film and television – most notably, for roles in Wings, The SopranosPrivate Practice and Madam Secretary – Tim Daly is president of the Creative Coalition, a high-profile advocacy group within the entertainment industry.

Daly said of  working with us, “Imagine being faced with a serious challenge or problem, then having it blown into a million pieces, then reconstructed and returned to you as an asset. That’s what Greenhouse can do.”

Our partnership began with our joint efforts to re-frame arts education.

Laissez les bon temps rouler

In only its second year, our UX for Good initiative won the user experience design industry’s People’s Choice Award for our work with The GRAMMY Foundation and the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation to improve economic conditions for the city’s professional musicians.

UX for Good – the brainchild of GreenHouse and Jason Ulaszek – enlists a dozen top user experience designers from around the world to join in resolving a complex social challenge. In addition to our efforts in New Orleans, we have worked in Vancouver at the behest of the Dalai Lama Center for Peace + Education and in Rwanda with the Kigali Genocide Memorial.

Our work in New Orleans also fulfilled our commitment as members of the Clinton Global Initiative.

Committed to the music

The Clinton Global Initiative broke important, new ground in social impact: holding corporations and social sector organizations accountable for their commitments to do good. As members of CGI, we made and fulfilled our own commitment to improve economic conditions for professional musicians in New Orleans.

“We commit to take action to improve the standard of living and bolster the social safety net for musicians working in New Orleans,” our pledge read. “Through this commitment, we will develop new, more effective models for directing financial resources and providing social services to musicians.”

We fulfilled the commitment through UX for Good, an initiative GreenHouse started with Jason Ulaszek to enlist the world’s top user experience designers in solving social challenges. The project in New Orleans was awarded the experience design industry’s top honor.