CEOs talk about business and the arts

Cardinal Industries ``If you come to work bored, you tend to work bored,'' says David Baker, executive vice president of Cardinal Industries in Columbus, Ohio. ``If we can reverse that by making the workplace exciting, and by expanding people's frame of reference out of work so they come to work excited, we're going to have better overall employment.''

This desire to widen people's experience has sparked a number of different arts-related programs at this factory that produces prefab modular apartments and hotel units -- programs ranging from break-time concerts to ballet demonstrations and sculpture.

``We try to get employees involved in community affairs and activities,'' Baker continues, ``[with] free tickets to the zoo, to the symphony, the ballet, sports events, etc.''

When they first began offering these tickets to employees, they found that, naturally enough, football tickets went fast, whereas there was a more limited response to free ballet tickets. Those who did request them were ``those you might expect -- those with education and prior exposure to ballet,'' says Baker.

To reverse that trend, Baker brought in10 dancers to dance through the factory. ``People put their pencils and hammers down to watch, and the dancers passed out flyers [which said that] free tickets were available for those interested. We ended up with requests for 600 or some tickets -- and guessed that maybe 10 people would have gone otherwise.''

Cardinal also worked to break down ``barriers'' between their employees and the world of museums. ``[An art museum] is a black tie thing, an intimidating building to go into. If you don't know what's there you're frightened to go.''

To remedy this, Baker approached the local art museum and asked them to find a sculptor of wood whose work they would like to have in their collection.

They chose Jackie Ferrara, who came from New York to Columbus. The museum approved her design, which a factory engineer converted to working drawings. Cardinal then made a presentation, asking for volunteers to work on the project. The response from employees, says Baker, ``was overwhelming. . . . In a few days' time they created this 12-foot tall sculpture.''

The sculpture was moved to the museum, and a slide show on the project given for the museum trustees. All those involved were in the audience, and as each one appeared on a slide, he or she stood up and was personally introduced as a ``contributing artist.''

Waiting outside in the garden were the remaining 250 factory workers, who had been bused in for the dedication. ``We were ready to unveil the sculpture when a factory worker stood up and asked if he could make a speech. There he was in his steel-toe shoes and t-shirt, and he told about how moving it had been to him'' to have been involved in the project.

``Many [employees] have since brought their families back to the museum.'' Mobil

Perhaps best known for its corporate sponsorship of such PBS shows as the long-running Masterpiece Theatre, Mobil Oil Corporation has also been active in a relatively unknown area -- grassroots support of the arts.

``I think one of the best things we've done,'' says Rawleigh Warner Jr., President of Mobil Oil and co-chairman of the President's Committee on Arts and Humanities, ``is given relatively small amounts of money ($5,000 - $10,000) to a whole variety of our field units, and told the managers in those field units that they can use that money in the support of arts in their community in whatever way they see fit. That has been a very rewarding [project] -- to many in the hinterlands, $5,000 goes a very long way. [And it's] quite clearly in our interest -- it identifies Mobil with the suport of a small museum, a dance group, or a theatrical group.''

``My own view is that if a corporation is going to do well in the local environment where it operates -- both at its headquarters and out in the field -- it's really got to be a good corporate citizen.

``Being a good corporate citizen, it eseems to me, deals in a whole variety of areas -- not only just in support of local hospitals and the United Way, but also in support of the arts.'' Winter Construction Company

``I moved to Atlanta seven years ago and found a city that is really trying to define its own destiny,'' says Bob Silverman, president and CEO of The Winter Construction Company in Atlanta, Georgia. He says he heard people keep ``talking about lofty dreams like being an international city. . . . [but Atlanta] certainly did not have the cultural life or the arts of an international city.''

Mr. Silverman realized that, as a city, if ``we truly wish to achieve our dream, we can't just have major league sports, we have to have major league arts.''

He began working with the Atlanta Ballet, and recently organized ``Hard Hats for the Symphony'' -- an organization open to ``anyone in the construction business or design profession for buildings, or lawyers who represent them.'' Each person who gives a minimum of $250 to the symphony each year, receives a hard hat and a decal for each year paid up.

``This was an untapped resource -- Atlanta is the headquarters for construction throughout the southeast. These people didn't realize the importance of small and medium-sized business supporting the arts. They [figured] that Coca Cola and Georgia Pacific take care of the arts -- that's just not true. Small and medium size businesses must [give] their share, too. They must contribute to the arts and to the community in general.''

Contributing financially to the arts is a company policy with Winter Construction. ``We made a commitment to giving 10% of our profits to the cities in which we work -- to the arts. We have made most recently a contribution to the city of Nashville, where we completed a beautiful office building -- and brought an opera to the symphony there.

``I really feel that just giving money is not enough, obviously. The business influence is really important in the arts. I have a reputation at the Atlanta Ballet of being really tough as chair of the finance committee . . . With the new budgeting techniques, new accounting systems, new data processing, we're bringing 20th and 21st century state of the art management science to the arts -- and you don't just do that with money, you have to give time.'' Contel

Charles Wohlstetter, chairman of Continental Telecom (Contel), Inc., in New York, has been a long time supporter of the arts.

``I have a strong feeling that in the performing arts, the prices have made it impossible to build a new public for the theater,'' says Mr. Wohlstetter, who told the Billy Rose Theater that if they'd charge no more than $3 per ticket to the play, ``The House of Atreus,'' he'd pick up the losses -- ``so that people who might otherwise never be able to see this, could.''

Does the business community have a responsibility to help support the arts?

``If you think of it as an obligation, the answer is no. If you think of it as I do, as part of making the universe we survive in an enriched one . . . [you] have an obligation to do two things: 1) support the arts, and 2) create in your own organization an artistic ambience and environment in which people work. The idea of working in a place with hospital green walls, ordinary machines and furniture is bad for an organization.''

A very recent example of Wohlstetter's ongoing support of the arts is the warehouse fire in Passaic, New Jersey, in which many of the costumes for the New York City Opera were destroyed. ``I couldn't sleep when I heard about it,'' he says. He called Beverly Sills and offered to give the Opera money to help replace the costumes. ``I want to be a part of this -- it's our cultural heritage,'' he told her. A leadership committee was formed, and Wohlstetter has spoken with CEO's across the country, asking fo r financial assistance in replacing costumes. ``I haven't had one person say no,'' he said with obvious satisfaction.

That kind of response, says Wohlstetter, is indicative of today's arts-aware and arts-supportive business community. ``[We're] living in an environment where all the business people I know are interested in the arts -- in the proliferation and support of them.''

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