Art and the Outdoors: Tips & Benefits for Office Developers

Martha Weidmann of NINE dot ARTS explores why art and nature are critical to a workspace.

Jackson National Life – Artist: Katy Stone

Every space has a story. The ability to harness that story through a compelling visual narrative can lead to one-of-a-kind experiences that engage employees and make workforces stronger. Even in an office setting, artistic experiences can stimulate collaboration, creativity, and productivity – all aspects that help drive business success.

Fortunately, today’s developers are embracing the use of art with enthusiasm and leveraging its power to be more than just a decorative afterthought. Now, it’s time to think outside the four walls of an office space and extend the art experience outdoors.

Denver Water – Artist: David Harber / Photographer: Conor King, Third Dune Productions

The Impact of the Outdoors on Employee Engagement

What’s the benefit of this? Studies show that nature has a lasting effect on employees, and that interacting with the natural landscape can decrease stress and improve wellbeing.

What’s even more notable is that 77% of employees who work remotely report greater productivity, and 37% claim that taking breaks throughout the day is how they do it. Linking this evidence with the benefits of art builds a strong case for office developers to create art-infused, nature-inspired spaces where employees can relax, recharge, and come back to work with renewed focus and reduced anxiety.

This is especially critical given that employee wellbeing is becoming increasingly discussed as an important workplace priority. HR Executive has even named employee mental health as a key retention strategy, especially as companies grapple with work-from-home, in-office and hybrid models.

Forward-thinking companies will combine efforts, incorporating both artwork and outdoor time into their employees’ day-to-day. Fortunately, these elements can reinforce one another to create positive, lasting impressions for all.

How Art Can Leverage the Outdoors in a Work Environment

A dynamic art collection can be the perfect way to bring both the outdoors in and encourage employees to spend time outside. Here’s how:

Denver Water – Artist: Rik Sargent / Photographer: Conor King, Third Dune Productions

1. Start with the initial design

The most meaningful art experiences result from collaborative team efforts that begin early in the project’s life cycle. Such partnerships are most  effective when all stakeholders, decision makers and experts work together to realize a shared, predetermined vision.

This is especially true in office design. Take the Bonfils Stanton Foundation, for example. Our team collaborated early on with the art and cultural nonprofit’s staff, as well as the architects, contractors, and designers who developed their new office space in Denver’s Sante Fe Arts District. Doing so allowed us to create an environment in which the dynamic, open spaces of the office – designed to bring the outdoors in – were complemented with brand-enhancing artwork that would encourage frequent use of these spaces.

Bonfils Stanton’s office even features a large garage door that can be raised to create an indoor/outdoor hybrid event space, let the sunshine stream into the office, or simply be opened up during the workday to provide employees the perfect wellness break from work responsibilities.

Our team helped accentuate this design choice by commissioning artist Sandra Fettingis to create a geometric vinyl mural for the glass garage door, which became so loved by employees that the organization created coffee mugs featuring the artwork! The piece represents strong coordination of art and design to enhance wellness and encourage time outdoors.

Denver Water  – Artist: Rik Sargent / Photographer: Conor King, Third Dune Productions

2. Include large-scale artwork

An emerging trend is the use of “big” art – that of large scale and large impact. While original pieces like murals and sculptures are great for defining an open/outdoor space, these artworks can be even more influential if employees have a say in their creation.

After all, a study found that participants who worked in an office with artwork and plants were 15% more productive, and that number doubled for those who could select and arrange the art themselves.

At Denver Water, this evidence was put to action in a nature-inspired exterior sculpture that employees helped artist Rik Sargent create. Staff were invited to mold animals, forests, and water system sites into Sargent’s clay model, infusing their personal stories into the artwork and playing a direct role in the outcome of the final piece.

The sculpture is one of three outdoor installations that pay homage to the company’s mission of providing sustainable water resources to the Denver area and beyond. Each stands more than 20 feet tall, is internally lit to be seen during day or night, and represents water in a unique and dynamic way. The sculptures stand proudly outside the office complex, drawing employees outside and visitors in, meanwhile raising awareness about the company’s life-sustaining work.

Bonfils Stanton Foundation – Artist: Sandra Fettingis

3. Bring the outdoors in

The use of outdoor space can also be brought inside, creating a cohesive and even an immersive art experience. Such was the idea behind the art collection for Jackson National Life’s newly designed, contemporary headquarters. Using a range of investment-quality sculptures, paintings, photographs, and other artworks, the collection weaves themes of nature and wellness across the office’s new headquarters and their older, more traditional space. The dynamic pieces bring to life the tremendous benefits of art and nature in the workplace, particularly for their ability to inspire creativity, productivity and connection for employees, clients and the greater community.

Essential to this collection was the use of both exterior and interior art activated spaces. The final collection includes 1,384 artworks spanning over 228,000 square feet across two buildings. Large floor to ceiling windows adorn the common seating areas, drawing in significant natural light and exposing the calming forest backdrop just outside the office.In addition, dramatic, large-scale sculptures are placed throughout the outdoor common areas, providing an unexpected yet delightful encounter for those who visit the space.

Altogether, the collection uses nature, water, and wellness motifs to create a welcoming environment that honors the company’s reputation as both a visionary financial leader and longstanding advocate of the arts.

Next Steps to Incorporate Art into Your Office Space

According to a 2021 report, over 90% of professionals see art as a way to create memorable experiences that ultimately improve the quality of life for those who use a space. It’s clear that nature plays a similar role, enhancing our wellbeing and relieving stress.

Bring these two together and you’ve got an enriching, engaging environment – a space where people want to be. Now apply this to an office. After nearly two years of remote work, it’s going to take more than cold, stark conference rooms and gray lobby areas to attract employees back to the office, let alone keep them satisfied enough to stay. An authentic, nature-inspired art collection that brings the outdoors in and is representative of the company’s brand, mission, and values may be just the solution.

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