Mona-Lisa-Parody as artist

Come on, admit it: The arts make you smile, right?

At noon today, I get to sit down with the Arizona Attorney Magazine Editorial Board and select the winners in our annual arts competition. I’m ready for a bumpy ride.

As I say that, I imagine you’ll think that I dread the gathering. But quite the opposite: Our arts-review meeting is probably my favorite monthly meeting of the year, and board members share that feeling. Let me explain.

When we decided, 11 years ago, to start an arts competition for lawyers, we had a few goals in mind, goals that would aid the magazine and our readers. But we really weren’t sure what was in store for us.

Over that decade-plus, I’ve become a strong advocate for the arts in an otherwise non-arts-centric organization, even though the process can be maddening at times. So as I head to today’s meeting, let me give your four reasons that your workplace (or association or publication) should foster an interest in the arts. (Our magazine’s approach is a competition, but simply developing arts awareness can help, too.)

1.     It builds your team.

Even when staff may not choose to gather to discuss your organization’s strategic (yawn) plan, they may offer views when it comes to art.

I recall a few years ago that a “name-the-art” contest garnered a lot of interest here at work. The State Bar of Arizona staff were alerted to a painting that seemed to cry out for a name. In fact, the automatic title it gained was “Horse With No Name.” But it seemed to demand more.

Bar art horse

The State Bar asked for the ideal name for this here horse.

Ultimately, Bar leaders reviewed staff suggestions and opted for “Charlie Horse,” as named by my colleague Nancy Nichols. And so he has remained. (Whenever I pass him, I am reminded of a sharp pain in my leg.)

At the magazine, the Editorial Board and I do not always agree on what the best art submissions are. In fact, we often start out the meeting by disagreeing. But we look forward to the robust conversation. In that process, we pick winners, yes, but we also learn what each other values, and recognize that those values are not identical. What we each prize ranges from simplicity to flourish, clear explanation to opacity, humor to dead seriousness. The arts competition helps our board interact and grow to know each other better.

board meeting

Yes, board members occasionally disagree about art selections.

2.     It builds your readership or customer base.

Our arts competition is one of our most “liked” issues of the year. It signals to readers that we truly care about all those varied parts of their brains—not just the legal quadrant.

Every year after publication, I hear from readers who want to offer their own views on the quality of the selected winners (they may not always be pleased). I also hear from people who want to chat about a submission, and how it has helped remind them of an event or life lesson they learned, often years before. They thank me and the magazine for spurring the dialogue. Art is evocative that way.

Readers care about art and what it signals about the artists’ ideas. Our members see us engaging, and so they engage—both with us and the winners.

Our readers also have played a role in the competition, even when they do not submit. We have had categories added after members contacted us and said (for example), “So why no sculpture?” Why, indeed, and now there is.

(We still face the challenge of being primarily a print magazine. Yes, we added music, and listening to the winners requires following a link. (Listen to our recent winners here and here.) But we haven’t bit at the idea of a Dance category yet. But we’ll keep thinking about it.)

3.     It helps your organization be part of that STEM to STEAM movement.

Follow trends much? Then you may know that our global economy demands we shift efforts in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) to include the big “A”—arts. Actually, arts and design.

If your association is like ours, you try to be part of the front edge of waves carrying us toward the future. Read more here about getting your STEAM on.

4.     It aids some of your most talented members.

And why shouldn’t it? Your winners are winners, after all. Our publication of their success may beget larger success for them—exactly what most member organizations exist to do.

Over the past decade, I have heard from multiple lawyer–artists about arts success that has subsequently come their way. I like to think that we had some small role in their decision to pursue the arts more deeply and to move that part of their lives to the front burner.

Our lawyer–artist success stories are many. You can read about a few here, here and here.

So we’ll be going through approximately 410 submissions today. But don’t cry for me, Argentina, because it’s our rollicking good arts meeting. Today, I’m the luckiest magazine editor around.

Arts Competition ad 2014 cropped