What’s Art Got to Do with It? HBS Art Collection Sparks Dialogue, Creativity
An Interview with Sharon Black, HBS Director of Planning Operations
When Gerald Schwartz (HBS ‘70), Founder and CEO of Onex Corporation, provided the funding for a contemporary art collection on campus in 1998, no one quite knew how students and faculty would react. Walking through Aldrich now, it is impossible to imagine the wood-paneled walls not donned with a variety of contemporary pieces that not only captivate and provoke viewers but change the perception of HBS as an institution.
Dispelling “the standard dead, white guy…bricks and ivy” image of HBS is what Sharon Black, Director of Planning Operations in charge of managing the HBS art collection, has been doing for the last ten years. HBS’s strong brand and reputation are obvious benefits, but the more stodgy qualities, “your dad’s or your granddad’s way of doing things,” as described by Black, are “steeped in a tradition that in this day and time can be a negative.”
In 2004, Guy Kawasaki, Silicon Valley venture capitalist, specified just how negative this tradition was, attributing $250 thousand of value destruction (yes, destruction) for each MBA founder in a startup. Kawasaki’s beliefs are echoed by many in Silicon Valley. Much of this negative value is due to the perception of a traditional MBA: sit in a room in front of a computer, tweak a spreadsheet, and leave the implementation to other people.
Whether or not this opinion is fair is secondary to the more interesting question — can HBS change this perception? More specifically, can Schwartz and Black change this perception through art?
Black highlights several moments in which the art collection has affected its viewers. She recalls a story from a former Co-President of the HBS Art Society who visited HBS for admit weekend, but was not planning on attending due to HBS’s stodgy reputation of “tradition, ivy, cobwebs.” Upon seeing the art collection in Aldrich, however, she was shocked, and the experience was a main contributing factor in her decision to accept admittance to HBS. “The surprise of all that contemporary art made her rethink her assumptions of Harvard in general,” described Black. “It had never occurred to me that it changed the way people perceive what we have to offer here and what our state of mind is.”
Though the causal links between art on campus and creativity and from creativity to creating a new enterprise is difficult to quantify, at the very least, the art has sparked a conversation within the student body ever since the introduction of the collection.
For example, the art collection was the impetus for the creation of the HBS Art Society itself, which holds several highly prominent events throughout the year designed to foster the creativity of students. Events include a student art show, a trip to Miami Art Basel, and a trip to the Sundance Film Festival.
When asked about the importance of the art collection, HBS Art Society Co-President Pamela Chan (OI) described, “The Art Collection, with its diversity and striking aesthetic, promotes creative thinking among students and faculty alike. Moreover, in addition to beautifying the campus, the Art Collection is yet another representation of the commitment of HBS alumni to the school and current students, as well as a constant reminder that there is far more to life than just business.”
Every year, Schwartz, Black, and members of the HBS Art Society travel to New York to visit galleries select pieces of contemporary art that will provoke and spark conversation. Black describes that the piece “needs to speak to the students,” and are not chosen solely based on the tastes of Schwartz. The team is also cognizant of the diversity of the student body, and tries to select artwork to reflect that diversity. Artists from six continents are represented in the collection.
To the student body, Black has one message: “Keep art in your lives.” The Harbus would like to thank and congratulate Black on 25 years of service at HBS.
To see the full art collection online, visit www.hbs.edu/schwartz