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Big Idea | And Now for Something Completely Different


FROM: July / August 2005, PAGE 8 BY: Robert W. Denney

Struggling with how to define your firm’s image, stimulate innovation, improve morale—and even give back to your community? Back up and take a broader view of office art.

If you back up enough, you’ll see that office art is more than just a “thing to hang on the wall.” A stellar case in point is the Australian firm Gadens Lawyers and its artist-in-residence program. The firm, with more than 85 partners and 720 staff members throughout Australia, kicked off the program in 2004.

For a six-month period, Gadens engaged photographic artist Martin Smith to conduct in-house workshops for its Brisbane office lawyers and staff, exploring their daily roles in the firm’s work through the hands-on creation of art. The firm’s marketing director created charcoal sketches of fashion models. The knowledge center supervisor created a mandala from recycled fabric and thread. Smith himself created a series of photographic works incorporating various aspects of the Brisbane office’s contemporary space. The works he created from the residency were then displayed in Gadens’ Brisbane foyer.

The first venture worked so well that Gadens did it again. This time the walls of Gadens’ Sydney office were used to illustrate the firm’s growing commitment to creative thinking when tackling the spectrum of legal challenges for clients. Based on the assumption that there’s significant psychological effect from the visual impact of office art on clients and potential clients, the Sydney office chose to incorporate a rethinking of its extensive Australian art collection into an early-2005 office renovation.

Artist Beata Geyer was brought on for a three-month residency stint, during which time she developed a site-specific installation. Many of the long-time hallway paintings disappeared, replaced by her abstract photographs of personal items selected by staff members.

Quoted in Lawyers Weekly, Gadens partner Michael Bradley, who developed the original idea for the program, says that the exercise “is an attempt to get discussions going, create energy and add to the life of the place.”

But as big as this idea is, it’s just one facet of Gadens’ Third Dimension program, which sponsors a variety of community arts programs. This is a law firm that sees art going well beyond its office walls. What does your firm see?

Merrilyn Astin Tarlton is Editor-in-Chief of Law Practice magazine and a full-time management, strategy and leadership consultant to law firms.