When we hear business schools use phrases like “Business as a force for good,” we often think of buzzword banter — lip service along the lines of “corporate social responsibility.” But that’s not always the case. Sometimes B-schools embrace the artistic.
At Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management, art is appreciated as a way to help promote the importance of good business practices. To help advance the theme of its $150 million 2017 donor campaign, “Business as a Force for Good,” the school has enlisted the talents of Laura Johnson, a second-year MBA and — unbeknownst to the school at the time — accomplished mural artist and painter.
Johnson this month unveiled an undercover art project she’s been working on just steps from the B-school in a rented theater room on the University of Minnesota campus. It’s a 15-feet-by-18-feet canvas Johnson constructed between classes — and while running an Arts & Business student club she co-founded with a Carlson classmate. Her interpretation of “Business as a Force for Good” was unveiled inside the school’s atrium, which will serve as the mural’s home for students, faculty, and alumni to admire for years to come.
“I’m hoping every time people look at it they notice something new, but that they see a flow of what starts within business community and with the decisions that business leaders make,” Johnson tells Poets&Quants. “It doesn’t stop there. It always goes beyond Carlson, beyond the boardroom, and impacts people on so many levels. I hope to remind students that the decisions we make have an impact on so many people beyond us. There is always a social, environmental, and economic impact.”
REMINDING MBAs: HOW BUSINESS ‘CONNECTS TO THE LARGER COMMUNITY’
At first glance, you immediately see bright colors and many faces in the painting. You may notice the moonlit scene on the left that appears juxtaposed with a sun-filled city and high-rise business buildings on the right. And you can’t miss the Gold Medal Flour script which represents the iconic symbol seen in downtown Minneapolis today.
But as you look deeper into Johnson’s work, you begin to appreciate small nuances that reflect the ecosystem of business. You see farmers, doctors, children, businesswomen. Agriculture becomes evident, as does teamwork, performing arts, diverse faiths, the environment, and much more.
“People often think of business as black and white, happening in boardrooms. They rarely think about how it connects to the larger community,” she says.
INTERPRETING BUSINESS AS, TRULY, A FORCE FOR GOOD
Johnson — who is an accomplished painter, former member of the Peace Corps, and member of the Poets&Quants Minnesota Carlson’s MBA Class of 2018 series — has several other paintings displayed in other parts of the world including Lesotho, Africa. There, she did multiple large-scale public murals for HIV/AIDS awareness. In the current project for Carlson, she says she didn’t want the painting to just be a reflection of her own musings on business. So, before putting paint to brush, she spent a significant amount of time talking to others. With the Carlson community at her disposal, she interviewed faculty and students to hear what Business as a Force for Good meant to them.
“With students, I asked what the theme meant to them and what impact they hoped to have through their careers. I asked whether they’re thinking about their roles as making a positive impact in community and how it drives the decisions they make. For faculty, I asked if this was a trend, this notion of business a source for doing good. Is there an expressed need from incoming students to use business to make a positive impact? Their answer was yes, they’re seeing more of it. They also said business as a force for good has to do with the needs of consumers wanting to support businesses that align with personal values and are willing to pay a premium for businesses that are doing good.”
The results of these interviews have yielded a captivating aesthetic that awakens a new feeling and new revelations every time it’s viewed. Johnson says her goals for the piece were all of the above.