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Art as a Vehicle for Social Change

The year 2021 is declared the International Year of Creative Economy for Sustainable Development at the 74th United Nations General Assembly.  The creative economy –which includes audio-visual products, design, new media, performing arts, and visual arts– is a highly transformative sector of the world economy in terms of income generation, job creation and export earnings.

Robert Motherwell, one of the founders of abstract expressionism in painting expressed that “Art is much more than life but what a poor life without it”. Art not only plays a vital role in society as a source of joy, happiness and awe but it also plays a key role to provoke, encourage and incentivise people to change. Art is an expression that is powerful in cultivating empathy. Really immersive artwork can shift perspectives.

People around the world are drawing lessons from various forms of arts- performing arts (theatre, music, dance etc), visual arts (drawing, painting, photography etc) to teach leadership, communication skills, to create awareness about social issues and most importantly to instill empathy.

Global Business School Network believes that business schools are ideally placed to be the nexus between government, business and civil society in shaping a collective response to our most critical challenges. In this context, it is pertinent to deliberate and discuss about if business school across the globe using any of these art forms to make their graduates aware about grand challenges and encourage them to take up actions.

We all know that music is a universal feature of human societies and is considered as a universal healer and has been playing crucial role in the mobilization of various social movements across globe.  Music has been used to communicate the ideas of change and protest and has been used to lift the spirits of marginalized and oppressed. Music is powerful, that is why political revolution create it and despotic regimes ban it. 

Ten years ago, I designed an elective course connecting music to management which was launched at the Goa Institute of Management to bring out the direct connect of music with social change and also orient students to its subtle power in improving intuition, improvisation and deeper impact. This elective course builds on the premise that business is a profoundly human endeavor and believes that business manager requires deep appreciation of society and it’s evolving cultural values. The impact of music in advertising has been widely investigated, with studies ranging from musical congruency, lyrics, and likability to levels of involvement. Not only in marketing and advertising, role of music in social change  and as soft power is very well known. In this course, a module on Music and Social Change encourages participants to discuss various aspects of music, its role in spreading awareness and re-kindling our assumptions, challenging the status quo. We discuss about various music festivals around the globe and its impact.  We discuss about various artists like how 60s folk and rock sung by Bob Dylan rallied people against the Vietnam war as well as social inequalities. I introduce participants  to the rap of the late 80s which were written to point inequalities and also discuss the contemporary examples to draw lessons.

Professor Michael Murray in his book chapter on Art, social action and social change writes that the arts have historically played an important role in facilitating social action and change and have been used to assert certain ideas and social arrangements. It  also draw attention to specific problematic issues and engage the community in attempting to tackle them. He says that thus the arts are not the solution but rather a means to the solution as it encourages the participants to reflect upon their capacities and their views of the world.   

There are examples from business schools who have integrated various forms of arts into their curricula. FGV EAESP, São Paulo, Brazil integrated art in a sustainability course and uses transdisciplinary approach. In one of the business school in South Africa, a faculty uses art in her classes when teaching issues of diversity and inclusion and understanding and valuing different perspectives. A faculty from my own institution, Dr. Padhmanabhan V. who teaches interpersonal group dynamics uses theatre to sensitize the students on building collaboration. Ozyegin University, Istanbul have a large art collection mainly comprised of paintings and installations and they are using them to create empathy, visibility and provoke.

At the Goa Institute of Management, we also have a Centre For Creativity, Innovation &  Design Thinking work towards making students “see” solutions when none seem to exist by involving them in various arts forms, like street theatre workshop, clay modeling, photography, calligraphy, music, dance etc. The purpose of this centre is to kindle creativity among students and to help students develop imagination and see every situation with diverse perspectives. We have a student theatre group, our own in-house musical band, photography club and a musical club.

Art is the lens through which we experience the world and it can change the way we see the world. We can say that art can be used to raise consciousness and shape the way we think about our society. It can also instil empathy, build a sense of community and challenge various oppressions like racism, inequality etc.  We can also say arts changes people and people change the world. But for this, we need to provide people an experience of these various forms of arts.

It would be wonderful that GBSN is hosting a stakeholder discussion during GBSN Beyond 2021 on the theme that would provide a platform to foster dialogues with regard to various issues e.g. human right, climate challenge and the practices adopted by business schools in this regard. The multi-stakeholder panel discussion will help the participants to understand the importance of Arts and provide them with various examples of arts integration into the business school curricula and other activities to advance the 2030 agenda. 

Dr. Divya Singhal

Professor and Chairperson, Centre For Social Sensitivity and Action, Goa Institute of Management, India 

Dr. Divya Singhal is a Professor and Chairperson- Centre – Centre For Social Sensitivity and Action (CSSA) at the Goa Institute of Management (GIM), India. She holds a Ph.D.in Economics, FDPM from Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad and ITP from CEIBS. She was a Doctoral Fellow, ICSSR Ministry of Human Resource Development, Government of India.

Divya was recently awarded by United Nations Principle for Responsible Management (UN-PRME) to recognize achievements in integrating the SDGs into business school in the period January 2020 to December 2020 that exemplifies one or more of the Six Principles of PRME.

She has designed a unique course connecting music to management which she is offering for last 10 years at GIM. Applied aspects of the subject and learning-centric pedagogy are at the center of her teaching philosophy. She is passionate about teaching & research, sustainability and pluralism.