In-House DST Arts Council Leads to Art@Work

ArtAtWorkArts councils can be found in municipalities throughout Missouri and throughout the country, but it’s a bit remarkable to find an arts council within a for-profit company. Unusual or not, an in-house arts council is just what DST Systems Inc. formed in 1999.

The DST Arts Council’s first project was the DST Arts Festival, which expanded into other arts opportunities, as well as the annual DST Holiday Concert. Its arts council has been comprised of five subcommittees representing the different arts disciplines, each responsible for coming up with ideas and generating arts programming for associates.

Technical communications consultant Robert Palmer, a DST associate for 13 years and a photographer, joined the company’s arts council soon after its formation and was part of a group that eventually helped formed Art@Work. When Palmer joined DST, he already had experience organizing art events, such as a mammoth arts project that took place in conjunction with the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.

Palmer said DST recognized it had many associates who were interested in all forms of the arts and in starting a companywide arts festival.

“That first year, I believe we had 30 associates who wanted to display their artwork,” he said.

In addition to the visual arts, the associates also were involved in literature, theater, music and dance, so a stage was needed and Bartle Hall was rented for the first DST Arts Festival.

“One of the best parts about in-house arts opportunities is it gives folks experience and confidence. It also makes it more enjoyable to come to work when you have something else going on besides your daily job,” Palmer said.

“And you develop a new level of relationships within the company, talking with colleagues about your common interests.”

Palmer said DST associates have had a variety of opportunities in which to participate in the arts, including in-house workshops, a chorale, dance lessons and an actors improv group, as well as working with the Mid-America Arts Alliance to bring in Ted Kooser, U.S. poet laureate, to speak.

“For visual artists, we were able to create an associate art gallery and rotate pieces every three months,” he said.

Palmer said it’s important to take away hurdles that prevent people from participating in the arts.

“For example, one of the biggest things for visual artists who work for companies is, these folks aren’t full-time artists, so they don’t have experience with presentation (of their artwork). At DST, we created workshops on matting and framing to take away that hurdle,” he said.

Not only has the DST Arts Council been a measureable success for the company and its associates, but it also was the precursor to Art@Work, ArtKC’s popular workplace program created in partnership with DST. Palmer said DST was impressed with the level of in-house participation in the arts and wanted to share this experience with its clients and other businesses. DST also wanted to encourage other local companies to develop their own art exhibits and programming.

Palmer had been involved with the Arts Council of Metropolitan Kansas City and was on a steering committee where exploring an arts version of the Corporate Challenge was being discussed. In 2005, the steering committee began setting up this program, which eventually became Art@Work.

“(Art@Work) uses the model created within DST, but other companies have run with it,” Palmer said. “Burns & McDonnell’s visual arts exhibit is completely different than DST’s or the one Garmin does.” And Palmer said he has been impressed with what other companies are doing with Art@Work.

To help other companies with their art exhibits, DST loans out its exhibit cases and the portable wall system associates made from scratch. Palmer said several companies have taken advantage of using these walls for exhibits. “Again, we want to remove as many barriers as possible to allow more companies to participate,” he said.

Another hurdle Art@Work removed for participating businesses was finding a venue for the annual citywide arts festival, which now involves several companies. The visual arts portion of the festival takes place each year at Union Station, where their work is seen by thousands of people.”

Companies are “making a big push for innovation,” Palmer said. “They want associates to become innovative in their work and look for new opportunities. The creative aspect that goes along with being an artist can only benefit a company looking for innovative ideas. (Art@Work) makes me appreciate how many great companies are around Kansas City. It makes me feel good about Kansas City and its creative workforce.”

Kellie Houx

Kellie Houx is a writer and photographer. A graduate of Park University, she has 20 years of experience as a journalist. As a writer, wife and mom, she values education, arts, family and togetherness.

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