Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2017
After successfully launching its award-winning, first-ever artist-in-residence program last year, Virginia Commonwealth University School of Business administrators were excited to repeat that success this year with a new artist.
“We recognized that whoever we chose would have a different direction [than last year’s artist-in-residence Noah Scalin] due to having a different set of art skills,” said Ken Kahn, senior associate dean. “Akin to our EPIC strategic plan, it is essential that we are open to changing things up to maintain a creative culture. This requires that we embrace new directions and new perspectives, which are afforded by bringing in different artists skilled in different media.”
With a background in both art and business, photographer Alyssa C. Salomon fits the bill.
A well-known Richmond-based artist and educator, and a former accountant and investment banker, Salomon’s artwork is held in museum, corporate and private collections, and she has been recognized with awards, including two VMFA Professional Fellowships and the Teresa Pollak Award for Excellence in the Arts.
“An adjunct faculty member in the VCU School of the Arts, Alyssa is accustomed to working with students,” Kahn said. “This, coupled with her enthusiasm to help business students think differently, should lead to some enlightening experiences for our students. She already has introduced our students to $100 bill origami — not real $100 bills — and plans to host creative juice bars in the School of Business Atrium.”
Salomon, who was the artist-in-residence at the VCU Rice Rivers Center last year, embraced the opportunity to serve at the School of Business.
“The objective of making creativity vivid and personal for members of the business school community — students, faculty, staff — is irresistible,” she said.
Chair of the nonprofit Studio Two Three, Salomon holds an M.B.A. from the University of Chicago School of Business, now known as the Booth School. She spent more than two decades as principal at an accounting firm that specialized in financial advisory and compliance services for businesses and individuals in creative industries. Prior to selling her practice, her firm was located on West Cary Street, on the property occupied by Snead Hall and the VCU School of Engineering East Hall.
“So I have owned and operated a small business, had employees, helped other businesses grow, and participated hands-on in developing Richmond’s economy right here on the site of VCU Business,” she said.
Salomon talked with VCU News about creativity’s role in business.
What is your vision for this year’s program?
To help develop and instill the power and pleasures of creativity by creating stuff … hands-on process-based learning with students, faculty and staff.
You’re following on the heels of our first artist-in-residence, Noah Scalin. Does it influence your strategy for the year? If so, how?
"Creativity isn’t the gilding on the lily; it is how the lily was conceived and made."
Absolutely, Noah’s work has influenced what I look forward to doing this year. Noah and I share a vision of creativity as a capacity, like muscle memory, that can be developed, honed and, with practice, deployed intuitively. We’re both process people — process is how you discover, process is your tool, process is learnable. We also, I think, share the view of creativity as an integral and foundational part of the whole path to any endeavor — strategic planning, problem solving, competitive positioning, product development. Creativity and design are how the work is done. Much more than decoration at the end. I like to say that creativity isn’t the gilding on the lily; it is how the lily was conceived and made.
I’m a quiet performer, a come-make-with-me teacher, a worker in intimate spaces. I will be creating as many opportunities as possible for the business school community to make stuff. And within these events, I expect that a number of the skills, benefits and pleasures of creative process will be revealed.
Come make with me.
What do you see as the role of creativity in business?
From personal experience, I found that being trained as and then actively working as an artist made me an unusual and valuable member of many business teams. Before getting my M.B.A. from the University of Chicago, I studied art and history and all sorts of things at a liberal arts college and worked for several years in advertising. In grad school and after, working in investment banking, I found that although I was often not the best quant or the most experienced person on the team, I always had something unexpected and meaningful to contribute; the way I looked at whole problems and even examined details lent clarity to our work. Creativity and curiosity meant I could, as Brian Eno describes, look at the “big here and the long now.”
My accounting firm grew from my mother's practice, which I took over after she passed away in 1991. My mother was trained as a scientist, loved music and literature and art, and got her second undergraduate degree — in accounting — from VCU Business as an adult seeking to retool after raising young children. As accountants, we both saw that the value-added in compliance and business advisory services went way beyond technical expertise. Curiosity, intuition, making connections, digging deep, offering insights with implementable guidance — these all made what we did extraordinarily meaningful to our clients and constantly interesting to us.
Do you think you can teach businesspeople to be creative?
Of course. Businesspeople are people first. Everybody does things within their lives that are creative, that create. Our language is full of “making” as a verb (OK, making is a gerund). We make friends, we make love, we make lunch, we make do, we make plans, we make decisions, we make money, we make memories, we make a home, we make a mess, we make up, we make good, we make a community, we make ourselves, we make a life.
The question is: How do we make with awareness, curiosity, intention, and kick-ass competitive edge? That’s totally teachable and all about practice.
If you had to pick one goal to accomplish with this residency by the end of the year, what would it be?
Provoke curiosity and instill creative confidence. I’m hoping to be in direct contact with a lot of people. So far it looks like I’ll get to make — make good on my promise — with hundreds in the business school.
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