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Putting The S In ESG: An Art Company Creates Measurable Social Impact In CRE

"Jill Scott" by ArtLifting artist Stacey Williams as a chain curtain installation for Centerspace Homes at Lugano Cherry Creek in Denver, Colorado.

From community spaces in multifamily properties to collaborative spaces in offices, tenants want a more purposeful and welcoming environment that creates a deeper social connection.

According to a survey measuring real estate social value, more than 90% of respondents globally have a social value strategy in place and see real estate as a vehicle to support their environmental and social value initiatives. However, many companies are struggling to identify scalable actions that can be taken to support these strategies, especially in the S in ESG.  

One social enterprise is providing a creative business solution to make a measurable social impact through art and design.

ArtLifting represents artists living with disabilities and housing insecurity and partners with corporations to design engaging spaces that create a sense of belonging.  

CEO Liz Powers, a former social worker in Boston, always knew the power of art to heal and create connections, which is what inspired her to run art groups in Boston.

“During this time, I discovered that a lot of quality art pieces being produced in these shelters and disability centers were valuable and artists could be paid for their work,” she said. “However, the artwork was being thrown away or left to collect dust. I started to hear from artists, ‘Liz, I want an opportunity, not a handout.’ I recognized if I could create access to the art market for these artists, they could earn an income. That's when I began ArtLifting to give these artists a platform for their talent.”

Powers said that was just the beginning of a much deeper social impact rooted in corporate real estate, and she found companies were looking to differentiate the design of their spaces and create more healthy and inclusive environments.

“We knew we could meet these business goals while making a life-changing impact on the lives of our artists,” she said. “The results have been meaningful, including creating jobs and reducing homelessness. Our artists have earned over $6M through the sale of their artwork through ArtLifting, which helped them become more financially resilient, pay medical bills and operate their own art studios.”

Commissioned artwork by ArtLifting artist Allen Chamberland for Stoneleigh Cos. at Waterford Bluffs in Cleveland.

Companies are making clear commitments to environmental impact, but sustainability goes beyond just the environment and extends to the people and the culture as well, Powers said.

She also said she believes this is both a governance and public perception issue for businesses that have focused on DEI, volunteerism and philanthropy to drive social impact.

“There is an opportunity to embed social impact into daily business operations through intentional placemaking in the built environment — specifically through artwork,” Powers said. “Art in spaces is a way to make corporate values visible, healthy and inclusive spaces and a measurable social impact.”

ArtLifting can help companies create community connections and can connect to artists at scale, creating efficient art programs. Real estate investors, developers and designers such as Stoneleigh Cos., Centerspace Homes, 10K Architecture and Hines are prioritizing ESG and have recognized the value of ArtLifting in supporting their ESG strategies.

Hines, a global real estate investment and development firm, initially collaborated with ArtLifting to do a rental rotation for a lobby at Park Tower in San Francisco, which received positive feedback from the team and its tenants. 

“Hines selected ArtLifting because of the alignment with our mission of value creation, integrity and quality in global real estate,” said Logan Bjorkman, property manager of Park Tower. 

Thus far, Hines has purchased multiple pieces for 20 of its properties from ArtLifting, making a positive impact on nearly 70 artists. 

ArtLifting has helped Hines meet the company's goal of providing a more engaging and inspiring experience at its buildings, said Annie Draper, director of workplace services at Hines.

“The choice to work with ArtLifting was purposeful: a chance to make a difference in an area that gets a lot of traffic, both from Hines employees and others who lease the space,” she said.

Some of those spaces include Hines’ flexible workspaces in Salt Lake City and Houston called The Square, which is designed for productive work and full-team engagement in a creative atmosphere. 

While art has always been a part of Hines’ buildings, it wasn't until the company regularly collaborated with ArtLifting that it noticed the impact that the art was having in its spaces. Hines was so impressed with the feedback and social impact that the company featured ArtLifting in its 2022 ESG report

“ArtLifting has helped Hines connect more closely to the potential social impact of existing building features and give a space for underrepresented artists,” Hines global ESG associate Michael Hogan said. “Art has always been a part of the Hines experience, but we now have the opportunity to marry that art with impact.”

Hogan said that ArtLifting’s pieces bring an extra layer of aesthetics to the office space, creating a warmer and more inviting environment where people can connect with others in more amenitized spaces.

“With the return to office, we're not going to be able to have the same type of traditional office spaces of five to 10 years ago,” he said. “The future of the office is focused on the holistic human experience, and we believe that adding additional layers to our existing amenities will help elevate the user experience at our properties.”

Powers has a vision that ArtLifting can help bridge more opportunities for disabled artists with the business and CRE community. Her goal is not only to break down barriers and change the way business is done but also to help destigmatize society’s views on people with disabilities and those who have experienced homelessness to help create an equal playing field for all artists. 

“Nearly 80% of people with disabilities do not participate in the labor force, and we are on a mission for our artists to earn a living wage,” she said. “We'd love to see ArtLifting artwork in major developments and on the office walls of all Fortune 500 companies. Our vision is to build a more equitable world where people are defined by their talents and not their circumstances.”

This article was produced in collaboration between Studio B and ArtLifting. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.

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