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Gadens is a leading Australian legal services provider strongly engaged with the arts to foster creativity, fresh thinking and retain best staff for its business. The firm runs programs and initiatives with Poetry In Action, Ruben Guthrie at La Boîte Theatre Company and National Art School, and hosts exhibitions of artworks by emerging artists at Adelaide and Sydney offices.

Campbell Hudson, a partner at Gadens, with rich expertise gained over 25 years of legal practice shares with us some incredible insights into the collaboration between business and the arts, and the benefits and challenges of that relationship.

Interview by Natalia Ilyukevich

One of Gadens key assets is the level of engagement within your team and its clients. What are some of the tactics you’ve used to develop that team and how does the involvement with the arts contributes to this aspect?

The most important aspect for our business is to recruit and attract the best staff. To do so you’ve got to have a dynamic and stimulating environment, and to achieve that it’s critical that there be an engagement with the arts. Some good examples of how that worked effectively at Gadens over a long period of time include a program where we’ve had an artist and a writer in residence, and Poetry In Action program with our people. You might ask how is poetry relevant to a law firm? The answer is that lawyers have to use the best words in the best order and poetry does the same. It’s our capacity to learn from the arts in terms of the use of the language and the effectiveness that ultimately charts our success as a business. We apply that philosophy to come up with a solution that is innovative and focused on clients’ needs, not necessarily the lawyers’ analysis of the law. And in that regard the arts is a wonderful way to inspire us and to help us along that path.

How do you choose the entities from the arts that you want to establish a relationship with and support?

We are certainly looking at supporting emerging talent because we think that’s the market that deserves and requires our support, and resonates with our young talent at Gadens. We are a young firm with 400 staff with 80% under the age of 30. As part of that dynamic we look for artwork that inspires, challenges and intrigues young people. Virginia Wilson, the art curator, works with us in selecting artists that she thinks are appropriate for us to support. Virginia has played a key role in selecting a young artist whose projection installation work challenges, but isn’t offensive or seen as out of step with the fact that we are a leading law firm in this country with top ten clients in the banking and property sector. So the artwork needs to be dynamic, stimulating and challenging in terms of what you’d expect from emerging artists, but at the same time it needs to be of such type that is not going to alienate or offend people.

Gadens describes itself as “A place where fresh thinking and new ideas are championed daily”. Does your relationship with the arts helps to encourage and nurture such “fresh thinking”? How?

Yes, it is absolutely imperative that we have fresh thinking in our challenging and dynamic environment and the arts of course is a wonderful inspiration. We have a very strong relationship with the National Arts School that has evolved into us having a function at their postgraduate exhibition last year where lawyers and our emerging talent were fortunate enough to be inspired by the displayed artwork. It was a very stimulating and enlightening event – our people came back with their creative thinking processes stimulated by that sort of engagement. We’ve also got a program that supports the Australian Youth Orchestra and Pacific Opera. So we are incredibly receptive to new ideas especially when it comes to our technology solutions – it’s very interesting to see that the technology piece works so effectively at our firm because we have an environment that encourages creativity.

What are some of the challenges for a sustainable relationship between the business and arts?

The challenge is to ensure that our engagement with the arts is focused on an aspect that resonates and relates to the partners and our staff. Recently, I was introduced to some young artists using vacant property as sites for art installation. In turn, this creates a direct link between property companies and the arts. At Gadens our core areas are banking and property – so if we are going to look at the engagement with the arts it would be wonderful to look at those sorts of initiatives from a property point of view. To work with our property clients and artists in relation to vacant spaces or vacant offices that can be utilised in a creative fashion would set a style of engagement that’s very important. However, if we’re going to have a sustainable long term engagement with the arts it has to be relevant to all our people, and have a commercial aspect that makes sense and resonates. So, that is a challenge but one that we are really keen to meet.


After the Australian Government established Artbank in 1980, the arts support program became self­funded by reinvesting its rental income back into artwork purchases. The collection now comprises over 10,000 artworks by 3,000 artists, with a focus on supporting emerging artists. arts interview spoke with Artbank client services and marketing manager, Ellen Lloyd Shepherd, about how the organisation balances its cultivation of emerging artists with the everyday reality of meeting companies’ different aesthetic expectations.

Interview by Heather Jennings

Why is Artbank important? What is the organisation’s cultural contribution to companies and the greater community?

For artists, we are often the first national collection to purchase their work. This validates their practice and provides an economic injection to continue their practice. For clients we provide a flexible, cost-effective and accessible means to enhance a workplace or home, while actively supporting contemporary Australian artists. For the people of Australia, we are acquiring a dynamic and culturally important collection that will be shared with future generations. The collection is extremely diverse and we pride ourselves on being able to offer clients the very latest, innovative works, often challenging preconceptions and taste.

How does Artbank maintain a cultural record? Does it factor in exposure and support of emerging artists when collecting new works?

Support of emerging artists through collection and subsequent exposure to their work is of paramount consideration when collecting. Artbank as a collection can take risks on work in a way state and national galleries cannot.
The collection’s quality is a testament to our acquisition policy, which is closely adhered to in order to maintain its integrity. Artbank only acquires work by living Australian artists and from the primary market – directly from artists, via commercial galleries, contemporary art spaces, artist-run organisations and Indigenous communities.
We always find a way to work with artists that could otherwise prove challenging for the collection when assessed against our acquisition policy. Recently, we have started commissioning some artists and working closely with them to explore ways of uniting their creative vision and Artbank’s collecting brief without compromising the integrity of their practice.

What are the curatorial challenges in working with and providing artworks to large corporations? 

Artbank’s curatorial challenges include not being able to acquire works that are inherently fragile, and which might be confronting or provocative in content.

What do clients want and how do you adjust to this?   

Artbank prides itself on being able to provide artwork to suit every taste, personality, location and budget. We rent artworks to many government departments, including Australian embassies and consulates around the world, corporate clients across different industries and private clients who rent work for their homes and small businesses.
Some clients are looking for artwork to freshen a ‘dull’ space, some want a feature for a meeting room or foyer, some like to change over their artworks each year to keep their staff and clients engaged and others are looking for striking pieces that help them sell real estate.
It’s important for us to be at the forefront of collecting, and we strive to purchase work that is reflective of current practice. We purchased our first video work in 2008 and launched our video collection in 2009.

What value does aesthetics have to a business? Will companies avoid artworks that could be considered controversial in a business setting?

Some clients will avoid certain artworks, but not necessarily because they might be considered controversial. A company may want to convey itself as progressive and innovative, informal and enterprising or respectable and established – all of which can be achieved with well selected artworks.

Aesthetics is incredibly important to a business. Each year companies invest substantial money, time and planning to ensure that their corporate identity is expressed in appropriate and relevant ways. Everything from staff demeanour, dress code and office location right down to the use of recycled paper and philanthropic activity, assists a company to build their brand and marketplace positioning. Brand development and aesthetics go hand in hand, and the styling and fit out of an office space can be as important as other more obvious corporate identity decisions.

Clients select artworks that reflect the principles they want to convey as a business, reinforcing messages that more traditional brand campaigns offer.