Adding an artist to the CreativeHQ mix

CreativeHQ is the Wellington based business accelerator, incubator and innovation service provider  that is all about activating potential. 

Over the past 15 years CreativeHQ has attracted entrepreneurs, innovators and business people from across the innovation sector - startups, government departments and large corporations, following their mantra “entrepreneurs are everywhere”. Recently though, they added something new to the mix: a 6-month residency for an artist. We sat down with CreativeHQ CEO Stefan Korn to talk about what activation means, and how art and business work together to create something great.

CreativeHQ doesn’t do the work for their entrepreneurs - rather, they help people get from one point to the next, efficiently. This usually means a lot of upskilling on effective innovation techniques and practices, working through business ideas in a disciplined process based on methodologies and validated insights from customers.

When they reached a comfortable place in their commercial work, Stefan came up with a new idea: an artist-in-residence. Of course, this isn’t new in and of itself, except that an artist in residence doesn’t generally appear in startup accelerators or incubators.

The artist just had to spend time working at CreativeHQ.  “There were no real expectations,” said Stefan, “because it was an experiment.” In 2017, they welcomed their first artist in residence - Leo Gene Peters from theatre company A Slightly Isolated Dog.

Resolving tension

There’s a real difference between art and business - both live in a world full of tension, but art highlights that tension while business tends to hide it, or as the Artists in Don Juan would say “they push it down”. A good play, movie or TV show will always have some kind of tension in it. This is what makes art interesting, and worth consuming.

Business lives in a world of tension as well, but it tends to be more covert. Pitching for a big piece of work is stressful and tense, but people often do not acknowledge it the way they do in the arts world. Tension in the business world is often associated with risk, and fundamentally business is about reducing risk to deliver certainty (brands, products, services). Increasingly the startup and innovation coaches at Creative HQ have found that problem solving in the 21st century requires a different skill set and that “innovation” is more of an art than a science. In particular, traits that most artists are comfortable with – such as showing emotion, vulnerability, holding a space for ambiguity, front of room work, listening with authenticity and empathy etc.


So it seemed entirely logical to launch an artist in residence programme for Creative HQ to help startups and innovators learn from artists, and vice versa. The approach is refreshing to business funders in the angel community who in turn want to provide more than money to unlock the potential of the companies graduating from CreativeHQ.

Leo-Gene worked with staff and entrepreneurs at CreativeHQ to help them communicate in an open and honest way, and to develop their creative confidence. “He encouraged people to embrace what artists do: live in ambiguity, and hold tension without letting that tension control them.”

These lessons tied with what Stefan sees as a major, but often unspoken driver of innovation: the ability to be vulnerable, to be open to ideas, allow forthright communication, and to embrace uncertainty.” These are all fundamentally ambiguous and tense undertakings, and Leo-Gene helped the staff and entrepreneurs grapple with these things.

The result

As an element of the arrangement, Leo-Gene created a show for both CreativeHQ and the public on his perception of the CreativeHQ world - both real and imagined. It was presented as a conversation at BATS theatre in Wellington. It explored teamwork, decision making and its consequences. Given the nature of the audience participation no two shows - just like any two businesses - were the same.

CreativeHQ expanded Leo-Gene’s knowledge of business - not just “the books,” but the wider thinking behind driving innovation - identifying needs, identifying customers and exploring new ways to reach his customers.

Stefan meanwhile acknowledges that CreativeHQ received heaps of value out of having an artist in residence. They will absolutely have more artists work with the organisation in the future. Watch this space on upcoming programs to see how CreativeHQ brings this to life. 

ConnectorsBrian Steele