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Setting the Stage for Something New: Understanding Arts-Based Initiatives through the Lens of Liminality and Rites of Passage

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Abstract

Art is brought into organizations under the concept of artistic intervention in order to achieve a variety of effects: creating new values, initiating learning processes, supporting restructuring processes, or fostering innovation. Several methods and practices have been developed for this purpose, in which art or artistic workshops create spaces that promote precisely these effects. Such learning spaces, experimental spaces and memory spaces represent great potential for personnel and organisational development, in that, e.g., new ideas can be developed and internalised. Based on this idea of these spaces created by artistic interventions, this article theoretically takes up the idea of "interspaces" as a "liminality". This theoretical angle helps to fathom the effects experienced in artistic interventions which are difficult to evaluate. In this way, the situation in which employees find themselves in artistic interventions can be grasped to better understand processes of change and the opening for exploration of ideas. In addition, liminality is linked to the anthropological view of rites of passage (transition rites), which are supportive in times of change and mark – or even constitute – transitions.
Setting the Stage for Something
New Understanding Arts-Based
Initiatives through the Lens of
Liminality and Rites of Passage
CLAUDIA SCHNUGG*1
www.claudiaschnugg.com
Abstract
Art is brought into organizations in the shape of “artistic interventions” in order
to achieve a variety of effects: creating new values, initiating learning processes,
supporting restructuring processes, or fostering innovation. Several methods and
practices have been developed for this purpose, in which art or artistic workshops
create spaces promoting precisely these effects. Such learning spaces, experimental
spaces and memory spaces pose great potential for personnel and organizational
development, in that, e.g., new ideas can be developed and internalized. Based on
the idea of spaces created by artistic interventions, this article analyses them from
the theoretical perspective of "liminality". This theoretical angle helps to fathom the
effects experienced in artistic interventions which are difcult to evaluate. This way, the
situation in which employees nd themselves in artistic interventions can be framed
to better understand processes of change and the opening for exploration of ideas. In
addition, liminality is linked to the anthropological view of “rites of passage” (transition
rites), which facilitate times of change and mark – or even constitute – transitions.
Keywords
Liminality, rites of passage, innovation, organizational change, arts-based initiatives
1. Introduction
Arts-based initiatives have recently become a growing opportunity for
organizations to create value. These initiatives are designed for the spe-
cic needs of an organization or team and thus value creation is not li-
mited to a small range of specic effects. Unlike sports activities that
are often used as team building exercises, arts-based initiatives may aim
at goals like development, change, inspiration, or innovation on diffe-
rent organizational levels: individuals, products, groups and teams or
the whole organization (BERTHOIN ANTAL/STRAUß 2016; SCHNUGG
2014; DARSØ 2004) as studies on the formats and possible effects of
*1 mail@claudiaschnugg.com
Zeitschrift für Kulturmanagement, 2/2018, S. ##-##
doi 10.14361/zkmm-2018-020#
CLAUDIA SCHNUGG
2
arts-based initiatives show. These meta-studies as well as reections on
specic formats of arts-based initiatives aim at an understanding of un-
derlying mechanisms of these activities for better theoretical understan-
ding. Moreover, they aim at guidelines that help to create the best-tting
arts-based initiative in practice that is able to reach the organization’s
desired effects, or can be connected to sensemaking theory, learning
processes, or innovation (BIEHL-MISSAL 2011; BARRY/MEISIEK
2010; TAYLOR/LADKIN 2009; BERTHOIN ANTAL 2009).
The eld is fast growing and there are effects attributed to arts-based
initiatives. For illustration: A systematic literature review I conduc-
ted in 2009 (SCHNUGG 2010), and repeated in the beginning of 2013
(SCHNUGG 2014) with an expanded pool of publications, already shows
the diversity of arts-based initiatives. To give a rough impression, the
conducted two-step content analysis of these already 119 books and pa-
pers aimed at how managers and consultants bring elements from the
arts world into the organizational realms, and which effects are descri-
bed. The manually coded effects 418 text samples that claim positive
effects were then grouped by identical or highly similar claims into ca-
tegories. By the end of this process, I arrived at 11 kinds of arts-based
initiatives that range from bringing in artists and their competences to
collaboratively exploring artworks in seminars. Moreover, this review
provided an extensive overview of 26 different kinds positive effects that
were attributed to these initiatives. These positive effects read like “fa-
cilitate personal development”, “increase exibility and openness”, “en-
hance sense of community”, “sharpen and communicate organizational
identity”, “strengthen organizational culture”, “facilitate organizational
change”, “identify problems”, and “provide a forum for questioning exis-
ting routines”. Since then, the eld expanded and regular reviews of the
eld appeared that introduced new models of what arts-based initiatives
can achieve. A valuable contribution to this eld based on the diversity
of previously published in depth reviews was Berthoin Antal and Strauß’
(2016: 39) elaboration on multi-stakeholder perspectives on searching
for evidence of values-added in artistic interventions in organizations.
In this chapter, they introduce the concept of “interspaces to explain the
embedding of artistic interventions in organizational dynamics.” They
show the impacts of arts-based initiatives on a personal, interpersonal,
and organizational level.
Already Berthoin Antal (2012: 45) notes, mapping the diversity of ac-
tivities in this eld led to label them with various terms like “arts-based
initiatives”, “arts-based interventions”, “artistic interventions”, but also
SETTING THE STAGE FOR SOMETHING NEW 3
some less used terms like “workarts” which was introduced by Barry and
Meisiek (2010) and terms that developed early in the exploration of the-
se activities and which mainly focus on the aspect of learning, like Darsø
(2004) spoke of “artful learning alliances” and Boyle and Ottensmeyer
(2005) spoke of “arts-based learning programs”. The latter two terms
are not widely used in any overview of such activities anymore and focus
clearly on learning activities and programs. Moreover, most arts-based
methods are short-term interventions, are embedded in organizational
change programs, are modules in training programs, and the more long-
term oriented programs often focus on projects in R&D departments or
guide like consultancy interventions an organization for a few weeks or
months (BERTHOIN ANTAL 2012).
Both terms which are widely in use, arts-based initiative and artistic
intervention, point to the fact that these activities by artist or activities
that include art intervene in the daily routines, the organization’s cultu-
rally engrained processes (BERTHOIN ANTAL 2012), commonly used
perspectives and habits. They are brought into the organization to make
a difference, to challenge the existing with something new and the int-
roduction of something alien to the current culture: Activities outside of
everyday work and processes and clearly marked beginning and a clear-
ly marked end. This idea of arts-based initiative as something “special”
or as “interspace” in organizations can also be found in the discussion
of the term. Already consultants who were early adopters of arts-based
initiatives in their work with corporations refer to this uniqueness, “not
being normal within organizational life” is important for their effective-
ness (BLANKE 2002).
Arts-based initiatives are not conventional approaches used in or-
ganizations on a day-to-day basis and what makes these initiatives so
remarkable is their ability to stimulate different senses and create a
“holistic” experience. These activities are more than purely intellectual
challenges, but experiences that might include movement, vision, tas-
te, haptics, and hearing. As such they are remarkable and memorable
events (BARRY/MEISIEK, 2010; SCHNUGG 2010). Moreover, they
create space for exploration, change, and development on many diffe-
rent levels, as stated above. The next step is now to provide a theoreti-
cal perspective which enables a better understanding of the interspaces,
as introduced by Berthoin Antal and Strauß (2016) and the dynamics
bound to these interspaces in order to enable researchers to do a more
ne-grained analysis of the mechanisms of the effects of arts-based in-
itiatives.
CLAUDIA SCHNUGG
4
Following these arguments, the theoretical lens of rites of passage
and liminality (VAN GENNEP 1909; TURNER 1966, 1982, 1987) provi-
des a valuable understanding of the mechanisms why arts-based initia-
tives enable exactly the variety of effects stated above. Beyer and Trice
(1993) brought the concept of rites of passage and liminality into organi-
zation studies based on their reection on sensemaking practices in or-
ganizations, the importance of symbolic meaning, and it inuence on the
behaviour. They point to the possibility of using rites and ceremonies for
conscious sensemaking processes in organizations which are also con-
nected to sensory perception, materiality, and symbolic meaning. The
concept of liminality is also applied to organizational change and cultu-
ral transformation of organizations (HOWARD-GRENVILLE et al. 2011)
who reect on the structure of rites of passage to allow change processes.
Moreover, it has been associated with identity reconstruction (BEECH
2011), identities in increasingly precarious and uctuating career land-
scape (IBARRA/OBODARU 2016), entrepreneurship (BILL/OLAISON
2011) innovation for allowing reexivity and the co-construction of a
new perspective (WALL/ENGLERT 2016). Recently, temporary work,
project work and consulting have been associated with this theoretical
concept. Project-based and temporary work can be interpreted as its in-
dividuals being in a seemingly constant state of liminality – a constantly
uid stage that can enable individuals to certain goals or transitions, but
can be problematic if it is experienced over a long period (CZARNIAWS-
KA/MAZZA 2003; ERIKSSON-ZETTERQUIST 2002; JOHNSEN/SØ-
RENSEN 2014; GARSTEN 1999). More than the exploration of the limi-
nal state these individuals are in liminal persons (TURNER 1967) or
liminal subjects as Garsten (1999) puts it –, this paper focuses on liminal
space and rites of passage. Temporary liminality or liminal space have
already been identied during dramatic events like crises (POWLEY
2009) or in strategic workshops (JOHNSON et al. 2010).
The effects and situations described in these papers and the possibi-
lities described in liminality and rites of passage are paralleled with tho-
se ascribed to arts-based initiatives. First, arts-based initiatives might
create this liminal space for play, exploration, creativity, innovation,
and change, and be a platform for this “liquid” state or to explore, create
space for testing and developing new ideas, closely connected to play as
Turner (1974) puts it in later writings about the liminal and the limino-
id. Something, to which also Bertion Antal and Strauß (2016) implicitly
refer to. Additionally, the link of innovation setting to arts-based initia-
tives points into this direction (HUTTER/FARÌAS 2017). Second, arts-
SETTING THE STAGE FOR SOMETHING NEW 5
based initiatives can more explicitly mark thresholds in as they provide
the opportunity to create liminal space. They mark changes in organiza-
tions and constitute a certain point of collective organizational memory,
but also enable personal exploration.
The remainder of this article shows how the perspective of limina-
lity and rites of passage can support the notions of effects of arts-based
initiatives. First, there is theoretical in-depth discussion of the concept.
Second, the concept of liminality will be interlinked with the effects of
arts-based initiatives. Third, the paper discusses practical implications
and adds new aspects to the recent discussion of liminality within the
organization studies discourse and creates a connection to collective or-
ganizational memory.
2. Rites of Passage and Liminality
When the anthropologist Arnold van Gennep (1909) introduced the
term liminality for the phase of transitions in cultures based on the Latin
word for thresholds, it had a narrow meaning in the anthropological tra-
dition closely coupled to the rites of passage he was elaborating on. The
concept of liminality arose in his analysis of rituals of indigenous people,
periodical rituals that are tied to seasons as well as rituals that are linked
to status transitions of individuals in a clan. The anthropologist Victor
Turner (1967) elaborated on liminality as “betwixt and between”, an es-
sentially unstructured phase where cultural structures are reversed, ex-
ploration and new constitution of structures is possible. Later, Turner
(1974, 1982) attempted to widen the use of the term in his own research,
an example other researchers (SUTTON-SMITH 1972) and philosophers
followed later as they started to put the concept of liminality in a more
contemporary setting (ST JOHN 2008; CZARNIAWSKA /MAZZA 2003;
JOHNSEN/SØRENSEN 2014).
Van Gennep (1909) elaborates on rites of passage as marking
thresholds which is usually divided into three separate phases: rst, the-
re is the phase of separation (divestiture), a pre-liminal phase that is
often linked to a rite that separates the individual from the social group;
second there is the phase of transition (liminality) which marks the
threshold, the passage itself and constitutes the phase in-between; and
third, there is incorporation (investiture) which is linked to a rite of re-
integration or re-incorporation into the social environment. The phases
before and after the actual threshold are clearly marked through rites
CLAUDIA SCHNUGG
6
and thus help to create a safe space in-between, an unstructured space
with allows change, exploration, experiments and nally transit. During
the separation phase, the person or the individuals and groups who are
to be subjected to the passage become separated from their previous so-
cial environment and their previous way of life. During the transition
phase, the person or persons separated from their previous environment
experience the liminal condition. During the incorporation phase, they
enter a new group and a new life. Although rites of passage are important
for the development or mark the process of gaining of new social status
for one or a few individuals, they are important for the whole social en-
vironment. Moreover, a social group, a clan or a culture can go through
passages, change, and mark these by rites of passage (VAN GENNEP
1909). Thus, rites of passage and the inherent liminal phase are not only
connected to transitions of status of a single person, but also to changes
that imply changes in a society or culture to initiate well-being of the
society (VAN GENNEP 1909: 179).
A liminal space is a space of the “in-between” or a “time between
times.” This in-between can be understood as time of change, connec-
tion, re-wiring, or interplay. From these times between times some kind
of difference originates. This difference is something that can develop in
those liminal spaces but to create sustainable change it is not only ne-
cessary to create the freedom of the liminal space, but also to make this
space recognizable through validation and attribution of meaning. The
concept of liminality is based on blurring and merging of distinctions,
simultaneous presence of the familiar and the unfamiliar, freedom of
conventions and regulations, and allows for a sharp symbolic inversion
of social attributes. Thus, persons who nd themselves in liminal space
are temporarily freed from structural obligations (TURNER 1982). Mo-
reover, the liminal space is characterized by heightened reexivity as
these privileged spaces allow for a meta-perspective on how and what to
think, about the doing and feeling in daily life (TURNER 1987). The li-
minal is full of potency and potentiality, though always in relation to the
indicative (TURNER 1982). Turner (1974) also explores on a differenti-
ation between the liminal and the liminoid. He explains that the liminal
and the liminoid have similar characteristics, but the liminoid does not
include the resolution of a personal crisis or mark a change. Like an art
event that is visited for pleasure, it gives the opportunity to live through
moments without everyday structures or routines.
Through ritualization or creation of stories around the change hap-
pening during the liminal phase or initiated through completion of the
SETTING THE STAGE FOR SOMETHING NEW 7
liminal phase the difference will be memorably determined ex post. This
subsequent narration and sensory experience testies the difference and
marks a situation, space, and time as turning point (MACHO 2004).
This is possible because liminality constitutes a situation of social limbo
for the liminal person. These thresholds or the limbo is characterized by
ambiguity, indeniteness, and blurred conventions. The liminal person’s
social identity is undened during this phase. Individuals that are in this
limbo are not at their old place and time anymore, but haven’t entered
the now yet. This undened, ambiguous situation beyond the normati-
ve structure of an individual’s social environment liberates them from
norms and social restriction, enables exploration and breaking routines
and ultimately leads into the constitution of new structures during the
re-integration phase (TURNER 1967, 1982).
Next to this phase of liminality the very event-like perception, the ex-
traordinary character of things that do not happen regularly, is another
aspect that makes rites of passage a powerful concept for the reection
on arts-based initiatives. Ceremonies and rites have a deeply engraved
symbolic meaning and are also very performative. Individuals who are
engaged in the process do have to follow the rules of the ritual, follow a
script or use specic gestures and words so that the rite is valid (TUR-
NER 1982). Symbols, symbolic phenomena and symbolic actions play a
major role in the rites of separation and incorporation (TURNER 1974).
An important aspect of rituals – and thus events that mark or guide tran-
sitions – are that they are not just ideas or positions, but connected to
the body and sensory experience. They are actions and material practi-
ces; they can resemble theatrical practices and are rich with symbolic
meaning and they have a clearly marked beginning and end. This is also
the reason that trigger the perception of rituals as disruption, meaning
as something special. They are outside daily practices, usual communi-
cation, hierarchies, rules, and orders of the familiar and habitual dai-
ly life. These rites of passage and rites opening liminal space thus state
the opposite of habits (MACHO 2004). They are very performative and
are loaded with symbolic meaning. Moreover, the materials used in the
practices will be loaded with symbolic meaning and afterwards may be
used as charms. (Art )Works that are produced in the liminal space are
witnesses of the transition (MACHO 2004: 85). These things that are
produced during the liminal phase or have a special meaning in this pha-
se can become powerful object for remembering change and important
tools for development of new structures and strategies as they are wit-
nesses of the transition. These objects are symbols for the transition that
CLAUDIA SCHNUGG
8
happened and reminders for the social environment of what has chan-
ged (MACHO 2004; TURNER 1974).
Rituals are attempts to visualize the unseen, changes between the
now and then, and to make these changes perceivable and experiencea-
ble, by addressing senses above intellectual reection. Often narrations
about this completion of the liminal phase are not actively created, but
develop after the rite took place (MACHO 2004). They play an impor-
tant role in experiencing transitions. For example, rites of separation are
prominent in funerals whereas rites of incorporation are prominent in
marriages (TURNER 1974). If there is no such rite or event, it is ext-
remely difcult that such a narrative or memorable entity stays in the
individuals’ and cultural memory though, and thus the change might be
forgotten or disregarded. With arts-based initiatives we can also ask how
to enable such a liminal space but also how to visualize the “in-between”
and the successful completion of this phase. For organizations Beyer and
Trice (1993) argue that members of the organization make sense of their
experiences and to a certain kind of the organization by using several
kinds of narratives. Through myths, sagas, legends and other stories ex-
periences, events like an anniversary celebration, completion of an im-
portant project, unique accomplishments, change of leadership or other
important impacts on the organization are kept alive and remembered.
Although organizational narratives are mostly mundane, the connection
to celebrations, events and extraordinary happenings can inuence how
the change is remembered.
Summing up, the most important aspects of liminality and rites of
passage are their strong symbolic meaning that is engraved in the corre-
sponding events, reference objects and subsequent events, their perfor-
mativity, the materiality and addressing of (multi-)sensory perception
through experiencing the extraordinary space and time. These aspects
are also essential aspects of arts-based initiatives that make them ena-
blers of all those claimed effects from fostering creativity to constitu-
ting and communicating change. In the remainder of this article, I will
present how arts-based initiatives induce liminality, enable exploration,
support this phase of transformation, and help to push boundaries by
creating a certain kind of limbo, a “liquid” or “uid” state. In the next
step, I will show how arts-based initiatives can constitute rites of passage
and points in time that help social groups and organizations to remem-
ber transitions and change.
SETTING THE STAGE FOR SOMETHING NEW 9
3. Liminality and Arts-based Initiatives
First, arts-based initiatives create a safe space to experience, learn, ex-
plore and invent. Liminal spaces are those phases that allow individuals
to act without being bound to routines, social structures and other day-
to-day business activities. Liminality tends to eliminate formal struc-
tures and processes individuals are obliged to in social environments.
And as Turner (1974: 78) notes, “Liminality is both more creative and
more destructive than the structural norm.” They allow for negotiating
the existing, inversion, disruption, and new experiences, and have been
explored by organization scholars as productive spaces which are associ-
ated with creativity (SWAN et al. 2016) and change (HOWARD-GREN-
VILLE et al. 2011). Liminal space can be created in changing organizati-
onal structures as roles have to be re-negotiated and identities have to be
re-built (BEECH 2011). Short (2015), for example, explores how liminal
spaces offer fertile ground to develop knowledge and reect on the lived
experiences at work. The transitional or liminal phase of business ethno-
graphers is invoked by the beginning of their studies which question the
status quo, allow creativity to emerge, and new ideas to be constructed
(WALL/ENGLERT 2016). Pointing to the same status of workgroups or
study groups outside of daily routines, Johnson et al. (2010) reect on
strategic workshops as something that might create liminal space as par-
ticipants are removed from their usual work environment and might nd
themselves in new positions to negotiate strategic issues. Similarly, Ne-
wely et al. (2008) and Wagner et al. (2012) show that project teams can
benet from liminality. Arts-based initiatives allow for liminal spaces,
create it as they are creating clearly dened space that is outside of eve-
ryday practice, but they are also helpful tools that guide these processes.
Arts-based initiatives as a method to create liminal space and enab-
le personal or organizational change by associating with a uid state of
liminality: like creativity, exploration of tools and new ways, experimen-
ting with new structures and strategies, or experiencing new perspecti-
ves. They constitute this space by a clear beginning and a clear end, and
in the restricted time they endure, these activities open up to processes
that can take place within this ‘secure’ space that allows for experimen-
tation. As liminal space allows individuals to learn by being removed
from restricting structures – “by being disorderly”. Moreover, this proto-
structural system as Sutton-Smith calls the open and unstructured state
of liminality, can be seen as the precursor of innovative normative forms
and as source of new culture (TURNER 1974; SUTTON-SMITH 1972:
CLAUDIA SCHNUGG
10
18f.). A recent example is the case of Jump! at pro mente OÖ (KUNST-
RAUM GOETHESTRASSE XTD, 2017). As the organization entered a
phase of restructuring and a major change in leadership, pro mente OÖ
started to work with KunstRaum Goethestrasse xtd, who are experi-
enced art collective in creating arts-based initiatives for individual and
interpersonal development. They developed an intervention including
performance, photography, and self-reection methods. The aimed at
creating interpersonal understanding between former leadership per-
sonnel and new leadership personnel, and to create a liminal space to ex-
plore values and perception of leadership. In a part of the workshop they
expressed their approach by jumping which created a series of photo-
graphs. This was supported by a reective workshop which ended in the
creation of a video which included the jumps and personal statements of
the leadership personnel. This helped to create a mutual understanding,
bonding, supported the transition phase, and created visible artworks
which are identied with this development.
As such arts-based initiatives seen from the perspective of limina-
lity can help organizations, teams, and individuals in organizations to
learn, be creative, explore, and to create new approaches and strategies.
A few cases of arts-based initiatives use liminality to create strategy n-
ding and organizational change processes, similarly to how Johnson et
al. (2010) interpret strategy workshops as liminal space. For example,
Mirvis et al. (2003) or Meisiek and Barry (2007) show that artistic per-
formances and the engagement of employees in performances can help
to develop new strategies, to nd a common ground for new strategic
directions and to tackle problems that are unspoken or unrecognized on
some hierarchical levels in the organization. Berthoin Antal (2009) de-
scribes a row of similar cases on her report on the arts-based initiatives
by TILLT. In greater detail, Pässilä (2012) explores reective practices in
organizations through post-Boalian theatre practices.
Van Gennep (1909) describes in his classical ethnographical studies
on rituals how members of a group or society change their hierarchi-
cal position in the respective group or society through going through
a transitional liminal phase. In the case of an arts-based initiative, the
individuals that are thrown into this different situation are deprived of
other organizational structures and have to talk to each other on a diffe-
rent level. In the case of performances, individuals have new roles and
push their own boundaries by exploring abilities they normally do not
use within the organization. This re-discussion of skills and knowledge
in this collective experience puts them in the position Turner (1974) and
SETTING THE STAGE FOR SOMETHING NEW 11
Sutton-Smith (1972) are talking about: a proto-structural system from
which they have to develop new structures and goals. This helps them to
approach their organizational and individual problems differently and
to introduce new goals and strategies as during this phase, new symbols
and constructions emerge that then feed back into the structure and sys-
tem of the organization and supply them with goals, structural models
and a raison d’être (TURNER 1974). The exploration happens within the
arts-based initiative, though, which is something special and safe, with
no immediate and direct consequences on the daily organization. Only
when a decision is made and some incorporation has happened, it affects
the organization itself (TURNER 1982). In these cases, arts-based initia-
tives are clearly linked to a transition.
Liminality is safe space where participants of arts-based initiatives
can explore ideas and play with new structures without having immedi-
ate consequences. They can test and try before they decide on new ideas.
Play is a fundamental basis to exploratory processes to create new un-
derstanding and innovation as it questions pre-existing understandings
and allows for experimental re-combination of existing knowledge or
doing (TURNER 1982). But this requires engagement that also means a
deep level of interaction where values, understandings and beliefs are at
stake. Especially for strategy development or restructuring of organiza-
tions this is an important point. Play can be understood as the intuitive,
subversive, and unpredictable, it involves interaction, ambiguity, inver-
sion, disruption, and understanding through experience. Thus, play is
something that contradicts the everyday processes and structures in or-
ganizations. In liminality, there is no need to stick to the conventional
structures of the organization but it allows the freedom to change learnt
processes, to neglect hierarchical structures and to question understan-
dings and perspectives. It allows re-combination of things, ideas and
meanings and thus helps to create input for innovation. Through this, as
Turner (1982) points out, liminality fosters deviation and creativity. By
transcending ‘normal’ limits of thought, un-reected self-understanding
and behavior, liminal space opens the way to novelty and imagination,
construction, and deconstruction (THOMASSEN 2014).
Seen from the theory of liminality, it is important to understand that
liminality is not only important rites of passage of passage where it is
fundamental to enable change, but it is also a space that is induced to al-
low the freedom to explore and to be playful without fearing immediate
consequences by peers. Thus, seeing this state as “interspace” that aims
at innovation, creativity, seeing existing problems and the own routi-
CLAUDIA SCHNUGG
12
nes from a new perspective, become more interdisciplinary or nd new
connections to elds individuals have not thought of previously. This
is what Turner (1974) denes as the liminoid. For example, arts-based
initiatives that aim at collaboration of individual or teams with artists
can trigger creativity and innovation. One often cited and much explored
initiative is the Xerox PARC artist-in-residence program (e.g., HARRIS
1999; FERRO-THOMSEN 2005). It was a successful program that is still
discussed and used by practitioners as a role-model to create artist-in-
residence programs in corporations and scientic institutions. The idea
was to pair artists with interested scientists who work on similar con-
tents or with the same media in the R&D department of Xerox. Similarly
works the re-launch of Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.) at
Nokia Bell Labs in 2016, which is based on the successful E.A.T. collabo-
rations at Bell Telephone Labs in the late 1960s/early 1970s (Patterson,
2015). These interactions aimed at starting experiments, creativity and
innovation processes. On a very personal level, the liminoid provides the
possibility to explore, to nd oneself and to learn. Arts-based initiatives
and these encounters of artists and scientists in the corporate setting
give the artists and the scientists the opportunity to start projects and
interactions that are outside their routines and well-known eld-inter-
nal discussions. They allow for out of the box thinking and for exploring
media they might use daily from a completely new angle: an artistic one
or a new scientic one. Turner (1974) labels the exploration of skills and
knowledge, that also leads to creativity and innovation, that does not
go hand in hand with a personal crisis or a personal transformation, as
liminoid. It resembles the liminal as it is a safe space stripped of former
structures and rules, though. Exploration of hardware and software as
media which is used in the case of Xerox PARC is thus liminoid.
There is a small border between liminal and liminoid and nding the
right term for arts-based initiatives in this area can be difcult as there
always might happen some individual change that is based on comple-
tely new understanding of their own skills. Many arts-based initiatives
in leadership & HR development often focus on a learning, not on trans-
formation processes (STOLLSTEINER 2008; BOYLE/OTTENSMEYER
2005) or at the development of interdisciplinary skills and the acquisi-
tion of new ways of seeing (OSBURN/STOCK 2005). In contrast to the
focus on transition in Jump!, these are constituting “interspaces” like the
liminoid. They resemble how Turner (1974) explores the liminal and the
liminoid also in context with the concepts of ‘ow’ and ‘play’. He shows
how the liminal and the liminoid can enable play and ludic structures
SETTING THE STAGE FOR SOMETHING NEW 13
as liminality is a space of exploration and re-combination. On the other
hand, individuals are deprived of restrictions and necessities which ena-
bles them to lose their ego, concentrate on the ‘inside’ and being self-
aware to concentrate on skills and ideas, both aspects that are important
for the experience of ow and thus for pushing (creative) development.
The liminoid is important for employees to reduce stress or to get a fresh
perspective on their work, though. This might not produce measurable
personal development, but deliberate individuals and teams from pres-
sure and restrictive structures to nd back to their skills, personal goals,
and ideas. Arts-based initiatives that provide incentives or help the or-
ganization to support well-being at work (VON BRANDENBURG 2006,
2009).
Organizations sometimes need to create liminality for individuals
and teams which can be guided through arts-based initiatives. The for-
mation of new teams or the embedding of new hierarchical structures in
divisions can be supported through arts-based initiatives. In this parti-
cular case, art is used similarly to sports events: For example, workshops
with artists to create a collective sculpture or to express a common goal
and vision of a team through artistic means like collages can foster team
development and incorporation of new hierarchies. Collective making
and collective experience will induce social bonding, support commu-
nication, and create a relict as lasting reminder of this liminal phase
(BLANKE 2002). These activities may be a starting point for a new team
that is separated from the previous organization. In this case, it has to
be interpreted as rite of separation as Turner interprets rites that accom-
pany weddings. But, such activities also help to incorporate new hierar-
chies or to include new team members. In this case, it will be interpreted
as rite of incorporation.
But, arts-based initiatives can also provide tools to guide individu-
als, teams, or organizations through a liminal phase as they support the
actors in nding their way through the necessary change in the orga-
nization. Thus, artistic tool can support either the liminal or liminoid:
when artists join strategic workshops or work with consultants on re-
structuring processes of organizations (MANDEL 2007) for providing
their artistic media and methods as supportive tool, such as prototyping
or visualization skills. Artistic means can thus be helpful tools, but they
can also create tangible objects that are relicts of the transition process
and stay in the organization. Turner (1967) and van Gennep (1909) point
to the meaning of rites and the objects they produce for a change pro-
CLAUDIA SCHNUGG
14
cess. This is the second part of this theory this article will explore in the
next chapter.
4. Rites of Passage, Change and Arts-based
Initiatives
Arts-based initiatives trigger something new, enable transitions and
make them tangible. These arts-based initiatives function as rites of
passage as they mark a certain point in time as changing point and as
such are outstanding, outside of the daily business (TURNER 1982).
Thus, they also serve as mechanisms of memory, a collective memory
that commonly must be embodied and internalized to be able to share it
(MACHO 2004). Beyer and Trice (1993) demonstrate that this is impor-
tant in organizations and organizational cultures. As Czarniawska and
Mazza (2003) show, organizations are in liminal space during a phase
of restructuring. Nevertheless, they see that it is a common phenome-
non to observe that after a business consultant leaves, the organizations,
management, and team fall back into their daily routines. Although the
liminal space is closed nothing remarkable happened that denes a new
beginning or communicates on a sensory and memorable level that so-
mething has to start. This results in disappointed members of the orga-
nization and working towards a restructuring process seemed to be in
vain. For Turner (1966), an important aspect is the symbolic and sensory
aspect of rituals as it makes beliefs, values, and tangible. Thus, the em-
bodiment of the change through rituals – and in this case through mar-
king the end of the liminality phase (e.g., after restructuring processes,
like in the case of HAP-Raufoss presented below) in the organization
through arts-based initiatives – creates symbols, objects, and memory
the participating actors can refer to. But what Czarniawska and Mazza
(2003) as well as Eriksson-Zetterquist (2002) also point to, is the last
phase of rites of passage, the incorporation, that is the least developed
phase in organizations. They point out that often the presentation of the
nal report is like an important ceremony that closes the liminal pha-
se of the restructuring and of the consultants being in the organizati-
on. Nevertheless, this rite does not affect the whole organization and is
not perceived by those individuals who are affected by the subsequent
change itself. Reecting on the possibility of bringing something into the
organization that is as unusual and non-profane as the change itself, can
be a rst step to make the change visible and perceivable. In this case,
SETTING THE STAGE FOR SOMETHING NEW 15
arts-based initiatives might become a relevant source to emphasize the
incorporation phase in order to state the cultural (i.e. organizational)
change.
During transitions cultures use different rituals to express and make
the change possible (VAN GENNEP 1909; TURNER 1966). Van Gen-
nep (1909) shows that special events can mark changes in a person’s
status within a group or culture, but also can mark changes in the cultu-
ral calendar or the culture itself. Rites of passage dramatize transitions
through their highly symbolic and performative character (TURNER
1966, 1982). There case of HAP Raufoss is an arts-based intervention
that demonstrates how arts-based initiatives can serve as important
markers of change as well as points in time that are remembered and
can visibly be referred to. It shows a relic of an incorporation rite at the
end of a liminal phase during a process of restructuring. The case was
originally presented by Eirik Irgens (2000) which Barry and Meisiek
(2010) published in a shortened, translated English version: The case of
HAP-Raufoss, an aluminum smelting company facing bankruptcy that
was taken over by a new CEO, Johnny Undeli:
When Undeli became the new CEO of the company, „he used his rst months to
analyze productivity and market possibilities. He halved the number of top leaders,
did away with privileges like company cars, and moved the executive parking lot
outside the fence. After talks with the unions, the overall number of employees
was also reduced. So far, nothing artful. Then, even though the company was still
incurring heavy losses, he decided to spend a million Norwegian crowns – more or
less the last of the company’s money – to paint the production factory completely
white, oors and all. The employees didn’t know what to think. They were accus-
tomed to not spending a cent unless the usefulness and economic rationality of the
expenditure were fully documented. And the oor, walls and machines would soon
be dirty and stained again. As it turned out, the employees focused more on order
and cleanliness, which meant less time searching for tools and fewer production
interruptions. They also saw their traces on the oors and machines, and began
reconsidering their work patterns. Two years after the start of the change program
HAP became one of the highest ranked companies in its industry. (BARRY/MEI-
SIEK 2010: 1518)
Barry and Meisiek (2010) identify in this case that the interplay of cor-
porate crisis (going bankrupt and need to cut costs), distinction ma-
king (work procession white paint), and context shifting (hospital white
within a mining company) was able to break with the prevailing corpo-
rate rationality: First there was the act of painting, then the white within
the mining company, then different cognitive connections of this act and
the color white like coming up with a new canvas, a white background
that opens new interpretative possibilities, and last but not least there
has been the act of doing something without any clear reason and wit-
CLAUDIA SCHNUGG
16
hout economic rationality. Additional to this sensemaking lens, limina-
lity provides an important perspective on this case. How could a simple
artistic action like that help to lead to lasting change of structures, pro-
cesses and embedding of new strategies in the heads of the employees?
As Taylor (2012, p. 119) interprets this situation as an event through
which Undeli intended to change the culture “from one where the em-
ployees were used to seeing the factory as a dark and dirty place that lost
money, to a bright, cheerful place that made money.” This points to the
fact that this arts-based initiative can be perceived as part of the incor-
poration rite after the restructuring process and it also created a relict as
visible legacy that reminds of this change. Let’s shortly recapitulate the
example through the perspective of rites of passage: First there has been
the old organization. The old organization was not doing good; it was
near bankruptcy. When there came a new CEO and he started to analyze
the organization, organizational structures, processes, and culture, there
was the ‘separation phase’ of a rite of passage and he started the limi-
nal space in the organization. In this case, liminality endured for a long
time; the restructuring process was often painful, trying to implement
new ideals and ideas, and coming up with new processes. In this phase,
the employees often do not know what they should change in their dai-
ly routines and work practices, and they often get under great pressure
and motivational stress, because they fear, they could be the next to get
red. This is neither a factor for the motivation nor for long-lasting good
work. After a certain time, the employees lost their intrinsic motivation
for work, start to make lots of mistakes, fall into a burn-out due to the
psychologic stress. As soon as they experience this phase as over and
their workplace is again as secure, they fell back into their well-known
routines from before the restructuring process started. First, no imple-
mentation of the new structures has happened, they have not been incor-
porated. Especially things like new vision, new culture, new procedures
seem to be just terms, phrases without any background they can see or
feel. Looking at change from the perspective of rites of passage, this mis-
sing incorporation is one of the reasons why restructuring processes and
consulting often fails. In the beginning, there are lots of changes and
there are big words used, but in the end, we fall back to normal. If there
are rites and ceremonials to close this open liminal phase a clear point
is made of a new start. Either a rite of separation from the old or a rite
of incorporation of the new can help to make a visible change happen.
The incorporation of the new was clearly visible for every employee
in the case of the arts-based initiative at HAP Raufoss. It was the expe-
SETTING THE STAGE FOR SOMETHING NEW 17
rience of an event with different perception and senses that marked a
new beginning which stayed as a reminder of this transition process: it
was completely out of line of their daily routines at HAP Raufoss that it
marked the turning point in the organization. From that moment on all
those changes in the organizational structure, processes and even the
organizational culture, were not only words someone tries to make them
clear with words, argues in rational sentences, could get clear and un-
derstandable. This art project is a turning point that they subsequently
could refer to. From that moment on– in their experience – everything
was different. Painting the space white was a symbolic act that is con-
nected to the transition of the company and remains sensory perceivable
in the surrounding of the employees. This symbolic act happened at a
certain moment of time and thus marked a special moment in time whe-
re the aesthetics of the organization visibly changed (the architecture,
color, use of machines, which goes along with the importance of orga-
nizational aesthetics, Strati, 1999) and might be the fundament for new
rhythms, understanding of processes and strategies. From that moment
on the employees knew and felt that there has been a change in the or-
ganization and its culture and they could develop and live a new culture.
Above that, having a relict (i.e., the white walls and oors) that is loaded
with symbolic meaning helps to hold on to the turning point – as Turner
(1982) states that the objects which are loaded with symbolic meaning
during liminality can be used as talismans. But not only visible trans-
formation in the organization’s building can be used as visible marker
for organizational change. Moreover, sculptures and collages that come
out of team building processes which are supported by artists or artistic
processes can be used as points of reference for the respective change
(BLANKE 2002; SPENCER 2010). Thus, artistic events, workshops, or
other artistic interventions can be memorized as those rites of passage
that mark the beginning of a new era and wipe out the old. This new
era might be a new organizational structure (IRGENS 2001), identity
(SPENCER 2010), or the change in the culture of a team that previously
had communication problems (WESTWOOD 2007).
This can also be observed in the memory studies that have been in-
troduced to organization studies that show that the collective memory
is composed from the past and the present beliefs. Outstanding events,
ceremonies, and rites that a community experiences together are an
important input to generate identity building narratives (ANTEBY/
MOLNÁR 2012). Especially the ambiguity and uncertainty lived through
in liminality as it provides opportunities to re-imagine and redirect iden-
CLAUDIA SCHNUGG
18
tity. At the same time, important and unique events feed on the extraor-
dinary experience and the narratives that subsequently can be the basis
for new understanding of the identity (CHRISTIANSON et al. 2008) or
other developments.
The ritualistic and connective aspect of arts-based initiatives can oc-
cur at the end of a restructuring phase, in the course of an organizatio-
nal or team development process. This aspect triggers the potential of
commitment to provide identity, shelter, and a common purpose. The
involvement in a ritual, or in this case the arts-based initiative, may lead
to emotional connections, aesthetic pleasure, and psychological support
(ARIZPE 2008: 142). Thus, active participation, being part of the arts-
based initiative or being affected by it like in the HAP Raufoss case is
important to make it memorable. The participative component is also
important as it is a reection on the potential of action of the participa-
ting individuals. This power is highlighted through the artful component
and thus memorable (GRAEBER 2001).
This goes hand in hand with Turner’s (1966) argument that the sym-
bolic component of rituals acts as storage units of knowledge. In organi-
zational studies, knowledge storage components of such rituals, ceremo-
nies and other happenings are studied through the lens of learning and
the lens organizational memory by calling them rare events. Events are
dened as rare events if they occur outside the everyday experience of an
organization and thus are unique, unprecedented, and uncategorizable
(CHRISTIANSON et al. 2008). Although rites may happen in a certain
frequency, if they are connected to a transition, to liminality, they are
explicitly aimed at being outside of the everyday practice and thus are
unique interruptions and separated from the profane. Interruptions can
create consciousness of things like routines, habits, but also identity and
processes that previously have been taken for granted and can become
subject to modication. This consciousness can trigger learning and lead
to conscious implementation of new habits, routines, and processes.
5. Discussion and Practical Implications
The approach of the diverse phenomena of arts-based initiatives from
the lens of the theory of rites of passage and liminality generates a com-
prehensive understanding of the mechanisms that make them a power-
ful tool on all organizational levels: the organization itself, teams, pro-
duct development and the individual level. The need for creativity, new
SETTING THE STAGE FOR SOMETHING NEW 19
perspectives, and a safe space to explore these ideas and possibilities
is relevant on all organizational levels that aim at change, develop and
innovate. Moreover, memorizing change through relicts as well as crea-
ting symbolic actions that mark change are important to incorporate and
work according to the new structures and visions from this moment on.
Arts-based initiatives can provide both, safe space to explore and relicts
of change.
Summed up, arts-based initiatives can serve as liminal space and ri-
tes of passage (rites of separation or rites of incorporation) in manifold
situations in organizations: 1) They provide the space to explore, to be
creative and to nd new ways. This applies to all levels of organizations,
so arts-based initiatives can be important for individual employees but
can also contribute to organizational change and product innovation.
2) Through artistic tools and artistic expertise arts-based initiatives can
support consultancy activities, project teams, and strategy workshops.
Artistic media can be used for visualizations or prototyping, but artists
can also contribute ideas in these situations without immediately affect
the organizational routines or structures. 3) Arts-based initiatives can
also serve as tools to induce the liminoid. They can give space to break
out of everyday business, provide incentives, relaxation, and well-being
at work. 4) As rites of separation they can help newly formed project
teams to understand their new situation and position in the organiza-
tion. As rite of separation arts-based initiatives can also help to start a
restructuring process. 5) As rites of incorporation arts-based initiatives
can support change processes. They can produce visible relicts that re-
mind of the change, they make the change experienceable for the who-
le company and address thereby many senses. They mark the transiti-
on, make it memorable and make it real. This applies to organizational
change as well as to the change of status of a single employee.
Studies on arts-based initiatives often have the problems to directly
connect the claimed effects to the arts-based initiatives that took place
(BERTHOIN ANTAL 2009, BERTHOIN ANTAL/STRAUẞ 2016). The
theory of rites of passage and liminality demonstrates that the unique
and alien situation of bringing art into organizational contexts provides
a framework that elaborates on this uniqueness of these activities as fun-
dament for creating these effects. It is important to keep in mind that
liminality is a state individuals are in during short phases, though. These
phases do not always have to be linked to rites of passage, but allow for
exploration, play, and thus innovation and change. Arts-based initiatives
in this phase should be treated like that as it can lead to difculties and
CLAUDIA SCHNUGG
20
disappointing outcomes if the lines between the liminal space and the
profane space get blurred. Moreover, liminality can also have problema-
tic effects on individuals and societies or organizations, as Turner alrea-
dy pointed to (1967). The dual character of liminality is that it enables
creativity, but it also harnesses anxiety (TURNER 1974).
Previously, organizational scholars who reected on change of iden-
tity (BEECH 2011) and the situation of temporary workers and con-
sultants (CZARNIAWSKA/MAZZA 2003; ERIKSSON-ZETTERQUIST
2002; JOHNSEN/SØRENSEN 2014; GARSTEN 1999) pointed to prob-
lems that can arise from a constant state of liminality are constantly in a
temporary position, a position that is by denition (VAN GENNEP 1909)
embedded in a stable structure form which it is separated through the
rites of separation and the rites of incorporation. Being caught in a per-
manent state of social limbo can deprive individuals of a stable ground
they can go back to after this phase ends (JOHNSEN/SØRENSEN 2014).
This can to lead to insecurity, carries the danger of breakdown or burn-
out situations (BEECH 2011). Teams that use liminal space to work on
a project, should have the possibility to re-connect to the organizational
structures and systems to incorporate what they learned and produced
(WAGNER et al. 2012).
Based on a need for exibility, innovation and constant change,
there is a tendency in organizations to lean towards long phases of or
constant liminality (JOHNSEN/SØRENSEN 2014; CZARNIAWSKA/
MAZZA 2003; GARSTEN 1999). Nevertheless, constant liminality does
not automatically mean constant innovation. In contrary, Czarniawska
and Mazza (2003: 287) observe that: “As liminality becomes routinized,
marginal innovations may be happening all the time, but rarely inven-
tions or breakthroughs.” Although, liminality gives the freedom to explo-
re and play with ideas, media and skills, and enables creativity, blurring
the liminal space with the profane everyday routine can lead to reduced
creativity because there is no contrast that is represented by the status
quo, previously stable processes and structures.
Subsequently, contemporary philosophers like Pfaller (2008) follow
Huizinga’s (1956) argumentation by pointing to the problematic fact
of the blurring of the boundaries between play and non-play. Huizinga
(1956) shows that it is important to have both phases play and non-
play – clearly separated to be able to focus on what is happening in each.
Moreover, if the rules of the game which are played in the liminal phase
(and have no serious consequences on the real-life there) start to affect
real-life, they gain seriousness and start to lose their ease and playful
SETTING THE STAGE FOR SOMETHING NEW 21
quality. This then affects both, play and non-play. Pfaller (2008) argues
that these blurred or even lost boundaries lead to strong self-inicted re-
strictions on the one hand and excess on the other hand, as rules arise to
manage the own way through the permanently undened space in order
to reduce insecurity and to cope with the enduring ambiguity. This ap-
plies to both, problems that are induced by a constant state of liminality
to individuals, but also provides an explanation why long-term limina-
lity will lead to less creativity and innovation. For arts-based initiatives,
this is a clear sign to make sure that long-term activities are carefully
planned or might have to address other issues. Nevertheless, arts-based
interventions are outside of the core business of organizations and as
such they are always alien to the ongoing system, what makes them re-
markable and powerful tools.
6 Conclusion
This framework for arts-based initiatives as seen from the lens of rites of
passage and liminality leads to a set of questions that help to study these
activities more systematically. Thus, more detailed studies of cases have
to follow, in order to give deeper insight into how arts-based initiatives
create valuable effects. First, as arts-based initiatives can be understood
as rites of passage in organizational change, it provides opportunities
to explore how arts-based initiatives can contribute to the incorporati-
on of organizational change. The incorporation phase of organizational
change processes is the least developed one (CZARNIAWSKA/MAZZA
2003; ERIKSSON-ZETTERQUIST 2002). It often provides problematic
situations in organizations and it is difcult for employees to adapt to
new structures and visions. Arts-based initiatives and their uniqueness
within corporations can be an approach to develop new methods for in-
corporating change. Studies like these can provide researchers in orga-
nizational change to learn more about the incorporation phase of orga-
nizational change: how important is an overall experience to mark the
change? How important are a performative character and relicts of the
change process? How do employees remember new structure and visi-
ons? Art-based initiatives can create the liminal space that can be seen as
cultural process of organizational change (HOWARD-GRENVILLE et al.
2011). Questions about the best artistic tools and intervention methods
that can guide consultancy processes and strategic workshops to create
the fundament of organizational change have to be asked.
CLAUDIA SCHNUGG
22
Second, liminality itself has previously been applied to situations
in organizations that are created for change and development (WALL/
ENGLERT 2016; JOHNSEN/SØRENSEN 2014; BEECH 2011; JOHN-
SON et al. 2010). Already Turner (1967, 1974) pointed to the fact that
liminality is a space for cultural and individual creativity, a space of ex-
ploration and development. Creating studies that look at creative pro-
cesses of teams or individuals in arts-based initiatives, which explore
this process through the lens of liminality, provides a new angle to lite-
rature on creativity and innovation in organizations. Moreover, this also
leads to questions on how liminality is an important aspect for learning
processes and practices in arts-based initiatives.
Last, but not least, it is important to re-emphasize that this theoretical
lens includes many approaches to arts-based initiatives, again pointing
to the fact it is not comprehensively including all arts-based initiatives
and possibilities of bringing art into organizations. It very specically
deals with the tension between everyday work in organizations and art as
well as artistic approaches. Nevertheless, organizations are confronted
with challenges through new markets, environmental problems, techno-
logies, and old structures getting obsolete. Liminality and its counterpart
the everyday life and profane play a major role in organizations and the
most important aspects of liminality – symbolic meaning, the connec-
tion to organizational memory through narrations and rites, learning,
play and experimentation, sensory perception, performativity – can be
tackled by arts-based initiatives. Thus, the theory of rites of passage and
liminality underlines that arts-based initiatives are powerful tools in or-
ganizations – if applied at the right time in proper doses.
Author:
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