Here are some mails from february 2006 related to the origins of AACORN

Yes, many thanks to Pierre, Steve, Chris, Ralph, and everyone for your very helpful comments and rememberings. Steve's note sparked another one for me. One is around the scope of those early discussions. I remember that Nick, Steve, Gail, and I were all feeling rather alone in our work. Europe was forging along but much of the early work there wasn't getting over to N. America or Australasia. We saw that there was growing interest (Steve's Capitalist Pigs play was drawing lots of accolades in the States), and as Chris points out, the Academy of Mgmt Arts track was a very exciting development, but still our efforts seemed, well, on the edge. With the formation of the early ACORN, we talked quite a bit about whether to 'Academize' it--to lobby for formal AoM division status. I don't remember all the bits, but I do remember that we made a watershed decision to not go the AoM way--the hope was to deliberately become truly international and not beholden to any one country or organization. In retrospect I think that decision was a good one, and many of those early intentions are now being realized.
One thing I would very much encourage are nominations for Asian Aacorners. Right now, we're woefully underepresented in Japan, China, India, and all the rest of Asia. Same goes for S. America. So if any of you know good, friendly, aacornish people in these places, please ask them whether they'd like to join and put their names forward (thanks Pierre for this reminder!!!). Daved

Hi Folks,
I just want to thank you kindly for your responses especially Daved for the length and depth of his summary. You gave unselfishly in the way you usually do! Thank you so much! As usual, I now know what I don't know...and the work will begin again.

It is strange when you live in a far off land how you seem to operate in isolation and then you come across fellow travellers swimming along the same river - I think it's called synchronicity. I stood up in 1999 at the American Creativity Association's annual conference and naively (if I may say so) gave a presentation entitled "the Fine Art of Business" that summarised my event company's approach to the design of corporate and culture events based on theatrical methodologies. Up to that date, I had not met anybody in industry or for that matter in academia ( I was very occasionally lecturing in post graduate MBA and Tourism Faculties on my event design theories) who seemed to critically understand my perspective on my work.

In the audience in the US was Nick Nissley and I am always indebted to Nick for coming up to me after my presentation, engaging me in one of the most exciting, fruitful and knowledgeable conversations I had had in this area, that confirmed I was not mad; that there were fellow travellers that thought similarly and critically. Nick forever opened a new door. It did help, of course, that he had worked in the Great Southern Land (and that's not New Zealand!!).....

Once again, thanks folks for your assistance and advice - when the book is published I will advise the network. And keep the advice coming in please...

Kind regards,

Hi Ralph--am writing you from Lisbon, so it'll have to be brief (or until my cyber-cafe account runs out).

I started Aacorn (then, arts, creativity, and org. research network) back somewhere in 2001/2002. I was at Auckland, working with others like Steve Taylor, Gail Whiteman, and Nick Nissley (who were in Bath, Canada, and the midwest, respectively), and I wanted some artful research friends, particularly as I was delving more and more into the area (see some of this at, and

Over the previous decade we had been running a number of symposia and consortiums at the Academy of Mgmt., and I thought it was time to formalize things and to push a new voice into mgmt.--I felt this was esp. important given all the efforts that the Art of Mgmt. folks at Essex (Ian King, Ceri Watkins, Heather Hopfl, etc.) and Pierre Guillet de Monthoux and Antonio Strati (with their Aesthetics Conferences) were making. So I searched for ideas and names, and thanks to a suggestion from Brad Jackson, then at Victoria Uni in Wellington, ACORN was born. I shifted jobs to Vic myself, taking up a chair in creative org. studies, and set up an Acorn listserv. I pushed to make it 'invite only' from the beginning, based on all my other network experience. Despite my egalitarian ideals, I thought something more elitist might keep the calibre of the contributions and group at a higher level (Mike Elmes, another founding member, and I have often debated the merits of this--undoubtedly we will continue doing so :-)). Beyond that, I thought we should only invite serious contributers--at that time, it meant just academics.

In 2003, it became apparent that there were a number of serious artists working and researching with organizations, and there was a discussion over whether the membership rules should be expanded. The group (I think there were about 20 of us then), finally decided yes, and the membership took off.
Then, the aesthetes started joining in droves, and for a brief time the name was switched to Aesthetics, Creativity, etc. About this time I'd moved to Denmark to join Learning Lab Denmark and Michael Dawids at the Creative Alliance--our hope was to turn LLD into a key hub for Acorn. At that point, we dropped the NZ listserv and took up with Jiscmail, based on Ken Friedman's strong suggestions and a lot of help from Ceri Watkins at Essex.

At the same time, we created a website there--a state of the art, but extremely hard to use site that no one used, all paid for and run by LLD (mostly dear Hilde Bollen). There was lots of hoopla but it wasn't practical. A bit after this, more of the artists and art-interested-researchers felt the 'aesthetics' title might be overly limiting, so in the end, a small group of the originators pushed for Aacorn.
Shortly after this (in early 2005), Hilde and I put out a call for a volunter website crew--John Churchley, Ralph Stablein, Laurene Vaughan, Hilde Bollen, and several others volunteered--they put together what is today's site (esp. with the help of John's son Ross).

Today, the membership is more global than ever, and expanding at a steady rate (I've tried hard to get others to take over and have lost track of the numbers, but I think it's over 200 now, mostly major players in the arts & business field). It's still very messy and unformed, which is probably fine given Aacorn's youth. Hilde Bollen is still very much the administrative backbone (thank you as ever Hilde!), and others like John, Ross, Ralph, and Ken Friedman have really stepped in to help out.

As a pass back through the jiscmail site will show, the discussion topics have really broadened out, and there's a generative mix of people who arevery knowledgeble in their respective domains--art, academe, consultancy,and aesthetics. Some great interchanges have resulted (I still like the 'evils of Powerpoint' discussion!) and more group projects are popping up--articles, books, and joint conference tracks. The 'art part' has really taken a step forward as those with art academy training have started contributing. Many of us have met informally in various parts of the world--there's a regular Friday Northeasterners gathering in the States for instance where I hear the wine is good and the conversation even better. Ken Friedman and I are also working on an arts & mgmt. journal, as yet to benamed.

My eventual hope is that we may together re-write mgmt. and org. studies into something more lifeful and sensegiving, and that we can even create a jobs network. On a pragmatic note, I'm also hoping that many more in the network will start nominating others in--it's important that everyone feels free to bring others along. My experience is that we're a very friendly and helpful bunch--certainly one of the most enjoyable professional groups I've been part of. Wouldn't it be great to have aacorn chapters (what an appropriate term) that meet regularly throughout the world, one in each country?

So. That's the history in a nutshell (sorry--couldn't resist the pun). Keep in mind that it's a story, and like all stories, there's a bit of fictionality and dressing and lots of missing parts. I've probably got the ordering wrong and have had to leave out many many names of important contributors, but that's the best I'm going to do at this minute.

In terms of genesis of the field, that's harder. Nick Nissley's very early summative work points to some of it (Nick, get your article onto the aacorn site!!!! Meanwhile, the rest of you can get it from him: or me (I've got several rough and not so rough drafts).

Not surprisingly, the major beginnings have been in Europe. Beuy's work (as Miha pointed out in the last mail) has certainly been influential. In terms of organization studies, Pierre Guillet de Monthoux, Antonio Strati, Pasquale Gagliardi (goodness, he really needs to be invited--someone???), Steve Linstead, Heather Hopfl, and many of the other SCOS (Standing Conference on Org. Symbolism) people were also heavily involved with what I call a 'cultured' perspective on mgmt. and organizations. This had a lot of visual, musical, and literary dimensions to it. In the States, the visual anthropologists were inspiring org. researchers (in the 70's), and organizational theatre was beginning to arise on numerous fronts (the sociodrama movement, theater sports, corporate theater, Dacapo in Denmark, Puppet Theater in Sweden, David Boje's work with Boal). In the UK, John Latham and Barbara Steveni were very active in the Artists Placement Group, a series of small and large scale organization & art projects--I believe this was back in the 60's--Martin Ferro Thomsen's thesis very beautifully spells it out: Organisational Art

And in the late 70's, many consultants started dabbling with art-based media (paint, music, poetry, etc.), frequently borrowing from the art therapy literature. Miha Pogacnik began his famous Borl conferences, where many art/biz people have gathered from around the world. Things have also formalized more with Laura Brearley's pioneering work in arts-based PhD dissertations and defenses, as well as with Pierre's recent book "Art Firm" and the empirical work by Rob Austin and Lee Devin.

So you see, there is no definitive beginning to the movement. It's more like there have been a variety of people around the world who have felt dissatisfied with the status quo of Mgmt. and Org. Studies, and they're gradually finding each other and hooking up. I was at an opening of Produkt und Vision in Berlin (an org. and arts project) and had a chance to ask people there what they most remembered. The quote that most grabbed me was Enno Schmidt's "I remember the power of artists coming together". I really like that one.

Hope this helps Ralph,

I am in the process of completing a chapter for a book to be published later this year on the emergence of the Creative Industries in the 21st Century. My topic is on the rise of the application of arts based processes in the corporate world specifically from a management and organziational perspective. I want to acknowledge the members and role of AACORN as a network of individuals working in or exploring this area and can't find any background or history to the genesis of the network. Can anybody enlighten me please? A quick background on how and why it started, how it evolved and is evolving, perhaps its founding members and influences and any other
matters of importance.

I am also having difficulty tracking information on the genesis and emergence of the use of arts based processes in the corporate world. I am generally familar with the published output in the network and feel I am right up to date on literature and the community of practices currently occuring internationally in various institutions. But I can't seem to get a handle on the beginning, the very genesis of this movement/trend contemporaneously either in North America or Europe or for that matter New
Zealand and Australia. I have knowledge of the genesis of the Banff Centre and published works like the seminal Experience Economy by Gilmour and Pine and my own work in Australia since 1994. Various articles books and journals I have read recently seem to contain variations on the theme of "the emergence of a body of work (arts based procsses) over the last decade". What this is indicating to me is that things seemed to emerged around the mid 90's.

Any comments, thoughts, advice and direction...