In the course of a day, you will likely sit in a chair, talk on the phone, brush your teeth, maybe blow-dry your hair - and not give much thought to the design involved in any of it.

As an industrial designer, Karin Copeland spent 16 years constantly thinking about such things.

"We're keen-eyed observers of what people do, how they do it, why they do it," Copeland says of her craft, or rather what was her craft.

Although, as executive director of the Arts + Business Council of Greater Philadelphia (ABC), she insists her role is not that far removed.

"Now, I'm designing programs," says the Narberth mother of three. "It's the same skill: You're problem-solving."

The problem she's zeroed in on is one she says no business, small or large, can afford to have these days: an unimaginative workforce.

"In the 21st-century workforce, everyone is expected to be innovative," Copeland says. "Creativity in the workforce is hugely important."

Since taking on the top job at ABC four years ago, says Copeland, a native of Springfield, Delaware County, she has been focused on re-energizing - some might say rescuing - a nonprofit organization that, like so many after the recession, "was circling the drain."

Rather than have it be best known for its annual grand luncheon for nearly 1,500 people at the Convention Center, Copeland wanted ABC to be recognized as a source of valuable programs of mutual benefit to the business and arts communities.

As an affiliate of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce since its founding in 1981, ABC was sharing space at the chamber's headquarters inside the Bellevue on South Broad Street and using its back-office support. But in Copeland's view, ABC was missing valuable opportunity to capitalize on the business group's 4,500 members, representing 600,000 employees.

She's been redesigning existing programs and creating new ones that partner for-profit businesses and nonprofit arts and cultural groups. With advertising executive Marc Brownstein serving as ABC's new chair in 2016, more reassessment and reimagining has begun.

Calling ABC "a catalyst for new thinking," Brownstein says the goals include making it "as relevant to all creative/

communications industry companies, not just the nonprofit arts sector," and helping to "make Philadelphia recognized as a place where great ideas come from."

Among Copeland's favorite accomplishments:

Tripling participation in Business on Board, which teaches business professionals the essentials of arts and culture board membership, including fund-raising and board development.

Launching Designing Leadership, a program developed with IBM and the Wharton School, and funded in part by a $50,000 grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which teaches executive development for the arts, culture and creative sectors.

Adding a speaker series that has attracted sold-out audiences to hear Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg, social entrepreneur Dan Pallotta, psychologist Amy Cuddy, and journalist and author Malcolm Gladwell, among others, at ticket prices typically set at $30 to $40, to help attract cash-strapped millennials.

Describing herself last week "as about as enthusiastic as you can get" about the ABC's offerings was Monica Buffington, executive director of the Kennett Symphony, Chester County's only professional symphony orchestra, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year.

Through the Business on Board program, the symphony has recruited two board members and might get a third. The fee charged by ABC for each board member placed through its program was $250.

Through the Business Volunteers for the Arts program, the symphony got strategic-plan development help for one year from a retired DuPont marketing executive. The fee: $150. Buffington attributed to that work a 40 percent increase in opening-night ticket sales, a 10 percent increase in holiday-

concert sales, and a record-

breaking sellout of its April 3 concert.

Buffington herself has taken ABC's Designing Leadership course for $1,000, and plans to go through it again, saying she gained invaluable business insights typically hard to attain for nonprofits of limited means.

In all this cross-cultural partnering, there's a lift for the business community, too, Buffington says:

"There is nothing like seeing a new board member or a staff member walk out of a concert hall and realize they were part of making that happen."



The Keys to a Creative Workplace

Longtime industrial designer Karin Copeland, now executive director of the Arts + Business Council of Greater Philadelphia, says these are the same as the core principles of designing:

  • Agility

  • Imagination

  • Empathy

  • Employees who feel appreciated and valued

  • An inviting environment

"If you want people to create and keep innovating, you have to create a culture of innovation," Copeland says. "It's learning how to question what was and say, 'Why am I doing that?' and not be threatened by taking risks."

Her goal for Philadelphia: "To be the world-class creative city or idea city."