A walk through the halls of EMC Insurance Cos. is much brighter than one might imagine. Prints and paintings by internationally known artists as well as local ones adorn the walls of the insurance giant.

The company began collecting art in 1954, but since 2005 it has purchased local art through its Art EMC program. The program invites Iowa artists to submit several pieces of work, which are then narrowed down by a judge and voted on by employees. EMC then buys several of the submissions that receive the most votes to add to its permanent collection.

“Bruce Kelley, our CEO, is very passionate about supporting local artists,” said Amy Stanwood, methods analyst for EMC Insurance and a member of the EMC Art Committee. “There are so many talented artists here, and usually their pieces are more reasonably priced. It’s beneficial because it’s more affordable for us and we can help keep them in the area.”

Building and maintaining a corporate art collection is a big investment, said corporate art adviser Liz Lidgett. And though the artwork should appreciate in value over time, that shouldn’t be the motivation behind a company’s purchase, she added. Instead, it should be seen more as an investment in the employees.

“It’s a way to express your values and company culture,” she said. “By putting artwork into an office, it shows that you value creativity.”

Lidgett, who took care of Kum & Go LC’s collection for the past year, left the company in December to launch Liz Lidgett Fine Arts LLC. She now helps companies take care of and display their collections, research and buy new artwork, and sell pieces they no longer want.

“Having a company art collection is an extra benefit,” she said. “Extras are important when someone is looking at taking one job over another.”

During the recession, companies had to pull back on acquiring new pieces to help their struggling bottom lines, and some, like Lehman Bros. Holdings Inc., had to sell their works to help pay off their debts.

“In the ‘90s, buying artwork was a status symbol,” Lidgett said, adding that companies have started buying again, but for a different reason. “It seems they’re buying to improve company culture rather than for status.”

Many Greater Des Moines companies still have beautiful corporate collections, including DuPont Pioneer, the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, Aviva USA, Wells Fargo & Co. and Principal Financial Group Inc.

“Our work is such a head-down kind of job. We needed to change our way of thinking and be innovative,” said Mary O’Keefe, senior vice president and chief marketing officer at Principal Financial Group. “At Principal, we want employees to exercise both halves of their brain.”

Principal’s art-filled campus has become such a part of its corporate culture that employees use certain pieces of artwork as landmarks, she said, adding that co-workers will often meet up at “the horse,” a sculpture located in Principal’s Corporate 2 Building.

The collection, which the company began in the 1930s and features artists such as Andy Warhol, is displayed throughout its downtown locations from the mailroom to the boardroom, and on its satellite campuses so everyone can enjoy it, O’Keefe said. It also showcases pieces through its Art Zone program, where employees pull together exhibits from its collection.

Principal has always focused on buying artwork from artists with a different perspective, O’Keefe said, including artists of color, female artists or lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) artists.

Lidgett said including an educational component that gives information about the works and artists is just as important as the collection itself. Offering guided tours or putting together an online catalog can further engage employees and help them have a better understanding of the corporate collection.

“Employees may not be exposed to art much at home, so this is their chance to get that kind of exposure,” she said.