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Opinion Editorials

Why tech companies should embrace Artist Residency Programs

(EDITORIAL) With technology founders wiping themselves with money while also truly caring about culture and inclusion, they’re missing a huge opportunity by ignoring artist in residency programs. Even Amtrak does it – come on, y’all.

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artist in residency programs

There’s a ton of cash in the tech industry. Like, more money than your primate brain can process, like “get-the-country-out-of-debt” money – Scrooge McDuck swimming in gold levels of cash. That’s how profitable technology has become.

And we’re not just talking laptops and smartphones, either. All of those monthly subscriptions you’re not thinking about, the Hulu, Netflix, Microsoft Office, that extra storage for your MacBook or iPhone, that’s all got a name: Software as a Service (SaaS) and with major players like Apple and Disney upping their stakes in the game – this model ain’t going anywhere.

Our thermostats are connected to our iPhones, and our cars are plugged into a matrix that’s fed into the Internet. Everywhere you look, the tech industry is changing everything. Everyone has a smartphone, a tablet, and a laptop, or a television that’s Internet-enabled.

And for everything that’s connected to the Internet, someone’s making a buck.

According to CTA, the tech industry will make $398B this year, and The Big 5 – Google, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, and Facebook are worth a combined three trillion dollars. What do these companies do with all of the cash?

These companies typically pay well. To hire the best, workers want a payday. That’s fine, everyone who bangs at their job should get their slice of the action. After that, companies invest in culture and hiring that next tier of top talent. But, after the company offsites in a wooded cabin, the multi-million-dollar research projects, and the fully covered healthcare are accounted for, there’s still dough to play with.

Let’s get creative.

A lot of the more prominent tech companies have established that giving back is critical to their mission. Teams do charity work, they fly to other countries to help build schools; all kinds of amazing wonderful things are happening thanks to some of the world’s biggest players.

But what if those same companies established a new precedent – What if they established artist in residency programs?

One of the greatest professional experiences of my life was working for Atlassian and traveling between the Austin, San Francisco, and Sydney offices. While I was there to write for them, I’m still a writer, I always worked on my stuff. I’ve written in cafés in North Beach after browsing City Lights books where Ginsburg stomped his feet. I’ve been in bookstores in Sydney, never taking for granted for a second that I was beyond lucky to have this chance; that experience opened up a world that money had prevented me from exploring.

Can you imagine being allowed to fly to another office to work in a different environment, just for a change of scenery? It’s staggering what a comprehensive program could do for the arts community. The money and infrastructure is there, and so long as companies continue their dedication to paying it forward, this should be an added flavor to that mission.

This might sound like a shocker, but most of your friends who pursue art for a living ain’t exactly making windfalls of cash.

Most artistic types are freelancers or have multiple side hustles – they wait tables, or slug away in the bars, they cut corners on life’s everyday expenses in pursuit of their art. Your average painter, cartoonist, writer, filmmaker, they’re all chasing the project that gives them a chance to make their art their living. The problem is, for most creatives, it’s a dog chases its tail kinda life and that tail ain’t getting any longer or tastier.

How would it work?

Companies should work with the Alliance of Artist Communities (AAC) and set up a residency program. The AAC had been setting up residencies across the country for years, so while this is a feel-good philanthropic endeavor, the organization knows every tax break and loophole out there.

And realistically, the AAC has to, considering the culture of treating the arts in our communities is seen more of a begrudging, “we should probably do this” offense rather than an important investment. Most artistic programs receive pennies on the dollar, and most creatives live hand to mouth in pursuit of their dreams, and for many tech founders, the story is relatable, only they’re masters at problem-solving. Creativity doesn’t have to be pen to paper and the outcome being a funny doodle of a dog riding a skateboard, the creative mind is our innate core, we’re programmed to search for inventive ways to solve problems.

We just turn it off as society deems creativity an expendable commodity.

Creativity shouldn’t be relegated as frivolity, but essential.

In the world of artistic residences, paying bills is an issue. So, many programs have to drum up funds, find donors, seek out worthwhile endowments, search for tax breaks. Many are non-for-profits because they need grants for just about everything.

But in tech, cash is there aplenty.

Instead of throwing a Christmas party with a $100K budget for each office around the world, that money could be better spent on social enrichment. I’ve worked in the tech world for the past six years, and I’ve seen a lot of wasteful spending. While I love a good massage chair experience, that money could have been spent elsewhere versus giving staff of over three hundred already fabulously well paid people fifteen minutes of “me time.”

For one year or whatever predetermined amount of time, a company would allow a creative in their city to “join the team.”

What’s that look like?

Allow someone to create in these offices that are more like adult Disney World with their free snacks, open collaboration, catered meals, and endless perks. Give an artist a space that was once a small meeting room and let them do their thing.

The culture aspect of a creative being dropped in the average technology environment would blow their minds – most tech companies strive for diversity and inclusivity, and this program would be a brushstroke in that palette of reasoning.

By giving the creative the chance to mix it up with people who think in code, in marketing campaigns or how to “disrupt the market,” the influence would be impactful: a developer might become a nature photographer, or maybe a mixed media artist helps the marketing team see a problem from a different point of view. If there are anything companies in tech suffer from, it’s a little too much inward focus.

Change everything with a pen stroke.

Some campuses are so big (Facebook, Apple to name just two), they could support two or three artists at a time.

Indeed, Atlassian, Oracle, Uber, Lyft, all have multiple offices around the world. Imagine an extroverted painter working in a common room, while people move to and from meetings, getting that flash of inspiration, even if minute.

That’s beautiful.

Maybe instead of continually talking about code depositories or the next sprint, people got hip to new books? Maybe an essayist learns how to use Trello to manage their weekly pitches or maybe even further, they learn about how agile principles work could make their processes more manageable?

And while this person is getting paid, maybe they’re earning more money than they’ve ever seen. What if someone who’s always worked minimum wage jobs were given an $80K gig to create? Sure, you’d need to coach them on saving up for when the program is over, but for that period, being restricted to the dollar menu wouldn’t be everyday life.

The results would be staggering. The average working artist has to grind while others are asleep, early in the morning or late at night, they find ways to communicate their feelings, but while still making sure rent is on time.

Companies could establish an annual open competition where artists of whatever designated mediums submit their work.

Maybe it’s film or painting, or gosh, even a writer. But for that year, the winner gets to attend the fun parties, the culture building events, but most importantly gets paid well for their residency.

If the competition is opened up beyond the borders of the company’s home base, that works, too. Most bigger companies have a few corporate apartments that are barely used. Giving someone a room wouldn’t be that big of a deal.

Artists could donate their skills to workshops, creative programming, even create art specifically for the space. Most offices anywhere could use a little freshening up, or at least an ongoing blog series, something.

As for the perception of “selling out” the artistic culture has changed, where it was once punk rock to keep everything as DIY as possible, most of us creatives are fighting against a sea of other talented people all of the time, the chance for exposure on a bigger level, but also being financially free is worth wearing a few corporate branded t-shirts. And honestly, tech companies generally aren’t as gross as the old school monoliths of the past, most of the executive boards are made up of actual people who started from the bottom.

As my friend Jason Saul of BirdNote once told me, “don’t think of it as ‘selling out’ we’re in a hip hop-driven culture, you’re blowing up.”

There are residency programs on farms, a recycling center in SF, in the woods, the Florida keys, Amtrak got into the residency game for a while, just as Padre Island in Texas, the national parks all have them, even the CERN large hadron collider has an artist in residence program.

To double-down even further, even The Mall of America, the place where you can buy a corn dog or visit one of five Victoria’s Secret stores (who needs that many panties?) or ride a rollercoaster, has an artist in residence program.

The artist is given $2500 for a week, plus a hotel room and are allowed to roam the mall 24/7. LaGuardia airport in New York rehabbed an old Hudson News and converted it into a kiosk to people watch and create, so why not the tech companies who purposely set up shop in buildings in the heart of downtowns across the world or amongst trees in sprawling acreage?

This is possible.

Who’s going to be first?

Robert Dean is a writer at Adia and The American Genius. He is a writer, journalist, and cynic. His most recent novel, The Red Seven is in stores. Currently, he’s working on his newest novel, Tragedy Wish Me Luck. He also likes ice cream and panda bears. He currently lives in Austin. Stalk him on Twitter.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. AMA Steele

    July 21, 2020 at 5:19 pm

    I’m all for it.. artist residency wherever without restrictions on residence… for example, wanted to apply for residence in a certain City; however I had to be a resident of that City. Perhaps the local funders made that stipulation in the grant??? I’m a prolific writer and painter and budding actress. Pen and ink drawing is a hobby. Why not a residence where I could use all of my gifts. Plus, I have been employed as an Arts administrator in theatre–my passion. Let me know what you come up with in the future.

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Opinion Editorials

Your goals are more complicated than generalized platitudes, and that’s okay

(OPINION / EDITORIALS) When the tough times get going, “one size fits all” advice just won’t cut it. Your goals are more specific than the cookie cutter platitudes.

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Split paths in the forest like goals - general advice just doesn't fit.

‘Saw.’

“Vulgar, uneducated wisdom based in superstition”, according to the good volunteer compilers at Wikipedia. See also: ‘aphorism’, ‘platitude’, and ‘entrepreneurial advice’.

I’m not saying there’s no good advice for anyone anymore, that’s plain not true. SMART Goals are still relevant, there’s a plethora of cheaper, freeer, more easily accessible tutorials online, and consensus in April-ville is that Made to Stick is STILL a very helpful book.

But when I hear the same ‘pat on the head’ kind of counsel that I got as a kid presented by a serious institution and/or someone intending on being taken seriously by someone who isn’t their grade school-aged nephew, I roll my eyes. A lot.

“Each failure is an opportunity!” “Never give up!” “It’s not how many times you fall!”, yeah, okay, that’s all lovely. And it IS all very true. My issue is… These sunshiney saws? They’re not very specific. And just like a newspaper horoscope, they’re not meant to be (not that I’ll stop reading them).

Example. You’ve been jiggling the rabbit ears of your SEO for months, to no avail. No one’s visiting your site, there’ve been no calls, and the angel investor cash is starting to dip closer to falling from heaven with each passing day.

Does ‘don’t give up’ mean that you use your last bit of cash to take on an expert?

Or does ‘don’t give up’ mean that you go back to R&D and find out that no one actually WANTED your corncob scented perfume to begin with; algorithm tweaking and Demeter Fragrances be damned?

This is the thing about both your goals you make and the guidance you take—they have to be specific. I’m not saying your parents can put a sock in it or anything. I’m thrilled that I’m part of a family that’ll tell me to keep on keeping on. But as far as serious, practical input goes… One size fits all just leaves too much room for interpretation.

When you’re stuck, behind, or otherwise at odds with your growth, are you asking the right questions? Are you sure of what the problem actually is? Do you know whether it’s time to give up a failure of a business and ‘keep pushing’ in the sense of starting another one, or whether you’ve got a good thing on hand that needs you to ‘never say die’ in the sense of giving it more tweaking and time?

No one should have stagnant goals. A pool of gross sitting water is only attractive to mosquitoes and mold. ‘I wanna be rich’ as your business’s raison d’être is a setup for a story about the horrors of literal-minded genies, not an intention you can actually move upon. But that doesn’t mean you need to go hard the other way and get lost in a nebulous fog of easily-published aphorisms.

To be fair, it’s not as if saying ‘Ask the right questions’ is exponentially more helpful than your average feel-good refreshment article, since… This editorial column doesn’t know you or what pies you have your fingers in. But if I can at least steer you away from always running towards the overly general and into an attempt at narrowing down what your real problems are, I’ll consider this a job well done.

Save saws for building community tables.

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Opinion Editorials

Be yourself, or be Batman? A simple trick to boost your self-confidence

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) “If you can’t be yourself, be Batman.” We’ve heard it before, but is there a way that this mentality can actually give you self-confidence?

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Batman symbol has long been a way to boost self-confidence.

The joke with scary movies is that the characters do stupid things, and so you scream at them. No you dumdums, don’t go FURTHER into the murder circus. Put down the glowing idol of cursed soda gods and their machine gun tempers. Stop it with the zombie dogs. STOP IT WITH THE — WHAT DID I JUST TELL YOU?

We do this as the audience because we’re removed from the scene. We’re observing, birds eye view imbued ducklings, on our couches, and with our snacks. Weird trick for horror movies to play — makes us feel smart, because we’re not the ones on meat hooks.

But if a zombie crashed through our window, like RIGHT NOW, the first thing we’re going to do doesn’t matter, because that thing is going to be stupid. So so stupid. You can’t believe how stupid you’ll act. Like, “I can’t leave behind my DONUT” stupid, as a zombie chomps your arm that was reaching for a bear claw you weren’t even really enjoying to begin with. “Oh no my DOCUMENTS I can’t leave without my DOCUMENTS.”

There’s a layer of distinction between those two instances — removed versus immersed. And really, this colors a lot of our life. Maybe all of our life. (Spoiler: It is all of our life.)

It’s Imposter Syndrome in overdrive — the crippling thought that you’re going to fail and be found out. And you tell yourself that all the little missteps and mistakes and mis…jumps are entirely your fault. Feedback loops reiterates, and then you get paralyzed. And man, what a time to be alive — what with the world on fire — to start up a self-deprecation engine shame machine. No way our self-confidence is suffering now, right?

The point is: You — as a being — experiencing things first hand is the perfect time to see your shortcomings. You can’t help but do it. You are living in your skeleton meat mecha human suit, and all the electronics in your head strangely remember all the times you struggled. And weirdly, if you look at someone else in the exact same situation you were just in, you suddenly have this powerful insight and awareness. It happens naturally. It’s why you think I would never head on down to the basement in a creepy mansion. Watch any cooking competition show to see this in action. Armchair quarterbacks, hindsight 2020. It’s all the same.

But when it’s just you and you’re doing things in real time? You lose focus, you stumble, and you wonder why it’s suddenly so hard to make rice, or why you fell for the really obvious fake punt.

So where does that leave you? How do you solve this problem? There are ways. But the journey is arduous and hectic and scary and difficult. Time tempers your soul over and over, you harden in ways that build you up, and you become better. The process is ages old.

I bet you’d like at least… I dunno, there’s gotta be a small trick, right? Life has secrets. Secrets exist. Secrets are a thing. Let’s talk about one to boost your self-confidence.

Stop seeing things in first person, and instead, talk to yourself in the third person. Yes, just like George did in that episode of Seinfeld. Don’t say, “I need to finish the project today.” Say “Bob needs to finish the project today.” If your name is Bob, I mean. Substitute in your name. In effect, you are distancing yourself from the situation at hand, as you begin to view it from outside yourself.

Studies have shown that doing this causes a fascinating side effect — an odd insulating barrier that can give someone just enough distance from the problem at hand, which in turn lets someone more calmly examine the situation. Once that is achieved, a plan can be written and executed with great results.

There’s some research demonstrating this concept, and as truly crazy as it sounds, marked improvement in behavior has been measured when participants are told to think of themselves as a different person. It’s like the “fake it ’til you make it” principle — suddenly you’re sort of cheering on this other person, because you want them to succeed. It’s just that in this case, the other person is still you.

I’ve heard the concept also said that “your current self can give your future self an easier life if you work hard now.” It seems like distancing functions on that wavelength — that by thinking you are supporting some other entity (and even when that entity is still you), some empathetic mechanisms spring into play, and your natural desire to see success rebounds back onto yourself. This is you eating your cake, yet something still having cake.

So that’s magic in and of itself, right? I want you to try it. Don’t think in terms of what you have to do, but what you watching yourself will do. All these fun tiny benefits concurrently happen — encouragement, pressure removal, controlled thought, drive, momentum, and motivation. It’s all there — a trail mix built out of emotions and psychological buffs. And they’ll all fire off at once and you’ll start noticing how much better you feel.

Here’s the best part — we can take this further. At least two different studies have shown with children that thinking of an alter ego and then distancing creates even stronger outcomes. Now we’re not just hyping ourselves up — we’re hyping up an impressive figure. Batman is already taking down jerks. So what if you say you are the night and combine that with self removal? Even in children, the conclusion was fascinating. When they were given a menial task to complete, those who were told to believe they were Batman had an improvement of 23% in focus and productivity over a group who was given no directive. Even without the consequences of adult life and its inherent complexities, children naturally showcased that they work harder if they undergo an alter ego transformation. Now you’re not just there for yourself, you’re there for Batman himself.

“But that’s just children.” Ok, well, it works in adults too. Beyoncé and Adele would psych themselves up by creating onstage personas that were confident, successful, fearless versions of themselves. It’s an act within an act, with a performer further elevating themselves away from reality through the substitution of a personality built and engineered for success. Set aside that these are powerful, fierce, intimidating entertainers in their own right; the focus here is that they also used this mental trick, and it worked.

(There’s an aside here that I think is worth mentioning — in the midst of performing to a crowd, you are 100% in control, and I think this simple realization would help scores of people with their fear of public speaking; a concept to write about another day.)

Distilled down: If you think you’re a hero, you’ll act like one. Easier said than done, but give it a try by taking yourself out of the equation, even if for a moment. You’re not changing who you are so much as you are discovering the pieces of innate power you already had. You aren’t erasing yourself — you’re finding the hidden strength that’s already there. Having a way to kickstart this is perfectly fine.

The ultimate goal with all of this is to build the discipline that lets you begin to automatically engage this mode of heightened ability – that you’ll naturally adopt the good parts into life without the need for ramping up. Armed with that, you’re unstoppable.

Life — as a series of interactions and decisions — can be gamed, to a degree, with tiny and small shifts in perspective. Dropping a surrogate for yourself gives you enough room to have the chance to take everything in, and augmenting this concept further with the thought of having an alter ago creates even wilder possibilities. Psychologists are finding that this sidestep phenomenon can potentially help in different areas — improved physical health, learning how to better handle stress, emotional control, mastering anxiety, and a host of others.

So put on a mask, and then put on a whole new self. It’s almost Halloween anyway.

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Opinion Editorials

Red flags to watch out from from a potential employer

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) Incompetent bosses are a dime a dozen. Here’s some information on how to scope out and avoid any red flags from a future employer.

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Interview with woman and a man opposite, interviewing employer as much as employee.

Most people have the critical hindsight to recognize that they’ve at least encountered an objectively inferior superior in the workplace. Whether you’re looking for a fresh start or you’ve managed to duck poor bosses thus far and you want to keep the trend going, here are some red flags that can help you spot a sketchy employer from a distance.

Disrespect at any point is a huge indicator that the person interviewing or scouting you is going to be tough to work with. That said, keep an eye out for employers who either cut you off mid-sentence or clearly don’t listen to the content of what you’re saying. Aside from being a justifiably infuriating character flaw, your employer failing to let you complete a thought will lead to severe miscommunications during your tenure in their workplace. Steer clear!

Of course, something that’s worse than a boss who talks too much is one who talks too little. More specifically, the same employer who constantly leaves you hanging out to dry, forces you to make far too many judgement calls of your own on projects they’re managing, or doesn’t return your urgent emails is probably the employer who is constantly dropping the conversational ball during the recruiting process. If they want you, you shouldn’t have to chase.

If you’ve made it to the interview process, you might think you’re pretty close to the clear; however, it’s worth paying attention to the way your future employer lays out information for you. Should you notice that they appear to be defensive, inexplicably explanatory regarding issues like workplace culture or safety, or something similar, you’re probably dealing with a hostile work environment. Even if you’re being hired to help change that, it’s probably not worth the hassle.

Finally—and this may be controversial for some professions—your prospective boss should be in the room for the interview. While plenty of locations use departmental managers or a panel of employees to determine a candidate’s compatibility, the employer should always be there to ensure that the proper criteria are addressed. Should the employer fail to communicate with you until day one of your assignment, you can expect translation issues right out of the gate.

Plenty of the above circumstances may be excusable in certain contexts, so make of this what you will. The bottom line, plain and simple, is this: If you are uncomfortable or upset with the way an employer treats you during an interview, you will be uncomfortable and/or upset working for them.

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