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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

5 secrets to a more productive morning, free of distractions

(EDITORIAL) Productivity is king in the office, but sometimes distractions and other issues slow you down. So what can you do to limit these factors?

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distractions stop productivity

Regardless of whether you’re a self-proclaimed morning person or not, more efficient mornings can be catalytic in your daily productivity and output. The only question is, do you know how to make the most of your mornings in the office?

5 Tips for Greater Morning Productivity

In economic terms, productivity is a measure of output as it relates to input. Academics often discuss productivity in terms of a one-acre farm’s ability to produce a specific crop yield, or an auto manufacturing plant’s ability to produce a certain number of vehicles over a period of time. But then there’s productivity in our personal lives.

Your own daily productivity can be defined in a variety of ways. But at the end of the day, it’s about getting the desired results with less time and effort on the input side. And as a business professional, one of the best ways to do this is by optimizing your morning in the office.

Here are a few timely suggestions:

  1. Eliminate All Non-Essential Actions

    Spend the next week keeping a log of every single action you take from the moment your eyes open in the morning until you sit down at your desk. It might look something like this:

    • Turn off alarm
    • Scroll through social media on the phone
    • Get out of bed
    • Eat breakfast
    • Take shower
    • Brush teeth
    • Walk dog
    • Watch news
    • Browse favorite websites
    • Get in car
    • Starbucks drive-thru
    • Arrive at office
    • Small talk with coworkers
    • Sit down at the desk

    If you do this over the course of a week, you’ll notice that your behaviors don’t change all that much. There might be some slight deviations, but it’s basically the same pattern.

    Now consider how you can eliminate as many points of friction as possible from your routine. [Note from the Editor: This may be an unpopular opinion, but] For example, can you skip social media time? Can you make coffee at home, rather than drive five minutes out of your way to wait in the Starbucks drive-thru line? Just doing these two things alone could result in an additional 30 minutes of productive time in the office.

  2. Reduce Distractions

    Distractions kill productivity. They’re like rooftop snipers. As soon as they see any sign of productivity, they put it in their crosshairs and pull the trigger.Ask yourself this: What are my biggest distractions and how can I eliminate them?Popular distractions include social media, SMS, video games, news websites, and email. And while none of these are evil, they zap focus. At the very least, you should shift them to later in the day.
  3. Set Measurable Goals and Action items

    It’s hard to have a productive morning if you don’t have a clear understanding of what it means to be productive. Make sure you set measurable goals, create actionable to-do lists, and establish definitive measurements of what it looks like to be efficient. However, don’t get so caught up in the end result that you miss out on true productivity.“There’s a big difference between movement and achievement; while to-do lists guarantee that you feel accomplished in completing tasks, they don’t ensure that you move closer to your ultimate goals,” TonyRobbins.com mentions. “There are many ways to increase your productivity; the key is choosing the ones that are right for you and your ultimate goals.”In other words, set goals that are actually reflective of productivity. In doing so, you’ll adjust your behavior to come in proper alignment with the results you’re seeking.
  4. Try Vagus Nerve Stimulation

    Sometimes you just need to block out distractions and focus on the task at hand. There are plenty of ways to shut out interruptions but make sure you’re also simultaneously cuing your mind to be productive. Vagus nerve stimulation is one option for doing both.Vagus nerve stimulation gently targets the body’s vagus nerve to promote balance and relaxation, while simultaneously enhancing focus and output.
  5. Optimize Your Workspace

    Makes sure your office workspace is conducive to productivity. This means eliminating clutter, optimizing the ergonomics of your desk, reducing distractions, and using “away” settings on apps and devices to suppress notifications during work time.

Make Productivity a Priority

Never take productivity for granted. The world is full of distractions and your willpower is finite. If you “wing it,” you’ll end up spending more time, energy, and effort, all while getting fewer positive results.

Make productivity a priority – especially during the mornings when your mind is fresh and the troubles of the day have yet to be released in full force. Doing so will change the way you operate, function, and feel. It’ll also enhance tangible results, like income, job status, and the accolades that come along with moving up in your career.

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Opinion Editorials

Is the tech industry layoff bloodbath coming or is it already here?

We have large online communities for job seekers, and we can affirm that the layoffs are on the way, but there is a silver lining for all involved…

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layoff time

If you were on Twitter at the end of last week, you probably saw a dribble of conversations about layoffs in tech coming, and today, the volume was turned up to 10 on social media. Several founders have said they’re cutting parts of teams and are nixing contractors. We’re about to be in a recession, y’all, and we can ALL feel it coming.

While this has been happening all of this calendar year, a pending recession is kicking the stock market in the teeth (especially in tech), and combined with a slowdown in fundraising, fuel has been added to what was simply kindling, and layoffs are already rapidly escalating.

JD isn’t the only one hearing it, my inbox has slowly been lighting up on this topic. In response, Joshua Baer noted that it’s a great time to scoop up talent. Love or hate him, he’s right.

There is a lot of data on tech layoffs, for example, Layoffs.FYI has been tracking meaningfully since COVID began, pulling info from public reports. We expect they’ll be busy for the next few months.

While VC funding in 2021 was at a global high, so far, 2022 has shown a significant slowdown, according to CrunchBase. Many believe valuations are tumified, a bear market is believed to be upon us, and tech firms are struggling to increase profitability, all combining to a bubble about to burst.

As Baer noted, the silver lining is for anyone looking to hire. It’s bad news for anyone about to get a pink slip, but it’s also empowering to know that candidates are still in the driver’s seat in this market and negotiations are still in their favor.

We at AG have communities dedicated completely to job seekers and employers, and have created neutral ground on which they can meet, and they do by the thousands (Austin Digital Jobs and Remote Digital Jobs).

We’re not seeing the “bloodbath” of folks with pink slips in hand yet, BUT today, a dozen mid- to senior- level technologists reached out to me personally that got laid off Monday morning.

With our finger firmly on the tech employment pulse, we agree with the assessment that layoffs are coming.

More on this topic: “Why are tech layoffs coming after such great Q1 earnings?!”

Here’s the TL;DR version in memes:

The end is nigh?
tech layoffs in memes

Seems about right

In and out Morty, a quick 24 hour adventure!

Diversification is the key


The May 2022 stock market

Insert angry title here

It’s fedish!

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Opinion Editorials

40% of newly-onboarded employees are already looking for another job

(EDITORIAL) The job market has been booming. That’s right, 40% of newly-onboarded employees are looking to make a move, AGAIN!

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Employer look at a hiring candidate, seated across from each other while one takes notes to determine hiring employees.

Currently, in the United States, employees are changing jobs every 4.2 years according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The pandemic and other economic factors have accelerated that rate.

Two of every five workers who switched jobs in the past year are already looking for work again according to a survey published in April by Grant Thornton.

21% of American workers changed jobs in the last 12 months according to the company’s State of Work in America survey.

“The power is going to the employee right now,” said Tim Glow, who leads Grant Thornton’s employee listening and human capital services team. “They are in the driver’s seat.”

Those leaving jobs say pay and benefits are huge factors in leaving. However, of the 40% looking to make a move again, many say the pay increase they took when changing jobs wasn’t enough to keep them in their current job.

The Great Resignation is creating an opportunity for employees, and employers are looking at increased pay and benefits to keep workers happy.

Employees making a shift successfully are willing to leave a job again for a better work environment. And experts say more pay or better benefits are valid reasons to continue looking for new employment.

In the past, experts recommended staying at a job for three-five years before moving, but The Great Resignation has changed the status quo.

So what can employers do to keep their workers?

Gallup’s research shows employers that create a strategic, values-based program have a better chance of keeping and attracting employees. Highly engaged teams – that employ a holistic approach to wellbeing – quadruple their potential for success. And according to the American Psychological Association, 89% of employees are more likely to recommend their company if the organization supports wellbeing initiatives.

Employees not engaged with employers who build engaged teams can search for companies that live by that approach.

As Jerry Cahn of Forbes says, a better term for this period of employee power might be the Great Exploration. Employees looking for something more have a chance to do just that. And employers that offer more have a better chance of acquiring and retaining their team members.

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