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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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Opinion Editorials

‘OK, Boomer’ can get you fired, but millennial jokes can’t?

(EDITORIAL) The law says age-based clapbacks are illegal when aimed at some groups but not others. Pfft. Okay, Boomer.

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Boomer sad

A brand new meme is out and about, and it’s looking like it’ll have the staying power of ‘Fleek’ and ‘Yeet!’

Yessiree, ‘Okay, Boomer’ as related to exiting a go-nowhere conversation with out-of-pocket elders has legitimate sticky potential, but not everyone is as elated as I am. Yes, the Boomer generation themselves (and the pick-me’s in my age group who must have a CRAZY good Werther’s Original hookup), are pushing back against the latest mult-iuse hashtag, which was to be expected.

The same people happy to lump anyone born after 1975 in with kids born in 2005 as lazy, tech-obsessed, and entitled, were awfully quick to yell ‘SLUR’ at the latest turn of phrase, and I was happy to laugh at it.

But it turns out federal law is on their side when it comes to the workplace.

Because “Boomer” applies to folks now in their mid 50’s and up, workplace discrimination laws based on age can allow anyone feeling slighted by being referred to as such to retaliate with serious consequences.

However for “You millenials…” no such protections exist. Age-based discrimination laws protect people over 40, not the other way around. That means all the ‘Whatever, kid’s a fresh 23 year old graduate hire’ can expect from an office of folks in their 40s doesn’t carry any legal weight at the federal level.

And what’s really got my eyes rolling is the fact that the law here is so easy to skirt!

You’ve heard the sentiment behind #okayboomer before.

It’s the same one in: ‘Alright, sweetheart’ or ‘Okay hun’ or ‘Bless your heart.’

You could get across the same point by subbing in literally anything.

‘Okay, Boomer’ is now “Okay, Cheryl” or “Okay, khakis” or “Okay, Dad.”

You can’t do that with the n word, the g word (either of them), the c word (any of them) and so on through the alphabet of horrible things you’re absolutely not to call people—despite the aunt you no longer speak to saying there’s a 1:1 comparison to be made.

Look, I’m not blind to age based discrimination. It absolutely can be a problem on your team. Just because there aren’t a bunch of 30-somethings bullying a 65 year old in your immediate sphere doesn’t mean it isn’t happening somewhere, or that you can afford to discount it if that somewhere is right under your nose.

But dangit, if it’s between pulling out a powerpoint to showcase how ‘pounding the pavement’ isn’t how you find digital jobs in large cities, dumping stacks of books showing how inflation, wages, and rents didn’t all rise at the same rate, or defending not wanting or needing the latest Dr. Oz detox… don’t blame anyone for pulling a “classic lazy snowflake” move, dropping two words, and seeing their way out of being dumped on.

Short solution here is – don’t hire jerks, and it won’t be an issue. Longer term solution is… just wait until we’re your age.

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Opinion Editorials

Uber CEO regrets saying that murder is part of business

(EDITORIAL) Uber CEO calls murder a mistake. Should society support a business that seems to think death is just part of the cost of doing business?

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Uber Pickup

On February 21, 2016, I woke up early to notifications about a shooting in Kalamazoo, Michigan. An Uber driver shot multiple individuals. Although I live in Oklahoma, the Facebook algorithms correctly deduced that this incident would be of interest to me. I have family and friends in Michigan, some in the Battle Creek area, just miles east of Kalamazoo. Later that morning, I learned that one of my friends had been killed in the incident.

Uber was criticized for the incident. Lawmakers across the country called for tougher background checks on Uber drivers. It was a PR nightmare for the company. Ultimately, it was the driver who was charged. Earlier this year, the driver pled guilty to all counts against him and was sentenced to life in prison. Uber continued operating, although then-Governor Rick Snyder did sign legislation that increased regulations for the ride-sharing industry.

I say this out of disclosure. This Uber tragedy affected me in a way that may cloud my opinion. I believe that Uber should be regulated more than it is. But recent events have made me question why society supports Uber and what I believe is a toxic culture.

How does Uber keep managing their corporate profile?

Uber seems to weather their PR crises fairly well. They’ve been criticized for inadequate background checks. Sexual harassment allegations at corporate headquarters shook up the management team. Uber has suffered data breaches. In 2018, the organization settled with the FTC for $148 million. Still, the company enjoys a market share of transportation services.

In 2018, Dara Khosrowshahi, former CEO of Expedia took over at Uber as its new CEO, replacing the CEO and founder Travis Kalanick. It was reported that Kalanick “led the company astray” from its moral center. Khosrowshahi said at the time, “In the end, the CEO of the company has to take responsibility.”

Just days ago, during an interview, Khosrowshahi said that “the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi was a ‘mistake.’” It was a political murder. Khosrowshahi compared the assassination to a self-driving accident with an Uber vehicle that killed a pedestrian. It didn’t take long for Khosrowshahi to issue a retraction, saying that he “said something in the moment (he doesn’t) believe.”

Is Uber’s culture toxic?

Khosrowshahi says that his comment shouldn’t mark him as a person. He thinks that what he said was a “learning moment.” When a CEO misspeaks in an interview that isn’t just local, but international, maybe we should pay attention. According to him, murder isn’t a big deal. I wonder if he would say that if it was his father who died, or his friend who was killed by a driver.

When my friend died in the Kalamazoo shooting, I had to seriously think about how I viewed Uber. My friend wasn’t even using Uber at the time. She was getting into her own car at a local restaurant with some friends of hers. I recognize that Uber wasn’t responsible for the driver going on a shooting spree, but I have to wonder if it was Uber’s culture that led to a lack of response at the time.

Uber’s new CEO seems removed from how its services affect individuals and communities as its previous CEO did. When a company thinks that murder is a “mistake,” maybe it’s time to rethink about supporting a service that doesn’t seem to think about people, its employees, its drivers and its riders.

It may be more convenient than a cab, but it’s time to look at Uber’s real impact on society. I hear Uber saying that innocent deaths are just the cost of business. Is that the basis for a billion-dollar corporation?

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Opinion Editorials

Funny females are less likely to be promoted

(CAREER) Science says that the funnier a female, the less likely she is to be promoted. Uhh…

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funny females promoted less often

Faceless keyboard warriors around the world have been — incorrectly — lamenting that women just aren’t funny for years now (remember the “Ghostbusters” remake backlash?).The good news is they are obviously wrong. The bad news? When women dare to reveal their comedic side in the workplace they are often perceived as “disruptive” while men are rewarded.

That’s right. Women not only have to worry about being constantly interrupted, receiving raises less frequently than men despite asking for them equally as often, and still making nearly $10,000 less than men each year, but now they have to worry about being too funny at the office.

A recent University of Arizona study asked more than 300 people to read the fictional resume of a clothing store manager with the gender-neutral name “Sam” and watch a video presentation featuring Sam. The videos came in four versions: a serious male speaker, a humorous male speaker, a serious female speaker and a humorous female speaker.

According to the researchers, “humorous males are ascribed higher status compared with nonhumorous males, while humorous females are ascribed lower status compared with nonhumorous females.” Translation: Male workers earn respect for being funny while their funny female coworkers are often seen in a more negative light.

There are, of course, several reasons this could be the case. The researchers behind this particular study pointed to the stereotype that women are more dedicated to their families than their work, and being perceived as humorous could convey the sense they don’t take their work as seriously as men.

Psychiatrist Prudy Gourguechon offered another take, putting the blame directly on Sam the clothing store manager, calling out their seemingly narcissistic behavior and how society’s tolerance for such behavior is “distinctly gender-based.” She says these biases go back to the social programming of our childhoods and the roles mothers and fathers tend to play in our upbringing.

So what are women supposed to do with this information?

Gourgechon’s status quo advice includes telling women to not stop being funny, but “to be aware of the the feelings and subjectivities of the people around you.” While recommending an empathetic stance isn’t necessarily bad advice, it still puts the onus on women to change their behavior, worry about what everyone else thinks and attempt to please everyone around them.

We already know that professional women can have an extremely hard time remaining true to themselves in the workplace — especially women in the tech industry — and authenticity is often a privilege saved for those who conform to the accepted culture. We obviously still have a long way to go before women stop being “punished” for being funny at work, but things seem to be progressing, however slowly.

Former First Lady Michelle Obama shared her thoughts last year on the improvements that have been made and the changes that still need to happen, including encouraging men to step up and do their part. In the wake of the #metoo movement, CNBC recommended five things men can do to support women at work. There are amazing women in STEM positions around the world we can all admire and shine a spotlight on.

All of these steps — both big and small — will continue to chip away at the gender inequality that permeates today’s workplaces. And perhaps one day in the near future, female clothing store manager Sam will be allowed to be just as funny as male clothing store manager Sam.

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