TECH + ART
By Lindsay Barrick
Nowadays, our eyes and ears are flooded with stories detailing the proliferation of technology companies in the Bay Area, and sometimes these success stories also reveal the displacement of residents, organizations, and creatives. A unique storyline as of late highlights tech companies that specifically reach out to San Francisco artists to collaborate and innovate together. The experiences of SF Open Studios Artists Johnny Botts, John Kraft, and Fabiola Addamo highlight the possibilities of these partnerships and reveal the incredible potential for the individual artist, the company itself, and our community at large.
Lissette Fernandez from Facebook’s Sales and Marketing group first admired the artwork of San Francisco artist Johnny Botts at an art auction. When her company moved into a new building with plenty of blank walls, she saw an opportunity to collaborate with a local artist while invigorating her coworkers and their workspace. While this was Botts’ first shot at a mural of this magnitude, he jumped at the opportunity to partner with the tech giant: “I painted my cast of robot characters, rockets, ray guns, and flying saucers in the two story building lobby, hallways, crosswalks, stairways, and a kitchen area. I learned how to use a scissor lift along the way!”
When asked to facilitate an interactive community mural project with the participation of Facebook’s employees during a “mini-hack” party, Botts specifically outlined a scene depicting how Facebook connects people. ”Initially many of [the employees] were hesitant, saying they were not creative, and that they didn’t trust themselves with paintbrushes. Because I feel that the people are more important than the product and I wanted them to remember a good experience, I encouraged them to try painting anyway, and if they ‘messed up,’ it didn’t matter. By the end of the night, more and more employees were emboldened to customize the main mural to suit them, and some went on to express themselves on additional walls.” This project engaged and empowered employees to shape their own work environment while exercising those creative muscles too often neglected during the daily grind.
Since then, Botts has gone on to install several pieces within the company’s campus. He calls his experience “fantastic–all positive.” He says, “Working with Facebook gave me visibility and credibility as a serious working artist. Not long after, I received additional commission work, and began another great opportunity selling my original work through Costco.” Partnering with a tech company encouraged him to step outside of his comfort zone and connect with new constituents, which launched his artistic career even further.
San Francisco artist John Kraft can also attest to the benefits of working in conjunction with tech companies. Kraft, whom Apple selected as a Featured Artist and whose artworks were displayed at Intel’s worldwide headquarters in 2008 and 2014, saw these collaborations strengthen his artistic brand. Kraft believes that “beyond selling art and building a collector base, a fundamental motivator for all artists is the desire to have one’s work seen. This desire to share is an implicit part of creating artwork.” Kraft adds “it’s gratifying to think of the number of people at Intel that see my art on a daily basis, whether or not they ever decide to collect my work.”
Kraft has built upon the exposure from his exhibitions at Intel by leveraging social media to share his artwork with an even broader audience. “The show at Intel provided a chance to associate my brand with Intel’s,” Kraft noted. “This association is particularly helpful for an artist like myself, as I sell much of my work online to people across the country and outside of the United States. Building one’s brand and credibility helps both online and ‘brick-and-mortar’ collectors feel more comfortable and confident about their purchase.” Kraft can even attribute a recent purchase by a new collector to a single Facebook post about the show at Intel. “The internet,” says Kraft, “is a great advocate and vehicle for a new generation of artists.”
Collaborations with an artist can serve as a pathway for a tech company to understand and connect with its surrounding community. In addition to showing her own artwork in offices that house tech companies, San Francisco artist Fabiola Addamo spearheaded the art program at IMVU: “My business model is quite unique: I place art in tech companies on a rotating basis and feature various local artists. This is the idea: the Bay Area is a metaphor for the human brain. The left side is the wealthy tech community, and the right side is the artsy community. My service can act as bridge to reconnect this unique Silicon Valley brain.”
Addamo’s art residencies with IMVU, Adobe, and StumbleUpon have yielded more than just added exposure and growth for her personal artistic endeavors; Addamo’s collaborations have resulted in social change. Addamo’s tech company exhibitions partner with nonprofits and a percentage of the art sales go to a good cause (Global Women’s Leadership Network and Open A Door Foundation to name a few). This partnership with tech companies links communication between local artists, tech companies, and the greater good. Addamo believes that by connecting with local artists, tech companies can build a distinct culture and strengthen their overall values, as well as enhance creative thinking and empathy among employees.
As the economic climate and architectural landscape of the Bay Area shifts and evolves, it is heartening to see these tech companies reach out and connect with local artists. One can only hope that these opportunities increase exponentially as the tech boom continues to expand. Botts sees tech companies supporting artists in myriad ways: “commissioning local artists to create work for their spaces; hosting art shows in their offices; sponsoring artists whose work supports their business mission; and creating residencies so their employees can meet and interact with artists.“ Kraft concurs that “the amount of wall space across Silicon Valley campuses is astounding, and it’s a great opportunity to infuse these spaces with locally-created art. Tech companies can leverage their internal and external communication vehicles to amplify the exposure associated with these rotating exhibits.”
As for artists looking to break into the tech exhibition world, Kraft offers this advice: “If you have a friend that works at a high-tech firm, ask about programs they might already have in place to allow for an exhibit of your work, or offer your help in establishing such a program. This is a win for you as an artist and also makes the involved employee a more engaged and valued member of his or her company. And of course, encourage friends at high-tech companies to bring their colleagues to art openings and SF Open Studios!”