[OFFSET Dublin] Facebook AIR Creative Director Drew Bennett
In our final pre-OFFSET Dublin interview, we talk to Drew Bennett, global Director of the Facebook Artist in Residence Program (AIR) who will be gracing the main stage at OFFSET Dublin this week.
Starting out at Facebook’s headquarters in Menlo Park in 2012, the Facebook artist in residency programme offered local, early career artists the opportunity to make new, site-specific work in a trusted and unrestricted, corporate environment.
Facebook’s open-ended residency model has since become a globally scaled art commissioning program. It seeks out artists, with an authentic presence in the community, to make new work in Facebook offices all around the world.
Describe your path to becoming an artist. How did you get to where you are now?
The usual “good at drawing” stuff happened when I was young. By the time I got to college I had a growing curiosity with how artists and their work functioned in society. Moving to the Bay Area after school I navigated the art scene, interested in how and where art and community intersected. This experience as a young artist in the Bay led me to believe that the commodification of rarified objects does not necessarily serve my ideal reality of most artists making the most creative and innovative work possible. This preoccupation with supporting artist communities is a common thread within my artist community.
Aside from our own visual work, most of us put on events, curate shows, publish collections of other artists’ work. My own interests led me to propose, design and implement an Artist-in-Residence program for Facebook (with Ben Barry and Everett Katigbak) in 2012. Years after I was first commissioned as an artist by Facebook.
Our program promotes both fearlessness and vulnerability in the form of experimentation, and it’s inspiring and rewarding to see where the artists go next.
What is the most rewarding and creative aspect of your role at Facebook AIR?
Creativity is key in every aspect of work and life. That’s what we’re here to demonstrate. The reward is watching artists push their practice into new territory. We have the privilege of asking artists questions. “What is at the tip of your attention? “What can you do here that you haven’t done before?” We then find ways to support those big visions. There are countless anecdotes about artists who’ve been able to better sustain or expand their practices after spending time with us. Our program promotes both fearlessness and vulnerability in the form of experimentation. It’s inspiring and rewarding to see where the artists go next.
My days include holding a vision and maintain a space for artists to be supported at Facebook to authentically push themselves and never pander to the audience or company at an ever-increasing global scale. This plays out in a constant project and program development churn. Meetings with our regional curators, artists, architects, and internal stakeholders. I travel to all of our global regions to oversee the art program happenings, so every day is a new set of waves. Outside of the long days on the job I try to squeeze in some time for family, some time with my own studio practice, trail runs, and checking in on my bar, restaurant, venue side biz in Oakland.
Commissioning visual artists has been described as a way to extend and underscore Facebook’s ‘hacker philosophy and builder culture’. In your opinion which artists have been most successful in demonstrating / expressing the company’s core values?
We are working with artists around the world who, by creating unyielding, authentic, site-specific work are upholding a number of Facebook values every time.
Every artist we work with brings at least a few model values to Facebook, either in vision, practice, and or the narrative of their final project. At headquarters Sofie Ramos, Jay Nelson, Alicia McCarthy, Barbara Holmes, David Wilson, and Kristin Farr (who expressed the company’s core values so hard, we had to keep her as a curator). But we are working with artists around the world who, by creating unyielding, authentic, site-specific work are upholding a number of Facebook values every time.
How do you select artists for the programme?
I work with a crack team of highly experienced artists, producers and curators who participate in the art world themselves. It’s their work beyond FB, which qualifies them to scout for artists who align with our program’s mission. This team is how we’ve been able to take this program to a global level. There are countless criteria used when finding artists to collaborate with. A lot of it comes naturally to us, in our own unique ways as individuals. But our history of programming has emphasised the handmade, the laborious, the dazzling, and the positive.
What has been perhaps the most surprising visual outcome from Facebook AIR? Have there been any moments that have truly blown you away?
Creating a rooftop park with multiple outdoor installations and producing massive murals seen through our windows from the expressway are solid highlights. But the times I look forward to most are when we feel simultaneously scared and thrilled about what’s going down with the art installations on site at any given moment. We are here to challenge ourselves and our audience.
Barry McGee has said that your idea of interjecting art into the work place seemed like a very ‘free, expansive and dynamic move’. More so given that much of the art commissioned by AIR is site specific. Did you feel that it was important for Facebook AIR to break new ground?
Barry’s a legend and a great example of how artists at any point in their career can make their best work when trusted to push their practice, as he did with us. Our projects are site-specific, which is unique in the world of office art. We’re not building a corporate collection for material investment’s sake. We invest in our local artists as people because they are integral to a healthy community. Part of investing in artists means giving them the opportunity to experiment in new spaces and letting growth happen, leaving ideas open-ended to find out what can manifest when limitations are lifted.
Our artworks aren’t overly precious or commodified, they’re the result of a properly supported creative process.
Art doesn’t just decorate Facebook’s offices; it serves as an active visual expression of the company’s values.
“Art doesn’t just decorate Facebook’s offices. It serves as an active visual expression of the company’s values.” This is a statement of your own, and it’s interesting to read that the artists you work with span a diverse range of disciplines. Everything from sculpture to textiles, video art and conceptual art.Why is this cross over between visual languages so important to you?
Yes, there are countless ways to communicate visually and we want to see them all, from all perspectives. The program can present the office spaces as a metaphor for the world. Different visual languages in dialog with each other, sometimes in a challenging way, sometimes sympathetic, but always synergetic. Or at least expressing a oneness or whole amongst great diversity.
We’ve explored material challenges and approaches to art in our spaces alongside the company’s experiments with raw and rugged architecture. Art can be made of anything, and as we educate our audience about art, we must also represent the breadth and depth of the art of our time. One of contemporary art’s key ingredients is that no material is off limits. Most artists aren’t pigeonholed into one medium. They’re flexible, finding the right medium for their message.
How did the idea for Analog Lab come about? How has side project complimented and shaped your work at Facebook AIR?
Sometime around 2008, Ben Barry and Everett Katigbak joined FB. Ben had come from a design studio in Austin where they designed posters for bands. Everett had a letterpress background. After a few months of working at a tech company, they got tired of being in front of a computer all day. So they started buying the materials he needed to build a silkscreen set up. They found some space in a corner of a warehouse at FB, and began making these “Red Type” posters.
When Ben first put them up, there was an initial negative reaction. Because there was such a sense of ownership of the space. Just putting something up on the wall randomly wasn’t the way things usually happened. However, the messaging resonated with the group so strongly that they were soon won over by it! The practice of printing at FB was set in motion in the form of the Analog Research Lab. The Lab was the catalyst for handmade creativity within the company, Ben and Everett are cofounders of the FB AIR program.
Finally, you’ve done a lot in your life and career so far, but what’s next? What do you see or want for 2018 and beyond, both personally and professionally?
I’ll certainly continue helping to support and expand other artists’ professional growth and pools of opportunity. This will obviously be alongside developing and growing my own practice as an artist, designer, and builder.
OFFSET Dublin returns this week, 24th March – 27th March at Bord Gais Energy Theatre. 3 stages. 3 days, 100+ speakers. For tickets visit iloveoffset.com.