Thursday, January 24, 2019

Public Forum: The Future of Work

In conjunction with the exhibition titled Currency: What do you value?, 516 ARTS presented a public forum on January 10 at 516 ARTS examining the future of work. Moderated by Shelle Sanchez (Director of Cultural Services, City of Albuquerque), the panelists were: locals Sarita Nair (CAO, City of Albuquerque), Solve Maxwell (blockchain entrepreneur and musician), and guests from Austin, Texas Steven Tomlinson (chaplain, seminarian and business mentor/coach) and Eugene Sepulveda (Capital Factory, Culturati, advisor to mayor of Austin). The packed audience included a mix of artists, the general public, people from the City’s Cultural Services and Economic Development Departments, and business and technology organizations that 516 ARTS invited including The BIoScience Center, CNM’s Deep Dive Coding, Cultivating Coders, FatPipeABQ, Impact & Coffee, New Mexico Technology Council and TEDxABQ, among others. The air was buzzing with all of these folks in the room together!

What big shifts do we see coming in how, where and why we work? Steven emphasized that automation and globalization are almost certainly going to continue, causing mass upheavals in employment and re-definition of work. If there is a guaranteed livable wage what will we do? Evidence points to very socially productive activity…spontaneous re-deployment, collaboration and engagement. The increased value of tech-enabled “high leverage artistic talent” presents opportunities for creative people to impact and express ideas on a larger scale, to create those things that only humans (as opposed to A.I.) can create. These changes present an opportunity to pursue meaningful work instead of just money.

Solve pointed out that this is a time to erase borders and collaborate globally, and that innovations like blockchain can provide intellectual property royalties to every contributor to a project, without clumsy and expensive contracts and middlemen. Artists are involved in constructing and communicating new realities in virtual settings.

Panelists Solve Maxwell & Steven Tomlinson
Within the emerging workplace, Eugene emphasized the value of putting the right people together in teams, and evidence was showing that successful innovation requires artists who see things in new ways. Stephen pointed out the challenge to artists in letting go of the anguish of personal expression when participating in the workplace, and instead channeling their prophetic vision in service to others. He highlighted the work of Allison Orr (Trash Dance) and her emphasis on the choreography of labor.

Sarita questioned the inevitability of these larger changes, and worried that the economic transformations suggested by the other panelists were yet another hurdle for those people (especially in New Mexico) left behind or disadvantaged by previous transformations (such as industrialization and white collar professionalization). Artisan and manual labor still play a role locally and could be emphasized in the future.

Sarita Nair
Are those with wealth/mobility the only ones who can afford and benefit from risk? Eugene concurred that there is reason for caution based on past inequities, but good reason for seeing abundance of opportunity in the current direction. Concern about risk may make us miss opportunities, especially since smart corporations are now valuing and mandating diversity and civic engagement at all levels. On the micro scale, Sarita wanted to see women and communities of color control and own their own production, and sees the City of Albuquerque’s role in providing tools to help these start-ups engage.

There was discussion of the need for bold experimentation and constant testing of innovative ideas by cities and civic institutions, and of the role of artists in developing those ideas and providing visions of change. Power and money are seen as only magnifying existing structures, while art, community dialogue, and personal contact are seen as the engines that connect us to our humanity and to a sustainable future. At the same time, Eugene pointed out that the workplace may be one of the last truly integrated places in our lives, where we intersect with individuals form other political, ethnic, gender, and religious groups, and emphasized the need to program civic, cultural and arts dialogue into the work environment.

Overall, panelists agreed that within the context of technological and workplace upheaval, definitions of success are being questioned. New emphasis is on community, connection, and the pleasure of shared experiences, with money seen as a tool to achieve these ends rather than an end in itself.

Panelists’ Suggestions:

Essential Reading:

Sarita: Secret Skin Podcast by Open Mike Eagle
Solve: Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts, Off the Chain Podcast
Eugene: Kara Swisher, Box Podcast
Steven: The Wealth of Humans by Ryan Avent

Favorite Economist:

Sarita: Amartya Sen
Solve: John Mason Clark
Eugene: Paul Krugman
Steven: Amartya Sen, Kenneth Boulding, Thomas Picketty

Favorite Artist:

Sarita: Wendell Berry, Prince, Barclay Hendricks
Solve: Thomas Christopher Haag
Eugene: Julie Speed
Steven: Wendell Berry

Currency: What do you value? is on view through February 23, 2019 at 516 ARTS
516 Central Ave. SW, Albuquerque, New Mexico    open Tue – Sat, 12-5pm
Instagram: @516_arts
Facebook: 516artsABQ

Video courtesy of Melinda Frame/Frame + Work


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