How Facebook uses art to improve employee well-being

At SXSW, the Facebook Art Dept. made its public debut with artists working on a massive scale public mural that has AR features when viewed through a mobile app.

How Facebook uses art to improve employee well-being

At SXSW 2019, TechRepublic Senior Writer Teena Maddox spoke with Facebook Art Department's Jessica Schaefer about how the Facebook Art Dept. made its public debut with artists working on a massive scale public mural that has AR features when viewed through a mobile app. The following is an edited transcript of the interview.

Teena Maddox: Tell me what Facebook Art Department is doing here at SXSW in this mural.

Jessica Schaefer: The Facebook Art Department consists of our Artists in Residence Program and our Analog Research Laboratory. Our Artists in Residence Program has been going on for about seven years. We invite artists all over the world into our offices to do massive site-specific art installations. Our Analog Research Lab is our in-house print and maker shop, which is also in Facebook offices globally, and offers different kinds of participatory art workshops.

So here at SXSW is our first big presence publicly being able to bring both of these programs out and share them with the general public. We have multiple artists here working on this massive scale public mural and we also have an exhibition of prints indoors that have been made by a bunch of artists and designers in residence who come through our program over the years, so we're able to show their print work here as well.

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Teena Maddox: When did work begin on this particular mural?

Jessica Schaefer: This mural was started about 48 hours ago, and they're finishing up at the end of today. They've been painting for three days straight. The process leading up to that was very collaborative. As I mentioned, it's 15 artists who are associated with the HOPE Campaign, which is a local nonprofit, and also some of past Austin based artists in residence.

So they came together and started thinking about themes around art and empathy and how art brings people together and connects people. So they have worked together tirelessly with a couple of local youth groups as well on this incredible 2,200 square foot mural that will stay up for six months to a year as a gift to the local community.

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Teena Maddox: And tell me about the AR component of this.

Jessica Schaefer: Yeah. We're really excited to kind of bring the analog and the digital together kind of for the first time. So we're working with an internal augmented reality, or AR team, and they've worked with the artists here to create a program whereby people can interact with the mural even more deeply through their phone, through your camera app, and you'll see the mural become animated and different elements of it come out, so it will be this extra layer of being able to experience the art.

Teena Maddox: Tell me how Facebook uses art to improve the well-being of its employees.

Jessica Schaefer: Well the Analog Research Lab really came about because two designers at Facebook about nine years ago felt like they were spending way too much time in front of their screens and they really missed getting their hands dirty and making things, so they kind of very organically created this screen printing workshop, and from then it's just become refined and really spread globally.

The idea behind it is just, you know, we're a top company. Everyone spends so much time in front of their devices, and so to be able to have some time and space to step away from that and kind of engage their creativity or creative mind, physicality with pooling friends who are actually making art, is really important.

We find that it really enables people to become more productive, to kind of cross-pollinate ideas across departments, whether you're an engineer or you're in marketing or anything else. It brings a lot of different people together in a space where they might not otherwise interact, so it's been a really incredible program.

We have a lot of people around the world now who very regularly come to these classes and we're super excited to be able to bring that program outside of Facebook's walls and be able to offer it to the general public and youth groups and schools, et cetera. So it's a really great new initiative for us.

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