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Art and Technology Fuel Activism: Our Partnership with Impact Hub Oakland

It’s hard to ignore the economic and social divide in the Bay Area. We’re in a huge housing crisis, we have massive economic inequality, and no shortage of startups pledging to save the world (unless you’re low-income). Yet, these concerns have also sparked a wealth of activism, allowing for technologists in San Francisco to be at the intersection of technological innovation and political reform.

Thoughtworks San Francisco has taken this opportunity particularly to heart. We care about our community, and we want to explore ways of empowering the voices of San Francisco. As we were gearing up for an office move several months ago, we knew that creating a new office was the perfect chance to get Thoughtworkers more involved in the community at large. But how?
Quite serendipitously, we were introduced to a co-working space whose mission was synergistically aligned with our own: Impact Hub Oakland. A co-working space at the heart of downtown Oakland, their members are fusing tech activism with technologies that better the greater Oakland community. We saw it for ourselves when we visited Impact Hub Oakland: it was quite literally a hub -- a hive mind -- of collaboration, creativity, and community organizing.
While designing our space, we consistently kept the community in mind. How ​would we bring value to our Thoughtworks community? How ​would we engage with our greater Bay Area community?
Early on, we ​saw that an important component was bringing in local Bay Area artists. We knew that they had a lot to say about their home, and we wanted to display that commentary. Our final design included a rotating gallery in all communal areas with the intent to open our doors to our ​neighborhood.

Art at communal dining table, Thoughtworks San Francisco, Photo by Chris Gaines

During the final weeks of construction, Ashara Ekundayo, Impact Hub Oakland’s Chief Creative Officer and founder, came to visit the new office while it was still a mess of a construction zone. Within minutes of seeing the space and brainstorming, our partnership began. OMI Gallery, Impact Hub Oakland’s art gallery, would open a sister location in the Thoughtworks San Francisco office. We​ spent several afternoons chatting,​ teasing​ out the vision​​, and realized we want​ed​ to take risks—and be bold.

Our vision with OMI Gallery is to provide a safe space to have conversations that people are nervous about having elsewhere. Each ​quarterly ​exhibit features a local Bay Area artist and relevant social justice themes on issues we face locally, nationally, and/or globally. We are holding art receptions, artist talks, and other events related to that particular gallery theme. Our P3 (social and economic justice) working group is also working with Impact Hub Oakland to mobilize passionate people and show them ways in which they can make a difference.
This is more than just getting artwork on the walls. We’re bridging two powerful communities together to help drive positive social change in the Bay.
Our first exhibit ​features works by Mark Harris titled “State of Denial” around topics of surveillance, gentrification, and police violence. The San Francisco office hosted both an art reception and an artist talk, where guests came not only to appreciate Mark’s incredible artwork, but also discuss what’s really happening in our Bay Area. Some topics we covered were: What does diversity really mean to a technology company? How has social media affected the way we get involved in politics? What can we do to support public school students who are living in the wealthiest city in the US, yet study in schools that don’t have the money for basic materials?

We will continue asking questions -- big, important questions. We need to be having these conversations in order to build a better Bay Area. It is only through more empathy that we can achieve more positive actions.

Regardless of whether ​you are a designer, marketer, activist, or developer, we are all on a journey to create. ​Without a doubt, there is so much the tech community, artists, and activists can learn from each other - why not bridge these groups together through the intersection of art, activism, and technology?

Together, we can make a real impact.

Disclaimer: The statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Thoughtworks.

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