AI is generating a lot of buzz in the marketing sphere—but is it really worth the hype? In this episode we pull back the curtain on AI, explore its strengths and limitations, and consider how it can help arts marketers meet their goals more efficiently.
IN THIS EPISODEErik and Adam discuss arts entrepreneurship, advances in AI and robotics, and organizational diversity and inclusion.
Erik Gensler: If you’re enjoying CI to Eye, please share it with a colleague. I also invite you to please rate and comment on iTunes, which helps us get discovered. We love hearing from you on Twitter, Facebook, or the contact form on the Capacity Interactive website. Please don’t be shy and thank you so much for listening. Welcome to CI to Eye. I’m Erik Gensler. I’m an entrepreneur, an arts marketer, and on a lifelong quest to learn and grow personally and professionally. In this podcast, I interview leaders and thinkers inside and outside of arts marketing to understand how we can grow to be the best we can be. My goal: to see eye to eye. I sat down with Adam Huttler, founder and CEO of Fractured Atlas, an organization that provides artists and cultural groups with business services including fundraising and ticket sales. Adam and I spoke during his non sabbatical where he is creating the Exponential Creativity Fund, a venture capital fund that makes early investments in entrepreneurs who are using exponential technologies to empower or enhance human creativity.
Adam Huttler: There’s a lot of business as usual in the arts and a lot of received wisdom. And so I think anybody who’s staking out new ideas, new territory is something to be celebrated. Well, even if they fail, frankly, maybe especially if they fail, but if you’re never failing, that’s a pretty good indication that you’re not taking any risks. If you’re batting a thousand something’s wrong.
Erik Gensler: We talked about many topics, including entrepreneurship in the arts, advances in artificial intelligence and robotics that may just blow your mind and discuss the sensitive topic of diversity and inclusion in the arts. Adam, thank you so much for being here.
Adam Huttler: Thanks for having me. Great.
Erik Gensler: I saw you were named a Crane’s New York business 40 under 40 last year. That’s amazing. Congratulations.
Adam Huttler: Thank you very much. I’m pretty confident. I was the oldest of the 40. I was like 39 and nine months old, so I mean, I guess it’s still a good thing.
Erik Gensler: You slid right in there, so it took you that long to achieve those things, so it’s amazing, I guess. So…
Adam Huttler: Thank you.
Erik Gensler: So you’re the founder and CEO of Fractured Alice, can you tell me and the folks listening, what is Fractured Atlas?
Adam Huttler: So Fractured Atlas is a nonprofit technology company that helps artists arts organizations with all the kind of business aspects of their work. So we help artists raise money, sell tickets, track their fans and supporters, find and manage space, get insurance, help international artists get visas to work in the us really everything but the art itself. We provide that sort of back office infrastructure that allows them to focus on their creative work.
Erik Gensler: And when do organizations or individual artists, do you see a lot of people once they reach a critical mass or a certain size transition off to away from the fiscal sponsorship and doing it on their own? What does that look like?
Adam Huttler: You’re referencing probably our flagship program or fiscal sponsorship program where we function as a kind of nonprofit umbrella, if you will, to around 4,000 very small arts organizations and we’ve raised over the years, over 120 million to support their work. It’s a question we get asked a lot, do they graduate from our program to their own 5 0 1 c three status? I would say in general, our belief is that 5 0 1 c three status is overrated. There are many, many 5 0 1 C three corporations out there that there’s just no reason for them to take on that burden and that overhead and those costs and that complexity for what it is that they’re trying to do. And in many cases, it closes doors for artists who want to operate fluidly between the nonprofit and commercial realms.
Our fee is like 7%, so it’s pretty tiny, pretty manageable. That’s inclusive of things like credit card processing, soup to nuts, running your own 5 0 1 C three is almost always going to be more expensive and more of a hassle and a distraction and all the rest. So there are certainly times when it does make sense if you’ve got access to certain major sources of funding that aren’t going to work with the fiscal sponsor for some reason. So there are exceptions, but in general we believe in the model or we wouldn’t be doing it in the first place. And so we find it works for a lot of people indefinitely.
Erik Gensler: Alright, great. Why did you start the company?
Adam Huttler: It was sort of an organic evolution, to be honest. I studied theater as an undergrad. I actually founded Fractured Alice the summer between my junior and senior year of college, and it started out as basically a theater company for producing my own work as a director. I mean, that was the idea. So many of our members today that lasted for approximately one show. Very quickly realized that I had more to offer on the business end of things, and it just evolved. It evolved from producing my own work to producing other people’s work and a kind of curatorial relationship to more of a service relationship with a handpicked roster of artists who we were working with again and again and again. We were founded in 1997. It was 2002 when we really sort of swung the doors open and just said, you know what? We’ve become a service organization at this point. Let’s just call it that and say that we’re open for business. It’s continued to evolve since then into today. We really think of ourselves as a technology developer, as a technology company more than anything else.
Erik Gensler: What do those technologies look like?
Adam Huttler: Yeah, so it’s mostly, I mean it’s SaaS platforms, so software as a service, web-based software applications for our membership that help do all of those things we talked about before.
Erik Gensler: Cool. You started the company as a not-for-profit rather than a for-profit business. I’m curious why you chose that structure.
Adam Huttler: I wish I could point to some clever or thoughtful reason, but the truth is it was just reflexive the same kind of not very well thought out, just kind, oh, this is how you do it if you’re going to do this thing, my father is a lawyer and I’ve got access to more pro bono legal support than I know what to do with. So it was easy and inexpensive for me to set one up. As it turns out, it’s worked well for us of course, because it allows us to operate that fiscal sponsorship program, which has been a good thing for us and for the field, but it was kind of an accident at the time.
Erik Gensler: Is not-for-profit just the tax status or is it a way of doing business?
Adam Huttler: That’s a great question. I think people think of it as a way of doing business. It certainly doesn’t have to be, I think are honestly, there are relatively few businesses in my experience that are truly purely motivated by maximizing profits. That’s what you learn in business school is that everybody goes to, and probably there are some horrible businesses out there that you wouldn’t want to work for that truly just exist to maximize profit. But most people though, start businesses. Most entrepreneurs start businesses because they have an idea they want to change the world. Yes, they want to make money while they’re doing it, but that’s frankly secondary as a motivation. So I don’t think the differences are, I think some of that tension is a little overblown unhealthy, and that to the extent that Mission-driven businesses can adopt for-profit capitalist ideas and find ways to harness that, the things that capitalism is really good at, which is there are many that’s going to be a good thing. And by the same token, I think we’re seeing more and more, I think more and more for-profit corporations are realizing that it can be quite good for business to not be dicks.
Erik Gensler: Right? We’re in an interesting moment where we’re seeing, I think, convergence particularly on that second point of more businesses.
Adam Huttler: Absolutely. Yeah, and that’s a really good thing actually. I mean, this whole idea of profit maximizing corporation is a relatively modern phenomenon, at least as I understand it. I’m not an economic historian or anything, but it’s kind of a post Milton Friedman concept, and so I don’t think it even works, even just from the standpoint of maximizing profits, frankly.
Erik Gensler: You have people involved.
Adam Huttler: Exactly right, and people are irrational and emotional and aesthetically driven creatures. We we’re not homo Economicus. Right.
Erik Gensler: Tell me about the Arts Entrepreneurship Awards. What are they and what motivates you to start that?
Adam Huttler: Sure. So we’ve always actually, this has always kind of been associated with entrepreneurship in the nonprofit arts world, in part because I think we had an entrepreneurial start and we have an entrepreneurial culture and we kind of continue to build new things and stake out new territories and try to tackle new problems. So we’d always, our institutional identity had always, I think been publicly and privately associated with ideas around entrepreneurship, but for many, many years we did nothing to recognize entrepreneurship publicly in others in the rest of the field. And so it occurred to us what this really is a way that we can provide some value to the field by kind of encouraging dialogue about this. Even just forcing ourselves to publicly put out there a definition of entrepreneurship. What is it that we mean by arts entrepreneurship was surprisingly difficult to come to a real consensus on what it is that we were even talking about. And so that to me was a strong indication that there was a need for more dialogue about that subject. And since then it’s been just a great opportunity to learn about people doing amazing work and just all over the country, and it’s been a lot of fun.
Erik Gensler: What is arts entrepreneurship?
Adam Huttler: So we do take a slightly broader view of entrepreneurship than probably a typical business school professor would. From my perspective, entrepreneurship is about marshaling resources and taking on some risk in the pursuit of solving some problem or exploiting some opportunity. And usually people think of that in purely economic terms, and that certainly is probably what a lot of entrepreneurship is, or at least primarily economic terms. So when we talk about arts entrepreneurship though, we’re talking about that, but we’re basically just about anybody who is figuring out new ways of addressing thorny old problems because I think there’s a lot of business as usual in the arts and a lot of received wisdom. And so I think anybody who’s staking out new ideas, new territory is something to be celebrated. Well, even if they fail, frankly, maybe especially if they fail, right?
Erik Gensler: Absolutely. We’re so scared of failure.
Adam Huttler: We really are. And it’s not healthy. I mean, I think you can talk about the root causes of that. I think in the nonprofit sector, the coal culture of philanthropy around the idea of failure is really messed up and been a little perverse in my view. So yeah, I’m all for embracing that. It doesn’t mean you tank something on purpose, but if you’re never failing, that’s a pretty good indication that you’re not taking any risks. If you’re batting a thousand, something’s wrong.
Erik Gensler: We just don’t have a culture that the culture doesn’t like to talk about failure. There’s always someone, when we do our conference wrap up, I think I’ve said this once on the podcast before, but there’s always someone that says, why don’t you do a session on all these people, come up here and talk about all the great things they’re doing. Why don’t you do a session on something that that’s screwed up? And I’m motivated to do that at some point. Maybe we can push this dialogue.
Adam Huttler: That would be great. Put me on a panel, talk about all the things I’ve screwed up over the years. There are many.
Erik Gensler: I mean, I do it every day, and that’s what I’m always trying to say to myself and my team. It’s like, it’s not about being perfect. It’s about learning from your mistakes and recognizing that we’re all flawed human beings and the good part is what you learn from those mistakes.
Adam Huttler: Yeah, absolutely. And I might even go a step further and say, in my experience, people who are able to look at the role that they’ve played in their own failures rather than sort of focusing externally, but people who have that internal locus of control with respect to their own failures, maybe they seem like they’re beating themselves up or whatever, but that’s the only way you can grow in life. You can’t change what other people do. You can’t change the environment. All you can influence is your own behavior, your own choices. And so failure is one of the great opportunities for learning, especially if you look very honestly and deliberately at your own role in it.
Erik Gensler: And I feel like that’s what personal growth as you get older is. It’s like you’ve made enough mistakes and it’s what are you doing with those mistakes? And it’s like you run into the glass once and then you don’t run in the glass the next time, but then maybe you trip over something or you burn your hand. And then each time, those are very basic things and that gets more advanced over time and terms of you with how you deal with people and recognizing patterns and recognizing, I mean it, it’s eliminating blind spots the older you get. I think if you’re evolving and growing as a human, you’re becoming more aware of your blind spots at least.
Adam Huttler: Yeah, I mean I think that’s a good way of putting it. I mean, hopefully you are right. I think a lot of people go their whole lives living in a state of intellectual dishonesty.
Erik Gensler: I see it all the time, and it’s like, not that I’m certainly perfect by any means, but I’ve been trying to work for so long and trying to understand where I’m stuck and unstuck, unstick myself.
Adam Huttler: Likewise. I’m sure there are plenty of unconscious biases in a million different areas that I have that are unhelpful and not productive, that I’m not even aware of. Hopefully by this time next year, there will be 1% fewer.
Erik Gensler: That’s it. It’s the best you can do. That’s why you got it when you were 39, the Cranes Award when you’re 39 and nine tenths.
Adam Huttler: 39 and nine months.
Erik Gensler: Exactly. Worked it out a little more at least. So you’re in the midst of taking a sabbatical, and I’m so happy that you were able to come here in the midst of that sabbatical. And I actually learned about your sabbatical, I think from a Facebook post, and I’m fascinated by what you’re doing. It’s one of the reasons I wanted to have you here. So tell us about your sabbatical and what that looks like and what that is and what you’re working on.
Adam Huttler: Yeah, so I’ve sort of jokingly taken to calling it my not a sabbatical because I’m actually working much working harder and longer hours than I was before, certainly. So this started March one. It’s a six month sort of special project. I am investigating the formation of an impact investing fund, sort of at the intersection of arts, media and technology building on everything that fracture chais has learned and the networks that it’s built over the last 20 years to find ways of engaging with and supporting some of the commercial entrepreneurs for-profit entrepreneurs who are inventing the technology platforms that are changing the context in which art is made and financed and produced and distributed and consumed. And really even more broadly the kind of context for human creativity. Because as I age and I become more aware of my own blind spots, I’m more and more interested in creativity writ large and kind of arts with a lowercase a rather than arts with a capital A, if you will.
Erik Gensler: So it’s focused around this exponential creativity fund. Can you take as much time as you need to explain what that looks like in perhaps a little more detail?
Adam Huttler: Yeah, absolutely. So the Exponential Creativity Fund is a $10 million early stage venture capital fund making investments in entrepreneurs who are using exponential technologies to enhance or empower human creativity. That’s sort of like the official blurb. What does that mean in practice? Well, there’s three kind of buckets of investments that we’re looking at. One is frontier tech in core innovation in frontier tech related to storytelling and other forms of human creativity, things that open up radical new possibilities and new modes of expression or sort of radically disintermediate existing systems and markets. So the second bucket, we’re looking at tools and platforms that sort of expand opportunities for creativity that create new ways for especially casual creatives or pro-ams, people who maybe don’t necessarily identify as artists or aspire to make a living from their art, but for whom some kind of creative practice is an important part of their lives.
Technology tools and platforms and systems that give them new ways to express themselves and to be creative in the world. And then the third bucket has to do with markets and networks and platforms that connect creatives in the developing world with buyers and markets and networks in the developed world. And the reason we’re focused on that has right now there’s between 2015 and 2020, so we’re right smack in the middle of this explosion of new connectivity to the internet. So around the globe, we’re tripling the number of people who are connected to the net and by extension connected to all of these tools. This is happening now. Wow, I didn’t know that. So it was like one and a half billion a couple of years ago. Few years from now, it’s going to be five or 6 billion, a huge sea change in the number of creative voices that are out there that are connected to all of this infrastructure that we are investing in that other people are building. Let’s try to find ways to engage with those people that don’t kind of just replay the mistakes of colonialism, but that maybe give these folks, treat them with respect and give them some economic agency with respect to their own work. So that’s something that we think actually fits in as sort of an integral part of our investment thesis.
Erik Gensler: So this is multilayered, right? One is raising that money, two is finding the businesses to invest in, and then three is nurturing those people and those investments as they mature and hopefully some payoff.
Adam Huttler: Yeah, that’s exactly it. Yeah. Raising the money, $10 million is a ton of money by nonprofit arts industry standards. It’s way more than I’ve ever raised for anything. Of course, by VC standards, it’s not even a microphone, it’s like a nano fund. It’s so small. So that’s a culture shock a little bit, but I’m just starting to dive into that right now. But then, yes, that second piece, the real sort of work of the fund or the heart of the work of the fund is about deal flow, right? It’s sourcing great opportunities, finding great founders and entrepreneurs. And for us, there’s a sort of two-step process there. We’ve got this very aggressive mission filter. We only want to invest in companies that are kind of good as viewed through the lens of our mission that are treating art and creativity and free expression as human rights, not as commodity inputs is one way that I like to think about it.
But once you get through that mission filter, and at this point 99.999% of investment opportunities are no longer on the table. Once you get through that filter, we’re going to be looking at stuff the same way any VC would. It’s very rigorous investment analysis. It’s an aggressive funnel. And so even stuff that gets through maybe one out of every 30 is going to be right for an investment. But for those that are, we generally want to be the first money in, we want to help connect them to other money and other resources and really emphasize this sort of critical, very early stage from founding through what be called their series A round, which is their sort of first professional VC round that time span, which might be anywhere from six months to five years or longer is where we play. And that’s also of course where that third phase of work happens, which is about coaching and supporting and nurturing the founders and entrepreneurs in our portfolio.
Erik Gensler: Once you get past the filter and once you’re choosing the entrepreneurs is at that point, you’re really just looking for what’s going to drive the biggest return because you already are clear at that point that they meet the mission criteria.
Adam Huttler: Sort of. It’s a little more complicated than that because you have to think about risk adjusted return and the economics of venture capital, they’re a little messed up. Depending on the way the fund is structured, that can be more or less messed up. But there are strong incentives to swing for the fences and to conventional VC for good rational reasons, unfortunately can’t invest in businesses that are likely to be modestly healthily profitable. They have to look for those unicorns and stuff like that. So we’re trying to figure out how to break away from that a little bit and looking at some new models that might give us a little more flexibility.
But yeah, it’s analyzing these things as businesses, analyzing the teams, that’s hugely important. It’s probably more important than the idea or anything else. Absolutely. Are these people that I want to bet on and is this founder somebody who I want to spend an hour a week on the phone with for the next five years of my life about what it’s going to be? So we’ve got to believe in the team, we’ve got to believe in the idea. We’ve got to believe in their ability to execute. We’ve got to believe that the market conditions are there for them to succeed. So it’s a lot of stuff.
Erik Gensler: Can you give us just a couple of examples of the companies that you would invest in or that you’ve perhaps been exposed to that sort of fit these criteria and what kind of products or services they’re creating?
Adam Huttler: Sure. I guess I can give you one from each of the three buckets if that works. So the first one I’ll talk about is a company that we did not invest in because the timing didn’t work out. We might’ve really wanted to otherwise called depth kit. So you mentioned the Arts Entrepreneurship awards earlier. These were actually winners of the 2016 Arts entrepreneurship boards, they’re filmmakers and the ALS membership, and they were messing around with some virtual reality filmmaking. VR right now is kind of a wild west. People are having to invent their own tools to solve their problems. Well, one of these guys, James George, one of the filmmakers and the founder has a background in computer science and math. And so he invented essentially a software tool that allows you to extrapolate three-dimensional volumetric video data or video capture from a single vantage point. So what that means in practice right now, if you want to do professional grade three D video recording for augmented reality or virtual reality or whatever, you need to spend $250,000 to put 36 professional cameras in an array in a big room.
It’s a serious undertaking with their tech. In theory, you can do it with four iPhones. So we’ve reduced by 99% the cost of admission for professional grade three D video capture. So that’s an example of somebody who’s doing the kind of frontier tech making things possible that weren’t possible before. Second bucket, I’ll talk about a company that we actually made our very first investment in. It was called Move 38, and they were incubated at MIT Media Lab and then at New Inc. Here in New York. And what they’ve done is invented a kind of next generation platform for casual digitized tabletop games. So there’s been this huge resurgence of interest in tabletop gaming recently, board games, role playing games, that sort of whole spectrum. And they’ve invented a new hardware platform called Blinks that allows you to allows them or you to create an unlimited number of simple casual games along the lines of what we’ve gotten used to playing on our phones, but without any screens.
So it retains that kind of intimate personal experience of sitting across the table from somebody and playing a game with them. My nine-year-old wants to be a game developer when he grows up. I would like to think it’s not too farfetched that with some of these blinks in front of him and a laptop, he could start inventing games that then we as a family could play. So when we talk about expanding opportunities for creativity, that’s the example. What do they look like? What is the product like? Yeah, it’s so hard to describe. I’m doing a lousy job of it here. These plastic hexagons with Arduino chips and LED lights and they’re magnetized, and so they light up and they connect to each other and they have embedded artificial intelligence capabilities so that they can play against you. One of my favorite little tricks is the way that new games are taught.
So again, let’s use my nine-year-old as an example. He invents a game on his laptop. He downloads it via USB cable or something to one of these blinks. He then can connect that via these magnetized connections to the other blinks in his collection. It will teach them the game and then they will teach all of the ones that are connected to them through the sort of viable propagation model. It’s really clever and fun. So I dunno if it may be still hard to picture, but you’re going to be hearing more about this company from us in the future, and hopefully you’ll have an opportunity to buy some blinks soon. Cool. And then the third bucket? Yeah, the third, this one, there have been a couple of companies that we’ve looked at, but we haven’t pulled the trigger on an investment yet, so I probably shouldn’t name names.
So in one case, we’re talking to some entrepreneurs originally from Africa, but spent most of their lives in Sweden, a couple of filmmakers who are putting together a platform, a sort of professional networking platform for creative professionals throughout the African diaspora. So how does this work? So if you’re a Coca-Cola and you want to shoot a, or you want run an ad campaign in Ghana, you got a couple of options right now. Maybe you’re going to sort of helicopter in your typical team and they’ll do the shoot and who knows how that’s going to go with this tool? With this platform, you have the ability to hire a local IES copywriter and cameraman and lighting techs and all the rest. You’re going to have people who are on the ground who understand the culture, who understand, speak the language, and you’re going to probably save on the costs of bringing people over. And meanwhile, when you’re getting people who’ve been vetted, who are experienced professionals whose work is being vouched for this platform, this tool is able to guarantee that they’ll get paid and then they’ll get baited at a competitive fair wage by international standards. So that’s an example of something there that I’m excited about. There’s others as well.
Erik Gensler: Got it. Those are great examples. I read in one of your blog posts when you were giving an update on your project and your fund advances in artificial intelligence and robotics are expected to make 47% of current US jobs obsolete within a couple of decades. I don’t think it’s clear to people living now the amount of change we are on the brink of, it’s so easy to be thinking because you’re alive in this moment. We’re in modern times and we have phones and we have social media and we are so advanced, but we’re just on the very brink of it.
Adam Huttler: Yeah, no, you’re absolutely right. And even those of us who pretend to know that this is coming don’t really know what’s coming. I mean, we have some only general kind of vague idea. So people are very good at understanding and anticipating linear incremental progress, and in many things in life that’s sufficient and that’s the appropriate model. What we know about information technologies though, the whole spectrum of information technologies is that essentially all of them follow, they don’t follow ary incremental growth curves. They follow exponential growth curves. I mean, Moore’s Law is the famous example, but you can look at network bandwidth or density of media storage or digital biology. You take your pick. When you’re talking about information technology, you’ve got an exponential growth curve. And so these growth curves look flat and almost linear at first, but at some point that starts to change and then they go vertical. And so it’s quite intentional that our fund is called the Exponential Creativity Fund because we’re interested in the change that’s happening as a result of these exponentially growing technologies. You mentioned artificial intelligence, robotics, there’s many more. Yeah, you’re right. They’re going to be completely remaking the world around us.
It’s easy to poo poo it and to say, well, Moore’s law is going to hit a wall. Well, they say that every five years and there’s always some breakthrough, so maybe it’s going to be quantum computing, who knows? Or people say, well, yes, the technology is going to advance, but will it really be widely available? I don’t know. There’s like hundreds of millions of people in the poorest continent on earth with supercomputers in their pockets, supercomputers that are connected to all of the information that humanity has accrued throughout its entire history. So I’m not counting it out. I’m planning for it. And your example of 47% of jobs being made obsolete, I mean, it’s a good kind of headline, gut punch number or stat to show you give just a hint of how dramatic this change is likely to be.
Erik Gensler: I think one of the things you listed after that was talking about even surgery, like surgeons.
Adam Huttler: Yeah. Well, so that’s one of the interesting things about it. It sometimes is not obvious what jobs are most vulnerable. So the classic example is that a lot of people think that surgeons will be made obsolete long before nurses will, because the kinds of skills it takes to be a good surgeon are pretty easy to replicate with AI and robotics. You need physical precision, you need a lot of mental knowledge and the ability to quickly sort through it all and have this in depth understanding of human anatomy and all the edge cases and everything like that. Well, Watson’s already got that, right? He’s already diagnosing better than any human doctor is. And when you look at the physical precision of a robot that can slice to submicron levels, no human surgeon can compete. Meanwhile, for a nurse, it’s all about empathy. It’s about being able to read subtle facial expressions. When is a smile, not really a smile, or when is a smile forced or something like that. Being able to understand people and in all of their complexity and nuance and layers of deception and all the rest, including even self-deception, much harder for any kind of AI or robot to replicate. We’ll get there, but that’s like a hundred years away I think, whereas the surgeon might be 10 years away.
Erik Gensler: And that brings us back to art and creativity, which are such human things.
Adam Huttler: Well, and that’s one that I struggle with a lot actually, because there are some great examples out there of creative ais that are, I mean, is it really creativity if it’s just following an algorithm? I think if we can call what we do, creativity, which I would argue is also just following an algorithm, albeit a sort of organic algorithm in our brains, then we have to call that creativity as well. There’s some amazing stuff going on at Georgia Tech actually, which is one of the universities that we’re working with in the Exponential Creativity Fund. They’ve got a marimba playing robot that has essentially taught itself to play marimba and continues to get better and better by playing and jamming with other jazz musicians. Right, they’ve got Stop. Yeah, no, seriously, seriously. They’ve got an improvising marimba playing robot. Moreover, a robot that can play sequences and notes and combinations on the marimba that no human marimba player can do.
Erik Gensler: I love that. It’s marimba of all things.
Adam Huttler: Well, yes. So I don’t know why they picked marimba, but it sounds good. They’ve got a dancing robot that’s following a similar sort of path. And the blog post you were talking about, there’s this AI that’s written a couple of screenplays now. I mean, it’s crude still. It’s still very basic, but exponential change is always faster than you think. So I kind of don’t know yet what to make of that and how that fits into this whole thing.
Erik Gensler: I was listening to this podcast where Marie Howe, who is the poet laureate of New York, was being interviewed, it was on Krista Tippets on Being, which is one of my favorite podcasts, and she said, I look at this science fiction I read when I was growing up, these sort of pulp fiction or fiction looking at a dark future and the dark future predicted that human beings will be controlled by machines. And she’s like, well, look around. We already are. It looks different than that, but she’s like, what screen or what face do I look in most often in a day? And it’s the face of my phone where it doesn’t look like machines and robots are controlling us, but in a way we are being, so much of our behavior is being controlled about what comes off of that phone screen.
Adam Huttler: Yeah, I am a little more optimistic than that. I mean, I might push back a little bit on the word control. I feel like it’s almost more of a merger of our consciousness with these artificial intelligences that we’ve built, that we as a society have built. I mean, my phone doesn’t tell me where to go. I ask it for directions and it tells me how to get there. And so I choose to follow its direction, but I don’t have to follow its direct. Right.
Erik Gensler: But there’s also, I think the numbers like 61% of people are actually — have addiction, have device addiction.
Adam Huttler: Well, sure. Yeah. So that’s looking at it in a different way. And of course that’s a concern.
Erik Gensler: I mean, I see it. It’s funny, we rent a house in Fire Island and at some moments you spend a weekend and there’s eight of us in the house, and so you spend a few solid days with people and moments after dinner ends and people are cleaned up and I look up and seven people are just staring at their phones not talking. And I think, God, 10 years ago we would’ve actually been having a conversation and it’s almost, I want to be like everyone’s phone in the bowl. Let’s be human.
Adam Huttler: I’m totally guilty of that too. I think my favorite is when, if I’m say watching Netflix or something on my phone, I catch myself almost daily. I catch myself reflexively reaching for my phone in my pocket to check my email or something, and I’ve already got my phone in my right hand. So yeah, it’s ridiculous. And just wait until the neural implants I get here right around the corner. Oh, absolutely. And I don’t know how that’s going to change it in some ways. I think it’ll maybe make the whole thing a little less clunky, but it might make it easier to hide.
Erik Gensler: Yeah, well, it’s like what the Google Glass failed, they’re going to solve that with something, right? Because the point was to make the technology more integrated on your body so you can do a Google search without the clunkiness of having to type.
Adam Huttler: Yeah, I don’t even know that the Google Glass failed. I mean, I don’t think they were expecting that to be a blockbuster commercial product. I think they learned a lot and it’s going to come back in some form. But yeah, I mean we’ve, you’re talking about augmented reality. We’ve got Magic Leap now doing direct retinal projection through basically contact lenses. But Facebook right now has a whole, and I’m sure Google does as well, although I haven’t read about it specifically, but Facebook has a whole team working on literally neural implants, like stuff that wires connected directly into your brain so that you can just think about some technology thing and retrieve that information without having to touch a device or anything. So we are, whether we like it or not, I think really the right way to think about it is that we are kind of merging ourselves to this technology that we’ve built, and hopefully we can do so in a way that keeps our humanity at the center rather than loses sight of it. And that actually is something I think about a lot in the context of the exponential creativity fund. I think creativity and expression are sort of the most quintessentially human activities and the ways that we are kind of our most human selves. And so I want to support technology that makes us better at that, not makes us less dependent on it.
Erik Gensler: Yeah. Another one that Google, they’re building this device you could swallow and it’s lodged somewhere within your body and it can provide data on what’s happening in your body. So say before your body’s going to have a heart attack, it’s say it’s the indicators of your blood and your body are showing that within the next few hours you’ll probably have a heart attack. So make your way to a hospital.
Adam Huttler: I mean, I would swallow that thing. I mean, I dunno, the cat, the horses left the barn. Cat’s out of the bag.
Erik Gensler: Train’s left the station.
Adam Huttler: Yeah, exactly.
Erik Gensler: The train has sailed.
Adam Huttler: Yeah, the train has sailed. Yeah, there’s no going back. So I think a lot of people freak out and want to try to fight it or say, I’m not going to participate or whatever. Okay, fine. You can try to do that to the best of your ability personally, but you’re not going to change the fact that technology is a force of nature. It really is. So it’s not going to slow down. It’s not going to stop. I think what we do have the power to do is not even redirect it, but kind of nudge it in positive directions rather than negative ones. And that’s I think what we have a sort of profound responsibility as a species right now to do. And we don’t have a lot of time to figure that out.
Erik Gensler: That’s it. That’s such a great point. Speaking of humanity, I want to turn the topic to something very human and something I know that you’re very passionate about, and that’s diversity and inclusion in the arts, and it’s something that I’ve been starting to think a lot about. It’s something I want to talk more about in the podcast and we’ll be talking to a lot more people about Now, I want to state up front here that we are two white men, and this is a prickly topic, but I think the first step is talking about it and being open and being vulnerable, and we will probably say stuff that may make people uncomfortable, and I think we have to allow ourselves to just have this conversation.
Adam Huttler: No, I think that’s right. I mean, I’m glad you acknowledged that there certainly are many aspects of the experience of being a person of color in America or being a woman for that matter, that I just don’t understand. Maybe I understand them intellectually. I can strive to understand them on an emotional or human level, but I’m always going to be missing something. So I appreciate you acknowledging that. At the same time, you and I are both in leadership roles and we have an obligation, we have a responsibility to lead on this stuff even when it’s uncomfortable, maybe especially when it’s uncomfortable. So I’m glad we’re having the conversation. Absolutely.
Erik Gensler: Well, I’m going to put it out there that as a leader of a company that has grown very fast, and you’re oftentimes treading water when it comes to hiring, you’re going to the places that are easy to hire, you’re going to, for me, it’s the Arts administration programs, and we have amazing people here that came from programs where they had the privilege to study arts administration, and that’s an amazing feeder of people to come work here. They know that they care about the arts, but by virtue of us going to the same wells and same places for recruiting, I looked around and was made aware by some staff members that our staff was starting to look very similar. And I didn’t have a fully moment to process that because I was dealing with so many other things. But when I finally took a moment to step back and I said, wow, we have to do something about this. And then it wasn’t too, and I’ve been thinking about this for a long time, and we’ve been making steps here. There’s still much more for us to do. And I think the first piece of acknowledgement, but when I met with you, you showed me a slide that was introducing the leadership team of Fractured Atlas, and I was so impressed with the —
Adam Huttler: Yeah, I think it was the team on the Exponential Creativity Fund specifically. But yeah, we’ve made some headway on this. I mean, I think we, like you for many years, had a very, very homogenous staff. We got extremely good at finding clones of the people who we already had, who we knew could work. And it’s a hard organization to work at. We do some difficult stuff. We hold each other to high standards. And so great, we know how to find 23 year old white women from liberal arts colleges in the Northeast who are going to be very successful at fractured house. There are so many problems with that though in the long run. I mean, it’s cheap and easy.
It’s a shortcut essentially to getting somebody in who can do the job, but who you also know is not going to bring anything radically new. I mean, obviously everybody’s an individual and people are going to bring their own perspective. But what the data shows that I’ve seen is that homogenous groups maybe gel faster if you have five minutes to solve a difficult problem, get a bunch of people in the room who have shared vocabulary and shared life experiences, and there’s less friction and go go. But that’s not actually what business is. Businesses is about building long-term value and solving complicated problems. And for that, a diverse team is always in the long run going to outperform a homogenous team, even if the homogenous team has stronger individual members or higher performing individual members, that there’s enormous strength and diversity. So setting aside the fact that it’s a sort of moral imperative and that it’s an institutional value of ours, and I know it’s a value that you hold personally as well, just in terms of being the best company, you can be ruthlessly cynical about it if you want. You have to find a way to build a diverse group, to stretch yourself and to bring in people who look differently, think differently, have different experiences walking down the street every day than you do.
Erik Gensler: I’ve recently been made aware of, this is hard to talk about, but my own biases of when you, I grow up or you grow up thinking that you are a very open-minded, evolved, non-biased person, which is I guess a bad thing to even start with, but you sort of grow up. I have very liberal Jewish parents. My dad’s a psychiatrist. They grew up in New York. They both pride themselves on being, I open-minded and highly liberal. But I think what was eyeopening for me was understanding, and I’m saying this as a very vulnerable thing, but I had so much privilege, I wasn’t even aware of it, the privilege of going to a private university, the privilege of walking down the street as a white man. And I mean, I can say I’m diverse. I’m a gay Jew, but in this, you were the New York Arts. Yeah, I, but I think I had to come to that point of recognizing my own, playing a part in the system from my own blind spots to recognize, oh, man, do I have privilege? And recognizing how many people don’t.
Adam Huttler: Yeah, look, so that’s good. I mean, it’s good, right? It’s progress. It’s not like there’s a destination here. It’s not like if only we can get over that one hill, we’ll reach the milestone for diverse, inclusive, and equitable society. This is a process, and I think there’s very little progress can be made without that kind of self-awareness that you’re talking about. And to some extent, I think to some extent, this is a more difficult conversation to have than I imagine the conversations that happened before you and I were born in the fifties and sixties, then the enemy was this. It was almost the caricature of racism. It was the National Guard in Alabama. It’s so easy to identify that as problem, or at least in hindsight, it seems so easy to identify.
Erik Gensler: We’re not about that.
Adam Huttler: We’re not about that. We’re not about that. We’re the good guys, or worse we’re colorblind, which when I was a kid was the thing that I was taught was the goal. And it wasn’t until shamefully late in life, I would say that I probably started to understand that that was not at all at the goal, and that you can’t understand and work to improve racial justice and other systems of oppression unless you acknowledge that they exist and acknowledge that different people are going to be affected by them differently. So I think your experience is pretty typical, and I think you’ve taken the right first step, which is acknowledging, acknowledging that you have some unconscious biases that you somewhat are starting to understand, but probably there’s a lot that you still don’t understand. Now it’s your job to go out and educate yourself further and try to keep pushing yourself.
Erik Gensler: Yeah, it’s like I woke up one day and I felt like, I don’t know, when you have conversation, and I sound like an old man and I don’t feel old, but you talk to people coming out of college and they just have such a profoundly different way of looking at this stuff.
Adam Huttler: And that’s great. And that’s actually a very hopeful thing. I mean, hopefully it is. There are big, big hard social change I think often tends to happen with generational leaps because some stuff, it’s too hard to move in any one person. You need to almost go to that. I wish it weren’t, but I think a lot of the heavy lifting on social change happens with generational shifts.
Erik Gensler: Yeah, definitely. So on your website, you have anti-racism and anti-oppression community guidelines. How did that come about?
Adam Huttler: Yeah, so we’ve been grappling with these questions at staff level, at the board level, at the organizational level for a long time now. And it was, I guess a couple of years ago that we started a process of a training program essentially of bringing in trainers in anti-racism and anti-oppression principles for the whole staff to go through and to start to learn to understand how those systems work and how our own work actions and inactions intersects with those systems. Inactions. Often it’s inactions more than it’s actions. And so I think, I guess it was kind of as the culmination of that process that it was kind of a groundswell from the staff asking us to put that out there. And I’ll openly confess, I was skeptical at first, not that we shouldn’t have these community guidelines, but I was concerned with how they might be used.
I mean, I’ve always, if there are values that I hold more dear than any others about free speech and free expression and freedom of thought and all this kind of stuff. And so the idea of planning a flag and saying, if you don’t think like us, then we’re not going to support you. Made me uncomfortable. But I’ve come around on it and I’ve come to better understand the aspects of that that I couldn’t relate to because of my own experience and my own privilege. Absolutely. So I think it was eventually basically a consensus decision to put that up there and to sort of get out there and say, this is what we believe as an organization, and we are going to stand by these principles and these beliefs in practice. Hopefully that encourages some self-selection. So somebody comes along, some filmmaker comes along and wants to remake Birth of a Nation, maybe they’ll see that and say, you know what? There are other fiscal sponsors out there. I don’t need to, and I’m okay with that actually, free speech or not. I’m okay with not sponsoring that film. So I think that’s a good thing. It gives us another tool to use.
Erik Gensler: What were the steps that — anti-racist, anti-oppression community guidelines probably came later, but when you talked about the makeup of your team and how long ago was that? What did that look like? What were some of the steps you took to start making… to get from that awareness to the place where I saw and met some members of your team?
Adam Huttler: As I said before, for many years, I think we certainly talked about the importance of diversity. I think we genuinely believed, I certainly genuinely believed that this was important to me and something that I wanted to accomplish, but I think I had the same experience that you have. Well, we keep, it’s sort of so, it seems dumb and naive and whatever, but it’s like, Hey, we’re doing everything we know how to do to attract candidates and whatever. And I think if I can pause here on that for a second, I think there’s a reason that we talk about staffing first and the makeup of your staff and your board, but maybe even more importantly, your staff first. And I’m not sure that I always understood that.
I’m not sure that I always understood the limitations of a group, a team, a company that looks like one thing, that looks like me going out there and saying, oh, we’re going to help solve all these problems that all these people who, all these problems that none of us have personally experienced. We’re going to try to address those. There’s a kind of breathtaking arrogance and naivete about that. So I feel like you kind of have to start there. You have to start with who’s at the table and who’s making decisions in the organization and who has the ability to set policy and who are you, who’s actually there?
It wasn’t that long ago. I think we had a staff of probably 30 people, and there might’ve been one person of color on the staff. I’m not sure where we are now, three, four years later. I think we’re probably close to around 40% perhaps people of color on staff similar at the leadership level. And that we did have to change the way that we were going about hiring. And we did have to start looking in different places. And we did have to rethink, okay, so what is it about our interview process, for example, that is very comfortable for these 23 year old white women from northeast liberal arts colleges, but maybe not as comfortable for somebody with a very different background. So we’ve really kind of looked at every aspect of how we recruit, where we look for people, how do we manage the interview process, what does our training process look like?
And then what’s the culture that people find when they get there? And I’m the first to admit, I’m sure we have a lot of work left to do, probably more in front of us than behind us, but I do think we’ve made some headway. And I think also, I have to think there’s an element of critical mass or momentum. I mean, I haven’t had this experience personally, but I have to assume if I’m an African-American woman thinking about applying to a job at Fractured Atlas and I look at the pictures of the staff on the website and it’s just this sea of peach I that might not look so welcoming. And so I think it’s kind of hardest almost to get started.
Erik Gensler: Yeah, it’s like the exponential thing to go back to that. Right, exactly. You have to hit critical mass.
Adam Huttler: And that is a process, but you hopefully create an environment where people feel more comfortable, they feel more comfortable talking about their experiences personally and as a group and both outside of work and inside work. And that can be very uncomfortable for those of us, like you and me, who’ve been largely insulated from having to hear about that stuff our whole lives. How ridiculous is that? Well, okay, now it’s time, right? Absolutely. To start being honest and facing some of this stuff.
Erik Gensler: We did a retreat this spring and we had a workshop that we was just about inclusion, and everyone went around and could talk about a time they’ve been excluded and what that looked like and what that felt like. And it was just amazing to hear the stories and then just as a first step framing it included versus excluded, and what does that mean? What does that look like in life and in work? And it was incredibly powerful.
Adam Huttler: Yeah, no, I think that’s great. The other thing that I think the other barrier that I think a lot of good white liberals experience on this issue is not understanding or appreciating the distinction between racism and bigotry. We kind of conflate those two, right? Racism is a system. Bigotry is an attitude or a belief or a behavior. Fascinating. Yes. So a black person can be a bigot, but he can’t be a racist, right?
Erik Gensler: Because the racist society exists.
Adam Huttler: Because there are these entrenched systems. And so you have to get away from the idea that acknowledging that racism is a problem even at your organization somehow means that you are a bad person. That’s not what this is about. It’s not about you. It’s not frigging about you. And I think a lot of us have a hard time wrapping our minds around that, around the distinction between individual choices and individual behavior versus the emergent behavior of systems. And that’s what makes it so insidious and difficult to address these days. Certainly there are plenty of bigots out there. There are plenty of individual bad actors, but I think the bigger problem or the entrenched systems and the way that they function as a system separate from the intent or choices even necessarily of any conscious individual in it.
Erik Gensler: I want to talk about you as a leader. You’re one of these people that I met and I was just so impressed with, and you just seem so curious, and you have a lot of stuff figured out from my sense. I’m curious, what do you think the hardest part about leadership is?
Adam Huttler: I think the loneliness is probably the hardest part for me anyway. And I think for a lot of people, and I think it’s something that’s part of what makes that so hard is that I think it’s something that’s hard to understand or appreciate when you’re not in that CEO seat. And it’s like, oh yeah, Crimea River, I’m the CEO, and it’s so lonely, so I get it. But there’s a part of me also that’s a little bit jealous of people who leave the office and are able to completely disconnect and are not up at three in the morning with their minds racing about this business problem, or How am I going to do this? Or worse, at many organizations like, oh my God, what happens? Can I meet payroll this month? There are stressors that, but the very nature of leadership is such that they can’t be shared because once you start sharing them now.
Erik Gensler: Or decisions that you made, exactly, and you can never tell people the details of that decision for privacy issues or for a million other reasons. And it’s so lonely to fix it.
Adam Huttler: It really is. It really, one of the nicer experiences of my career was when I participated in the inaugural class of National Arts Strategies Chief Executive program, but it was a program where a bunch of CEOs at various arts organizations around the country over the course of two years went away for these three or four day retreats at business schools to learn stuff. And it was great to learn stuff, but having that network and having the experience of being in a room with 50 other people who all know exactly what that feels like was really fantastic. So yeah, I, the loneliness, I mean different people are going to have, I mean, look, leadership is about having a vision and persuading other people to get behind it. And some people are very good at the vision part, but bad at the persuasion part. Some people are good at persuasion part, but it’s a crappy vision in the first place. Yeah, I think it’s the loneliness.
Erik Gensler: Where do you look for inspiration?
Adam Huttler: I look for inspiration almost everywhere, but the arts, to be honest. And maybe that’ll piss some people off. I hope it doesn’t too much. But I’m sometimes embarrassed by, in a conversation with peers, they’ll say, oh, have you seen this or have you read this thing? Or, I don’t want to come across as some uncultured illiterate buffoon, but I feel like I understand that world reasonably well. There’s a lot of other stuff out there and there’s a lot that I can learn by looking at the way that Silicon Valley does things. There’s a lot right there. There’s a lot wrong there, but there’s a lot to be learned from it. Or even Wall Street. Why is Wall Street the way it is? So looking as far afield as possible and trying to understand the internal logic of worlds and industries that are very different from my own, I would say is the number one way that I learn and grow as a person. And I would say that if I have one kind of asset as a leader, it’s the ability to kind of connect dots across all those different sources of inspiration.
Erik Gensler: What are you really good at and what is one thing you’re working on to improve?
Adam Huttler: Probably could give you sort of two sides of the same coin on that one. I’m pretty quick. I’m fairly quick. I think I’m good at quickly leaping to reasonable conclusions from slivers of data, understanding things relatively quickly. I think something I really need to work on is taking more time and not always going as fast as I can because there are things that you miss. There’s certainly things that I miss. And part of that, I think the taking more time piece, it’s part of it that is about giving other people more space and time, but also even maybe more fundamentally for me, it’s about just being present and being present where I am. And that’s something that goes beyond work. That’s something when I’m at home, being present at home, being present with my kids, being present, and then when I’m at work being present there with the people that I’m talking to. So yeah, that’s I think something I’m working on.
Erik Gensler: That’s great. We’re cut from the same cloth in that way.
Adam Huttler: I knew it.
Erik Gensler: It’s funny. In the last year I was told that you move very fast and when people aren’t moving as fast as you want, you get this look on your face and the look.
Adam Huttler: I think I’ve been accused of having the same look.
Erik Gensler: But I have really experienced what it would be like to slow down and how do you give more space for other people? And that’s really been a big part of my leadership growth too, is good for you. How do you step back and slow down and then, but you also worry about if you’re too mindful and too slowed down or you’re going to lose your edge.
Adam Huttler: Yeah. God, I don’t know. I know how to be me pretty well at this point, so I feel like I’ve got far more to gain by trying to do other things and stretch beyond my comfort zone. I like that. So I would err on the side of doing things that are uncomfortable and that make me nervous.
Erik Gensler: Awesome. What’s something you’ve learned in the last year or so that’s been profound in how you work or think?
Adam Huttler: I mean, honestly, I might go back to what we were talking about before around diversity and some of the work that we’re doing with anti-racism and anti-oppression. That has been a challenging journey. And like I said, there’s, there’s way more ahead than there is behind, but it has changed the way that I see the world and interact with the world and understand my role in it.
Erik Gensler: So the final question, and this is your CI to Eye moment. If you can broadcast to the executive directors, leadership teams and boards of a thousand arts organizations, what advice would you provide to help them improve their businesses?
Adam Huttler: To try to always remember that art… Art is one of the most fundamentally and quintessentially human activities. Art has been around as long as humans have existed and possibly even before art will always be here. Arts organizations are social constructs that are very, very recent in the timescale that we’re talking about. There’s nothing fundamental in nature about an arts organization. They’re a construct that was created in the modern arts organization, was created in the late 20th century, basically industrial capitalism as a vehicle for producing and distributing art in a relatively efficient manner. If that is no longer the best vehicle for distributing art, then we have an obligation to move on to something else. And I know that that’s controversial, maybe or offensive, and I apologize, but not really because I actually think we need to think about what is the product that we’re selling. It’s not the organization. And so how do we best organize ourselves as people and as a community to facilitate what we want to have happen?
Erik Gensler: Thank you. Thank you so much. Thank you. Did you enjoy the podcast? Please join Capacity Interactive on email and on Facebook so you could be the first to know when we release new episodes. You’ll also get content all about digital marketing for the arts, and you’ll be the first to know about our webinars, workshops, and our annual digital marketing bootcamp. Thanks for listening.
About Our Guests
Founder & CEO, Fractured Atlas
Adam Huttler is the founder and CEO of Fractured Atlas, an organization that provides artists and cultural groups with business services. Adam is currently working on the “Exponential Creativity Fund,” a venture capital fund that makes early investments in entrepreneurs who are using technologies to empower or enhance human creativity.
More than ever, arts marketers need to be purposeful about data collection, responsive to privacy regulations, and respectful of their audiences’ preferences. In 2023 and beyond, it’s all about staying user-centric and privacy-focused.