Words have meaning, but art leaves an impact. That's the thinking behind an innovative new initiative at Google's Data Centers, where art is being used to quickly, clearly, and impactfully express Google's commitment to inclusion and belonging, and to ensure that every Googler feels seen and heard.
The initiative, Project Upstream, kicked off earlier this year and featured in-depth surveys and interviews conducted by psychologists studying how to enhance Google culture at the data center level. The COVID-19 pandemic, however, interrupted that project, forcing the team to consider other ways to foster inclusion at the data centers. So, the team pivoted to creating mental health cards and promoting diversity and inclusion through art.
In partnership with the Google Data Centers Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Allyship Program, the Project Upstream team created an ongoing series of cards with messages of allyship.
Data Center Juneteenth Poster By K-Pac
Each card also features artwork created by Black artists. The first, designed by artist Blake Frederick (a.k.a. K-PAC), debuted on Juneteenth with a message to end racism, hate, and intolerance. The cards were then distributed to all of Google’s Data Center teams across the globe.
While Google asks the artists to highlight themes that have proven to be important to its community, such as "we're in this together" and "having hard conversations," the creative process itself isn't restrictive.
"We talk to the artists and explain our mission," says Jerakai Kitchens, Environmental Health & Safety Communications and Special Project Program Manager for Data Centers. "There has to be a dialogue, and to have that, you might have to present things that are a little bit uncomfortable or that could upset people. [This project] is about creating art that will grab your attention."
"There's no shortage of artists," says Anita Tarab, Global Director of Environment, Health, and Safety for Data Centers. "The shortage is of artists having places to display and sell their art."
Some artists are already getting started. Gordon Osborne, a 28-year-old barista at Google Chelsea Piers, came to Google's attention because of his extraordinary BIC pen drawings on coffee cups. Google helped him get incorporated as an LLC, and now he's designing art on future Allyship cards.
Harriet Tubman Portrait By Gordon Osborne. Ball point ink drawing.
"This summer collaborating on this project with Google has been a dream come true. I would get compliments about my art but never opportunities. [Google] helped me recognize myself as an artist and taught me I'm much more than coffee."
Art is vital to Google’s diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. Artists like Osborne and K-PAC remind us that creating a sense of belonging through art engenders connectivity and empathy in a way difficult to convey using only the written word. Art has the power to connect those who experience it across all dimensions and identities - to create community.