Amazon's Artist-in-Residence Program Helps Employees Embrace Imagination

Artists Celeste Cooning, Markel Uriu, Henry Luke and Clyde Petersen have already been part of the program.

MAKING THE CUT. Celeste Cooning’s Tyvek-and-rope installation, titled And Through the Woods, made its formal debut at Amazon in late July.

This article appears in print in the September 2018 issue. Click here for a free subscription.

Amazon isn’t the first company to create an artist-in-residence program. Facebook and Adobe have done it. Even Amtrak has tried it. But as the largest private employer in the city of Seattle, Amazon’s implementation of an artist residency sends a distinct message to employees and to other employers about the value of art in the workplace.
“This new program introduces Amazonians to local artists and a different style of creative thinking that might not be typical of their work environment,” says Amazon spokesman John Sa.

Cut-paper artist Celeste Cooning was the first Amazon resident artist. The second, interdisciplinary artist Markel Uriu, ended her residency July 15. Other artists in the first year of the program are Henry Luke and Clyde Petersen.

Each artist receives studio space in Amazon’s Doppler Building downtown and is expected to spend at least eight hours a week there during a three-month tenure, teach a workshop and give an artist talk to interested employees. At the end of the residency, each artist presents a piece of artwork to Amazon for permanent display on its campus.

Cooning appreciated “the boundless opportunity for engagement” with Amazon audiences. “I think it was a very gentle brew of a culture and a conversation about building connections between that corporate environment and what it means to connect with creative capacity,” she observes.

Uriu created a series of installations exploring invasive species and their links to history, globalization and colonialism. “I was excited for the opportunity to work in such a large studio space,” she says, “and to interact with a new population of people who may not have engaged with art or artists in the past.”

Amazon’s Expressions Lab, a corporate art gallery and creativity center, fostered the establishment of the program. Shunpike, a Seattle nonprofit that provides arts organizations across Washington state with services and resources, administers it.

“We were very excited to be part of this,” Shunpike Executive Director Line Sandsmark says. “Two of the four artists selected were former [Shunpike] Storefronts artists. It’s exciting to see folks who come through our program go on to do some really spectacular things.”

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