“It’s Almost Like Meditation” – the Wonderful Visual Language of Jim Houser

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

There is a lot to process in a Jim Houser installation.

First, there is the painted landscape sweeping across the walls, geometric blocks of bold pastels interspersed with bulbous oversized characters, oblivious and indifferent, like some deep-sea creatures captured unknowingly in a diver’s spotlight. Interspersed about this, like small towns tucked into the vast countryside and observed from above, are pockets of framed art, bespoke artifacts, found objects and curiosities.

Jim Houser’s installations cleverly blend large background elements with smaller, intermingled clusters of objects and paintings. Photo by Studio Brooke.

In HERE, RIGHT HERE, which Houser recently created at Viacom’s global headquarters in Times Square as part of the company’s Art at Viacom series, this eclectic visual language stamps its story across the lobby walls. An amalgam of original artworks, pieces repurposed from past shows, and a collage sourced from an employee workshop, the installation is a varied and fecund articulation of Houser’s inner world, a vast and carefully considered mash-up of sketches, painted characters, poems and three-dimensional objects.

Houser took a break from his installation to sit with me in Viacom’s humming seventh floor cafeteria, where we discussed his process, his creative choices, and why the company is a great artistic partner. Remarks have been and edited for length and clarity.

Stuart Winchester: How did you connect with Viacom?

Jim Houser: I have a commercial agent, who works with other artists in my vein, and one of them was Dabs Myla for their project here at Viacom, and they were like, “Viacom’s awesome.” So I sent a bunch of images and I guess they were into it.

SW: Take me through the process of planning and seeing the space and executing the design once you connected with Viacom.

JH: I had done a show in the early spring in Philadelphia, which is my home base. I sent the Art at Viacom people images, and said, “This is what I just did, I can easily make more work and then combine it with the installation elements that I used for this last thing that I’d done, and I can easily transform it to fit the space.” So I just mocked up images and they sent me images of the space they had, and I explained what I would do and it went from there.

A collage anchors an arrangement of paintings and objects in Jim Houser’s HERE, RIGHT HERE installation for Art at Viacom. Photo by Studio Brooke.

SW: Did you actually visit the space live?

JH: I didn’t, but that’s kind of a common thing for me. I travel around doing this kind of stuff in different cities, and I’ve been doing it for almost 20 years, so I’m kind of used to saying, “send me a floorplan, and photos from the four corners of the room, and I’ll figure it out.”

SW: So once you get onsite, at what point does the piece start to take shape?

JH: The one thing that’s different about this install than maybe some other ones in the past is that even though this area is a room, it’s really just the two walls, and I’m not able to work on the full room at once. So it’s almost like I have to do two installations. I think there’s 60 or 70 paintings total, so in my head I’m splitting my paintings up, because I don’t want to hang 60 on one wall and be like, “Oh, I only have 10 for the other.”

A shot of several paintings and other elements arrayed together in HERE, RIGHT HERE, Jim Houser’s Art at Viacom installation in New York City. Photo by Studio Brooke.

SW: So of those 60 or 70 paintings, were there any created specifically for this installation, or did you have these already?

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For One Tech Intern, Viacom’s Experience Room Stands Out

The psychedelic animated VR world of “Chocolate,” an experience created for the song of the same name by San Francisco based musician Giraffage. Created by 3D animator Tyler Hurd and executive produced by Viacom NEXT.

Viacom’s global headquarters at 1515 Broadway shoots 53 floors out of the endless hustle of Times Square. Even amid all this frenetic energy, though, one part of the building really stood out to me as a Media and Technology Services (MTS) Finance intern: the Experience Room.

Situated amid the MTS teams on the 11th floor, the room hosts an ever-updated showcase of the new and emerging technologies that Viacom is exploring, developing, and strategizing to promote MTV, Nickelodeon and other brands. The room doubles as an incubator for Viacom engineers developing products and a fun, engaging place for other employees to experience them.

The room feels futuristic – it is outfitted with integrated smart assistance and voice-activated lighting. One of the gadgets I found particularly fascinating was a voice-activated smart wall mirror, which provides weather information, displays the time, takes notes, and even compliments you.

A section of the room is a mini-museum, outfitted with a chronologically arranged line of devices ranging from a flip phone to Microsoft’s “Hololens” – a headpiece that projects holographic images.

Viacom engineers rotate into the room to work on new technologies, join an existing project, or develop new ideas using the room’s resources. One rotating engineer is at work on a SpongeBob SquarePants robot. The prototype can move around and interact with kids. The engineer would like to equip it with enough information that it can be used as a source of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) education for children.

The engineering team is also working on a smart photo booth that can transform its background, factoring in different color combinations and even the type of clothes people are wearing.

The highlight of my time in this space was playing a pair of Viacom NEXT’s Virtual Reality (VR) games: one where I smashed things to collect points in a ring within a simulated Experience Room; a second where I immersed myself within the first ever VR music album with The Melody of Dust, which had such an incredible level of optimization and features embedded within it that I felt as if I were physically in a different world altogether.

The Experience Room now has open hours where employees experience what the team is working on: Wednesdays from 2:30 to 4 p.m. and Fridays from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. I hope you’ll visit the 11th floor to enjoy this amazing space and draw inspiration from the way that Viacom is developing its present and shaping its future.

Jaw Dropped: Viacom Makes Glassdoor’s List of Spectacular Offices

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

Leaving the chaos of Times Square and pushing through the revolving doors into the award-winning lobby of Viacom’s headquarters at 1515 Broadway, it’s obvious you’re entering a place where entertainment is made. Batteries of televisions line the walls. A pair of supersized monitors pounds through highlights and previews of major television and movie properties. At the end of the elevator banks, supersized, vertically oriented glass shutter doors blink through updates of what’s happening all around the company. Through those doors is a cavernous event space. To the right is a humming, bright cafe.

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It’s design-first environments such as this lobby that helped Viacom make Glassdoor’s list of 16 companies with “jaw-dropping offices.” It’s a workspace, Glassdoor says, that is, “truly fit for the stars.” And these spaces reflect a company ethos that prizes environments tailored to accommodate the sort of high-octane creative work that is our lifeblood.

“The editors at Glassdoor are experts on workplace culture so it’s an honor to be included on this list,” says Vice President of Planning & Design Yetta Banks. “Beyond creating a pretty place to work, the goal for this project has always been to create spaces that encourage creativity, collaboration and play. Viacom is all about driving culture and conversation and it’s important that this mission is reflected in the way that we work.”

The gradual upgrades to Viacom’s offices have been ongoing for some time, and reach well beyond our New York City headquarters. In recent years, the company opened an 88,000-square-foot Viacom International production studio in Miami:

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… massively expanded its Nick animation studio in Burbank:

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Nickelodeon Animation Studio, Burbank, CA. Photo: Bruce Damonte/NICKELODEON© 2016 Viacom Internation… Read More

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Nickelodeon Animation Studio, Burbank, CA. Photo: Bruce Damonte/NICKELODEON© 2016 Viacom Internation… Read More

… and opened a new eight-brand West Coast headquarters in the bustle of Hollywood:

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Here, Right Here: An Art at Viacom Painting Workshop With Jim Houser

On a Friday afternoon at Viacom’s Times Square Headquarters, I took a break from work to join 20 of my coworkers for a drawing workshop with Jim Houser, a mixed-media artist from Philadelphia. Houser is Art at Viacom’s latest artist-in-residence, a title which grants him free reign to transform our lobby walls with his bespoke creative design.

repost from @artatviacom , here’s the first wall

A post shared by jim houser (@misterhouser) on

Each artist-in-residence typically hosts an hour-long workshop for employees looking to learn their technique. Houser set up his exhibit HERE, RIGHT HERE in the days leading up to his workshop, so I was able to catch a preview of what I’d learn from the session. He had hung canvas collages, quilted with bright squares and rectangles, bringing to mind Dabs Myla’s whimsical world of graphic pop-art from a previous Art at Viacom installation.

Houser’s website describes his work as “visual poetry,” which is an apt description for the canvas he brought to the workshop as an example. It consisted of geometric patterns, typography, doodles and lyrical musings like this one: “the number we see, or the number there actually are.” Combined, these non sequiturs became one fluid verse; a capsule of Houser’s psyche.

And then, we had to replicate this.

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Nickelodeon Helps Break Bread and Boundaries for Child Refugees

Children mingle with SpongeBob at Viacom’s Times Square headquarters during a UNICEF Refugee Welcome Dinner in partnership with Purpose and Playworks. Photo by Tatiana Cadet.

Twenty people are forcibly displaced every minute as a result of conflict or persecution. This adds up to 65.6 million people around the world, 22.5 million of whom are refugees – a person forced from their country to escape war, persecution, or a natural disaster. Unfortunately, these stateless wanderers are not always met with open arms. Many are denied a nationality and access to basic rights when the countries they flee to struggle to cope with the influx.

Companies across the U.S. have stepped up for refugees who struggle to find a community and a place to call home. Here at Viacom, Nickelodeon’s pro-social team recently participated in UNICEF’s Refugee Welcome Dinners, along with the organization’s local partner agency, Purpose, and Nickelodeon’s Worldwide Day of Play partner Playworks, which uses play to improve children’s physical health and social and emotional learning. UNICEF brought kids and families from Guatemala, Mexico, Guinea, Venezuela, Botswana, and the Central African Republic to the Lodge cafeteria at Viacom’s Times Square headquarters to join the Playworks kids for a Nickelodeon-style pizza party.

The gathering was complete with a Paw Patrol AR pictures booth, a four-square recess game, and a dancing SpongeBob SquarePants. Kid-friendly Top 40 music filled the air, and the kids showed off their best Backpack Kid dances. Tables topped with orange table cloths and piles of candy adorned the space and a Nickelodeon promo video took over the Lodge television screens.

Children mingle with SpongeBob at Viacom’s Times Square headquarters during a UNICEF Refugee Welcome Dinner in partnership with Purpose and Playworks. Photo by Tatiana Cadet.

Regardless of race or creed, each guest came together and broke bread and boundaries, in the true spirit of Viacommunity. The event in its entirety made a powerful statement about the importance of tolerance, positivity and acceptance. Above all, it showcased the true impact that joining together in play has on the wellness of children’s souls.

East Meets West in Art at Viacom’s Vibrant Exhibit by Ogulcan Kush

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

The still paintings pulse with the hectic lifeforce of an animated GIF, seeming to burst from the walls of Viacom’s Times Square headquarters in a mesmerizing array of color and geometry.

“Kaleidoscope” by Ogulcan Kush. Photo by Studio Brooke.

The creation of Turkish-born, New York City based Ogulcan Kush (who goes by “OG”), the medley of precision-measured shapes and symbolism is a deliberate synthesis of Eastern, Islamic art and Western modern art. This fusion of artforms is both a tribute to OG’s principal influences and a therapeutic articulation of his frustration that his U.S. work visa will soon expire, forcing him to leave New York.

“I decided to be okay with leaving the U.S., and use whatever time I had left to react to the situation with my art,” OG told Art at Viacom, which is hosting the artist’s first solo U.S. exhibition, American Daydream.

“The American Daydream” by Ogulcan Kush at 1515 Broadway. Photo by Studio Brooke.

The exhibit is a nice compendium of OG’s work and style – it incorporates legacy pieces and several works created specifically for this exhibit, including a large piece that he painted live outside of Viacom’s cafeteria over several days.

I spoke to OG just after Art at Viacom unveiled his exhibition last month. The conversation below has been edited for clarity and length.

Stuart Winchester: How did you connect with Viacom?

Ogulcan Kush: Last year, I was working on Tahiti Pearson’s Art at Viacom installation, and I met the team at the press party afterward. We met for drinks one night and I showed them my  work, and they told me to come in for an interview. And I went in with my pitch ready and they were like, “So we would love to have you.”

SW: Take me through the process of working for Viacom from concept to actual installation.

OG: The people at Art at Viacom were super nice, super friendly. They couldn’t have been more helpful. After we booked the show, I finished two pieces specifically for the space. Then they wanted to incorporate a live painting into the show. They were really supportive of the art, not just established artists, but emerging artists doing a lot of work and trying to come up, so I really respect that.

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Viacom Again Lands on Indeed.com’s List of Best Fortune 500 Companies to Work for

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

Over the past several years, Viacom’s towering Times Square headquarters has undergone a series of significant renovations. In the lobby, enormous screens now hang alongside the elevator banks, a cavernous event space and a new cafe host an endless procession of parties and meetings, and a sequence of bold installations has invigorated the entrance areas with the energy of a high-end art gallery. Up on the seventh floor, the Wellness Studio offers heavily discounted memberships on a regimen of fitness classes, while employees can get their pictures album-ready for free at a printing studio. The 31st floor has been transformed into a massive convention center, while several other floors have been renovated in a style that elegantly meshes function and design.

As the company headquarters slowly sheds its old skin for the wide-open interiors of the 21st century media workplace, Viacom has been investing furiously in new, renovated and expanded buildings all over its footprint: earlier this year, the company united eight of its brands in a soaring space in the heart of Hollywood and vastly expanded its Burbank studio.

This invigorating workspace overhaul is just one of many perks to having a job at Viacom, and it likely contributes to the company landing on the upper half of Indeed.com’s list of  Best Fortune 500 Companies to work for for the second consecutive year.

What makes Indeed’s list unique is that their rankings are based entirely on data extracted from employee-submitted reviews. And the reviews are strong.

“I have worked at Viacom in Hollywood for over a year and love it,” went one typical comment. “Super fun and collaborative culture, cool brands and a nice work/life balance.”

Commenters praised the company’s perks (like free soda and coffee machines in many locations), employee events (like a conversation with LL Cool J), paid time off, benefits, and career development and advancement opportunities.

“Smart companies know that if they make their workers feel comfortable and happy, they will work harder and longer,” another commenter wrote. “Happiness pays for itself with higher productivity.”

The company has spent decades building a deep talent pool – signed plaques commemorating 10-or-more-year anniversaries are ubiquitous on desks around the office – and this shows in the deep respect that many commenters had for their peers. “My co-workers were some of the smartest professionals I’ve ever worked with,” wrote one person, who identified themselves as a former vice president in Ad Sales. Another expressed a similar sentiment: “At Viacom I learned how to be a better engineer, you are around GREAT and strong engineers and as our lead architect would say, ‘Stay with us, we will make you better.’”

And while all of these things are, in my experience, true, and having cool workspaces infuses day-to-day tasks with a certain energy, there is something far more important that Indeed identified as a common thread running through all of the top 50 companies. “A recurring theme across the employee reviews for these firms is the importance of a strong company culture and clear values,” a post on the site announcing the list explained.

Indeed, a strong community conscience has always been vital to Viacom’s self-image, and many employees praised  the many volunteer opportunities, an inclusive culture that values diversity, and the unexpected benefits that transcend the typical menu of health insurance policies, such as adoption assistance.

Viacom employees help clean up Central Park at Viacommunity Day 2017, the company’s annual day of community service.

While a constellation of factors influence how people feel about their jobs every day, there is a pervasive pride, throughout the comments on Indeed, of working for a company that is so vital to the modern media and entertainment landscape, and one that is adapting so well to it, with advanced data capabilities and audience measurement tools. As one commenter wrote, “The industry is going through a major restructure and this company is ahead.”

This recognition from Indeed is the latest in a long line of acknowledgements that the company has received for creating a supportive and attractive work environment. Last year, Fast Company named Viacom a top destination for work-life balance, Fatherly named us to its Great Workplaces for New Dads list, and Working Mother put the company on its 100 Best Companies list for the sixth consecutive year.

Creating Reel, Impactful Films with Viacom and Reel Works

Any professional filmmaker will tell you that creating original films is a challenging process that requires great effort and skill. One may assume, therefore, that young high school filmmakers would find it an enormous challenge to produce quality, original work. However, walking into Reel Works’ Reel Impact event at Viacom’s 1515 Broadway headquarters two weeks ago, audience members would never have guessed that the nine students presenting their original work were relatively new to the world of film.

Reel Works is a New York City based organization that immerses young people in filmmaking programs free of charge. In the Reel Impact program – which was recently launched through a partnership with Reel Works and Viacom – students create original films examining social issues of their choosing. A heavy emphasis is also placed on marketing and finding a target audience for the student films.  Participants are given the opportunity to conduct research through focus groups and interviews to determine which audience facets best fit the social topics of their choosing. A mentor guides students through the filmmaking and post-production processes, covering everything from concept through promoting their films via social media.

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FBI Legend to Lead Viacom’s Global Security Operations

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

Viacom’s global footprint is massive. A 53-story headquarters embedded in New York City’s Times Square anchors an office network spread across dozens of countries. We host a constant stream of more than 200 annual high-profile events, such as last month’s Bellator MMA fights at Madison Square Garden and the BET Awards at L.A.’s Microsoft Theater. Threaded among these offices and events is our thousands of employees and guests.

Fernandez, via LinkedIn.

Such a huge presence requires robust security, which is why Viacom has hired FBI legend Carlos T. Fernandez as our new Global Chief Security Officer, leading all security teams at Viacom events and facilities around the world.

“Carlos is a highly decorated security and intelligence expert who is widely recognized for his exceptional leadership, planning and problem-solving abilities,” wrote Viacom Chief Administrative Officer Scott Mills in a memo to employees last week.

Fernandez most recently led counterterrorism operations at the FBI’s New York field office, as well as the New York Joint Terrorism Task Force, an approximately 500-person unit sculpted from local and federal agencies to investigate cases from Canada to Europe to Africa, according to The New York Times. He has participated in some of the most high-profile investigations of the past two decades, including the bombings of the USS Cole and American embassies in East Africa, the assault on the U.S.’ Benghazi diplomatic compound, and the November 2015 Paris terrorist attacks.

A Times profile last week outlined how Fernandez repaired frayed relationships between his agency and local law enforcement in New York through constant communication, coordination and information-sharing. Critically for someone about to enter a large, diverse, employee-centered corporation, he understands how to work with people.

“You can have all the memorandums of understanding in the world, and they really don’t mean anything if people don’t like you,” Don Borelli, a former counterterrorism special agent, told the Times, explaining how Fernandez worked inexhaustibly alongside his police department counterparts to unify the NYPD and FBI following last year’s bomb attack in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood.

Fernandez, a New York City native, will start at Viacom later this month.

Get Schooled and DJ Khaled celebrate ‘Major Keys’ Success on Get Schooled’s Annual Yearbook Day

It was a digital yearbook thrust six stories over Times Square, with 400 high school students from 38 states grinning from the side of Viacom’s world headquarters. They had good reason to smile. These self-assigned “change makers” were about to be acknowledged by DJ Khaled for their commitment to improving their schools and communities.

Khaled Key Day – as the whole activation was dubbed – was part of Get Schooled’s Yearbook Day. In particular, they acknowledged the impact of the Shorty Award-winning Major Keys campaign and honored Khaled’s role in helping it to flourish. The program – which challenges students to master seven “Major Keys,” or focus areas via Get Schooled’s gamified online interface – has been immensely successful, reaching more than 250 million people in just the past year.

While the digital yearbook photos flashed on the billboard outside, several New York City area high school students piled into Viacom’s studio inside to watch a catered question-and answer session between Khaled and radio host Sway Calloway. The students waved their “Grateful Khaled Keys” in the air and learned a bit more about the program’s Keys to Success.

“I’ve never really experienced anything like this before,” one student told Complex. “Everyone’s really excited and hyped up, and I’m excited to be here. It showed me that you can be who you are, and I’ve always struggled with that, so learning to be myself has gotten me to where I want to be when I graduate.”

Students also shared their aspirations and accomplishments with Khaled. “I am grateful for the positive impact we have had on so many young people and even more grateful for their talent and leadership,” said Khaled. “I am excited to work with Get Schooled to inspire and engage even more young people next year.”

#GRATEFUL #JUNE23RD 🔑 bless up @getschooled

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