Exploring the Trump/Hip-Hop Conundrum at Viacom HQ

“How can the country that elected Donald Trump president be the same country that rates hip-hop as the number one mainstream genre?”

This is the question that opened Viacom’s Hype & Influence panel, moderated by Marketing Strategy’s Brooke Ozaydinli and featuring MTV’s Wanda Coriano, BET Music & Talent’s Bianca Edwards, and rapper Maliibu Miitch. The exploration of the state of Hip-Hop in today’s culture was a Black History Month event organized at the company’s Times Square headquarters by The BEAT (Viacom’s employee resource group devoted to the African-American experience), the Marketing Strategy team, and the BET Music Meeting.

“It’s not surprising,” Edwards said to Ozaydinli’s opening question, “because hip-hop thrives in environments with oppression and adversity.”

The Hype & Influence panel built on a video series of the same name, created by Viacom’s V By Viacom platform to explore cultural trends. The first edition, featuring BET’s Connie Orlando, 300 Entertainment co-founder Kevin Liles, and Miitch explored the same themes as the panel, which opened with a viewing:

Here are a few other highlights from the afternoon, from thoughts on the authenticity of Cardi B to the power and potential perils of hip-hop:

“People are used to everything being cookie-cutter”

Miitch addressed why she thought people connected with Cardi B, whose Bodak Yellow video has been viewed nearly a half billion times on YouTube. “People are used to everything being cookie-cutter,” she said, “but with an artist like Cardi, who doesn’t filter herself, people connect with her because she says out loud the things that people are thinking.”

Sparking a love of music

Coriano grew up in The Bronx hearing hip-hop on the streets, forming the foundation of her love for music across genres. “Living in the Bronx, hip-hop was my music and it was the music of that time.”

Maliibu Miitch and members of her Atlantic Records management team at the Hype & Influence panel, held at Viacom’s Times Square headquarters in honor of Black History Month. Photo by Pound & Grain.

Should children listen to hip-hop?

During the event’s question-and-answer portion, I sparked an extended debate when I asked about the relationship between kids and hip-hop. Miitch argued that parents do a lot of things in front of their kids that could be deemed worse than what artists rap about. “People rap about their truth and it’s not something to hide from children,” she said.

Coriano made the point that kids don’t always understand what is being said, and sometimes just like a song because they can dance to it or it has a nice beat. You can keep kids away from that sort of music, or give them a censored version, since many elements of hip-hop can be educational – she pointed to Logic’s 1-800-273-8255 or Kendrick Lamar’s songs about Injustice.

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A Viacom Employee Panel: Staying Healthy and Positive in the Social Media Age

With the emergence of social media as a source for news, it is little surprise that it has also become a social activism platform. But how do you know which movements are credible? Do you fact check news before believing it? Where exactly is social media taking us?

These were only a few of the many questions discussed at the Activism in Media Panel in honor of Black History Month, organized by The BEAT – Viacom’s employee resource group dedicated to the African-American experience – at the company’s Times Square headquarters.

Kimberly Renee Selden, content producer, educator, and founder of The Global Media Project, moderated this conversation among four influential media voices, each of whom shared a background in media and a common drive to pave the way for others.

The panelists:

Charles Coleman Jr. is a civil rights attorney who established E.D.G.E, a movement focused on inspiring the next generation of leaders and creating more positive examples of manhood for young men.

 

 

 

Eunique Gibson Jones is a content creator, director, and speaker who develops campaigns that ignite conversations and introspection. She also founded Because of Them We Can, a movement that empowers the next generation to honor the legacy of their ancestors.

 

 

Nantasha Williams is a well-respected political strategist, social architect and community engager, who successfully played a role in organizing the enormous 2017 Women’s March.

 

 

 

Steven Roberts is a director of video for MTV News, who helped re-establish the brand’s voice with a new generation of engaged young people.

 

 

 

 


Social Media Activism: The Pros and Cons

Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, or Snapchat have obvious upsides – giving voice to the voiceless, quickly disseminating information, providing optimal platforms for engagement – but the panel also uncovered some of the downsides, including the spread of disinformation, the cultivation of short attention spans, and a lack of true depth from so-called “engagements.”

Gibson Jones elaborated on a real-life consequence of short attention spans: “Last February, I ran a campaign for Because of Them We Can. On February 1 we like to kick it off for Black History Month, but at the same time our video went up, Beyonce announced that she was having twins!”

The lesson: do not underestimate the importance of strategic timing to the success of social media activism.

Viacom employees with the panelists after the Activism in Media panel at 1515 Broadway in New York City in honor of Black History Month. Photo by Natasha Nieves.

The Power of Positive Storytelling on Media

When creating a movement, it is important to stay positive and consistent, to maintain the mission, values, purpose, and story of that movement and keep people engaged and motivated.

“The stories that we tell and how we tell them have a direct impact in terms of our own self- image as well as our images around others,” said Coleman Jr. “Those in the creative process have a tremendous power to shape narratives. My personal goal and what I am currently working on is creating a platform to reconstruct the narrative of young men of color, so that they can see themselves in higher power, and know that their goals are attainable. Positive stories are visualization, and visualizations become reality.”

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Viacom Takes a “Day On” in Recognition of Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service

The Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, often referred to as “a day on, not a day off,” is a call for Americans from all backgrounds to unite in the spirit of Dr. King.

In the spirit of embracing the variety of backgrounds and ways of thinking that make Viacom strong, Viacommunity – the company’s social responsibility umbrella – hosted three MLK Day of Service volunteer projects in partnership with the “I Have a Dream” Foundation. The events, focused on motivating and empowering students to reach their educational and career potential, took place during the week leading up to MLK Day.

Viacom employees and “I Have a Dream” Foundation Dreamers talk educational and career goals at an MLK Day of Service event at Viacom’s Times Square headquarters.

At Viacom’s Times Square headquarters, Viacommunity and the foundation’s New York chapter hosted their annual workshop for dozens of “Dreamers,” college students who had gained access to higher education with the organization’s assistance.

A panel discussion followed, featuring inspirational advice from two Viacom employees: Essence Dashtaray, manager of Human Resources and Jason Williams, vice president of Global Inclusion Strategy. A speed mentoring event then combined employee volunteers with rotating groups of students to discuss their career paths and the Dreamers’ educational goals. In a testament to Viacom’s ongoing support of the foundation and genuine connection to its students, some of the Dreamers, now soon-to-be college grads, were reconnecting with Viacom employees that they had known since their freshman year.

The Viacommunity team moderates a panel between Viacom’s Essence Dashtaray, seated right, and Jason Williams and “I Have a Dream” Foundation Dreamers at Viacom’s Times Square headquarters.

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Viacom’s Season of Giving Kicks off Its All Good, All Year Initiative

Packing 10,151 meals may sound like a hefty feat, but Viacom volunteers took the challenge head on and held two Rise Against Hunger meal-packing events during Viacommunity’s 2017 “Season of Giving.”

Enormous as this effort was, these two events represented just a portion of the many volunteer opportunities offered during Viacom’s annual Season of Giving, which engages employees nationwide with holiday-themed volunteer opportunities throughout November and December.

Viacom employees prepping some of the thousands of meals they assembled in conjunction with Rise Against Hunger during Viacommunity’s 2017 Season of Giving.

Winter Wishes fulfilled

The corporate social responsibility team kicked off its most recent holiday-themed efforts by distributing nearly 300 New York Cares Winter Wishes letters to employees at Viacom’s Times Square headquarters and 345 Hudson office. Each hand-written letter outlined a list of recent achievements and desired holiday gifts from an underrepresented New York City elementary school student. Viacom employees selected one or more letters, then purchased and wrapped the gifts, which New York Cares distributed to the children.

Winter Wishes gifts wrapped and ready for distribution by New York Cares.

Stuffing more than turkeys Thanksgiving week

During the week leading up to Thanksgiving, a group of nearly 15 Viacom volunteers delivered nutritious holiday meals to homebound elderly in Midtown Manhattan through Citymeals on Wheels. Similarly, more than 100 volunteers united to package about 20,000 meals for the world’s most vulnerable communities with Rise Against Hunger at Viacom’s Times Square and Hollywood offices.

Viacom volunteers delivered meals to Manhattan residents in need via Citymeals on Wheels during Thanksgiving week 2017.

On the day before the holiday, as part of Viacom’s annual Kids Day – where employees bring their children to work for a day of fun and activities – the young ones gave back to their local communities, just like their parents. With help from Viacommunity and Employee Events, our young visitors helped stuff more than 200 cuddly giraffes, bears and elephants, which were then donated to children affected by Hurricanes Maria, Irma, and Harvey via The GOOD+ Foundation, SAFE (Stuffed Animals for Emergencies), and Spirit Airlines.

Critters ready to be stuffed for those in need by the child guests of Viacom employees at the company’s annual Kids’ Day.

In celebration of the social media-powered global #GivingTuesday that follows Thanksgiving weekend, employees across the U.S. contributed to Viacom’s foundation partners: VH1 Save The Music, Get Schooled and MTV Staying Alive. At Viacom’s New York, Hollywood, Paramount Pictures, and Miami offices, youth carolers from local VH1 Save the Music partner schools amplified this holiday cheer with festive songs.

Children liven up Viacom’s Times Square headquarters with holiday carols during Viacommunity’s 2017 Season of Giving.

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“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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attends the Ribbon Cutting Ceremony to celebrate the Grand Opening of Nickelodeon's State-of-the-Art… Read More

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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

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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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