From a refuge in Mississippi to Facebook in California, my reality is experiencing whiplash from an accident called art. Both places were hot for inspiration despite the staggering differences. Are these two realities located in one United States of America?
As the artist in residency at the Choctaw and Sam D. Hamilton Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge, 48,000 acres of natural environment dominates the landscape. Facebook’s office designed by architect Frank Gehry spans 40,000 square miles topped with a 9-acre rooftop park. The social media’s campus “only” covers 57 acres compared to the refuge. However, both leave a visitor unable to see its borders and possibilities.
Dana Morrison graciously provided a tour of impressive site-specific artworks at Facebook. Most were created in conjunction with the company’s artist in residency program. Employees live aside museum quality pieces as part of their daily ritual. Similarly at the refuge, staff engages with gators, snakes, flying squirrels, and other creatures while performing tasks to protect habitat.
Facebook’s culture is positively shocking to me. Oil changes, bike repair, recreational areas, dental care, and other perks are available to employees. Meanwhile on the refuge, the government sequester took a staff of 35 and gutted it to 9 individuals. Comparing my work experience, there are no bonuses, benefits, or consistent raises. The “perk” is having the “freedom” to create.
On the refuge, sustenance fishing is normal and a daily occurrence for many local residents. No fish equals no meal. Residents would declare they’d eat what God delivered that day. On the other hand, Facebook is stocked with gourmet dining areas, snack stations, restaurants, and goodies. Options are plentiful and hunger is nonexistent.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg: “I think that people just have this core desire to express who they are. And I think that’s always existed.” This quote reminded me of a passage from H. B. Cushman in the History of the Choctaw, Chickasaw and Natchez Indian. Referring to the Choctaws: “They believed that the Great Spirit communicated his will to man in dreams, in thunder and lightning, eclipses, meteors, comets, in all the prodigies of nature, and the thousands of unexpected incidents that occur to man.”
How does the Great Spirit communicate to man today? Perhaps with a utopian Facebook experience of how labor and creativity should be treated with respect. A living wage isn’t too much to ask. Why do risky financial products produce ridiculous profits when protecting nature is “complicated”?
A bird can migrate thousands of miles and an Internet post can reach a global audience within minutes. The natural world and information technology have no boundaries. Each can protect or destroy at a moment’s notice. In the right hands, both reap rewards.