Rena Tom and her Role in Adobe’s New Creative Residency Program

By Libby Nicholaou

On July 15th the Creative Residents are coming to the Adobe San Francisco office to present at a Working Late event. Please join us to hear directly from Kelli Anderson and Becky Murphy about what sparks their creative interests and the approaches they use in their work. Rena Tom, founder of Makeshift Society, will be moderating the event with a formal Q&A at the end.

Since we recently published a post about the residents and have in depth interviews with them on Inspire, we thought it would be interesting to interview Rena about her experience with artist residencies at Makeshift Society. Rena has played an important role with the Adobe Creative Residency since the beginning. She was among the key individuals we consulted with while planning the Creative Residency, as she has a gift and a passion for adding value to the creative community.

Rena’s bio

Rena forges connections between people, places and things. Rena is a strategist and matchmaker, a consultant on small-batch manufacturing and boutique retail and was Market Editor of Anthology Magazine. She is also the founder of Makeshift Society, an organization which offers shared workspace and resources to creative freelancers and design studios in San Francisco and Brooklyn. Makeshift has drawn attention from diverse corners of the Internet such as the Knight Foundation, Remodelista, HOW Magazine, Metropolis, Core77, Design Observer and Dwell, and was named an “influential hub of collaboration” in the SF Bay Area alongside Y Combinator and Stanford d.school.

This is the first year Adobe is doing the Creative Residency program and we are learning a lot along the way. Makeshift Society also has a residency program. What did you learn in the first year of your program?

The first year of our residency was a good time to experiment – to match up our goals for the program with the realities of hosting a resident in our space. Our idea was to provide resources for a person to take on a project that they reasonably did not think they could execute without us, due to the coworking facility and meeting space, the help and support of other members, or some combination thereof. If the residency was a boon for a community, that was icing on the cake.

At first, we left the submission guidelines very loose and ended up having to weed through a lot of fantastic responses that simply didn’t fit in with our goals. We’ve learned to tighten up the application and ask for more pointed examples of who benefits from the residency, as well as being a little more stringent about the “results” that we can expect.

With Makeshift Society’s residency program, residents work on projects that give back to the community. Will you tell us about two projects residents have done that really stand out to you? What was their impact on the community?

The first residency at our Brooklyn location definitely benefited Makeshift but also our community at large as well as the architecture firms of NYC. Elisa Werbler and Lucy Knops created The Foam Agency to recycle the endless pieces of leftover foam from architecture modeling projects into a beautiful and insulating installation in our largest conference room wall. They documented the process (and which design studios the contributions came from) in a newspaper; you can read more about their project here. The Foam Agency was featured by organizations like Archinect and Core77.

foam agency

In San Francisco, Hunter Franks refined his Neighborhood Postcard Project as one of our first “Makers” in Residence. Hunter wanted to help change the perception of neighborhoods in SF through storytelling via the humble postcard. The project was warmly received and gained positive press in publications like The Los Angeles Times and Atlantic Cities, and has spread to 20 other cities around the world. Check out our recap to hear about a serendipitous connection that happened with the project.

postcard project

When you talk about community at Makeshift Society, particularly in regards to your residency program, who are you referring to? Have you seen changes within that community in the last two years? If so, what have they been?

The community has evolved a bit, just as our membership has. Most of our residents are doing their project on the side, and don’t appear at our clubhouses every day. Even though we offer full-time access, most residents don’t use it at all. Everybody is so busy! What hasn’t changed, however, is that they all enjoy the camaraderie when they stay for the day, the knowledge base that can be found in person or through our internal mailing list, and the access to a space to meet, teach or lecture in throughout their residency.

What do you think are the strengths of a solid residency program?

Clear expectations laid out at the beginning – about support that can be expected and about the success factors or progress points that we will see as the outcome. Despite this rather contractual stance, there is a ton of freedom within a good program so that the resident can do her best work or explore without fear of “doing it wrong”.

If you could be a resident, either today or in your past, what program/institution would it have been with? What would it have allowed you to explore?

My friend Amy Tavern is a talented goldsmith and artist; after I heard about her residency at Nes in Iceland, I immediately fell in love. Everyone I know who has been to Iceland will do practically anything to return. I need to check out how the wild landscape affects the art-making process.

Will you give us a teaser question that you will ask the residents on July 15th?

“We are immersed in non-stop synchronous and asynchronous communication with others. Your social media profiles probably brought you at least partially to the attention of Adobe, so it can definitely be a good thing. On the other hand, I recently listened to a Lexicon Valley podcast on the concept of kibitzing, or constant commentary from others who may have no expertise in what they are speaking about. How much does this ‘back-seat driving’ in the form of comments on your blog or Instagram feed, or responses on Twitter, influence the shape of your work?”

Learn more about the Adobe Creative Residents by joining us on July 15th from 7:00 – 9:00pm at the Adobe San Francisco office for presentations from Becky Murphy and Kelli Anderson. There will be refreshments and opportunities to make art work in the Typekit Studio and the XD Make Ready RISO booth. Tickets are available here.