The Critical Mass Artist-In-Residence Program (CM:AIR) is a unique artist-agency collaboration. Founded by artist Shantell Martin and Critical Mass, CM:AIR is a bold new initiative to enact rapid industry-wide change by offering tangible support to artists, with the goal of ushering in new industry standards for partnering with artists by first opening dialogue about artist-brand exploitation. As beacons of creativity, artists bring agencies an invaluable perspective, and therefore should be respected and collaborated with fairly. The unfortunate reality is that, all too often, the creative potential for these relationships gets bogged down in unfair contracts or power imbalances.
CM:AIR is designed to support artists with tools, resources, and opportunities while building up the infrastructure for a transparent and equitable collaboration model. CM:AIR’s first focus area seeks to address artist-brand exploitation by exploring equity in contract negotiations, intellectual property, and modeling new norms for creative collaboration. The program was founded with longevity in mind, so artists for years to come can partner with our agency to help educate wider audiences about artist rights issues while continuing to build upon the successful foundation created by Shantell and Critical Mass.
Shantell and Critical Mass worked closely to develop creative projects with a focus on facilitating new connections between brands, fine arts, design, philosophy, and technology. This partnership gave us the voice and reach to start informative conversations before paving the way for industry change. After launching a Webby Award-nominated site, CM:AIR kicked things off with an Artist Roundtable, featuring industry luminaries that span a wide array of creative backgrounds. The creatives sparked conversation about how to create real change for future generations of artists. The roundtable had over 3,100 impressions on LinkedIn and more than 875 viewers tuned in on LinkedIn and YouTube. CM:AIR also interviewed five artists to understand their biggest challenges when working with brands. These interviews provided an artist-to-artist safe space to freely express their thoughts and be transparent in their experiences.
From personal experience and testimonies, Critical Mass and Shantell collaborated and designed the "AIR Map." This functional art piece acts as a roadmap for artists working with brands and businesses. It displays CM:AIR’s principle of nutrition by mapping out how what artists do programmatically feeds back to the industry, brands, and (most vitally) young artists entering this space. This map was launched at South by Southwest (SXSW) in March 2022, where CM:AIR was invited to speak on a main stage about the program. Val Carlson, CM Global CCO, hosted a panel about NFTs for emerging artists with Shantell and other industry professionals. We then continued the conversation and the next iteration of CM:AIR with the creative industry at the Fast Company Innovation Festival last fall. Bringing artist exploitation to light at big industry events is only the first phase for CM:AIR on the road to tangible change.
Together, we’re creating an alternative to the often-problematic attempts by brands to unilaterally and exploitatively set rules, terms, and expectations for their artist collaborators. We’re creating a reimagined, repeatable model for artist-marketer partnerships, and are perfectly willing to go against the grain of conventional marketing norms. While the CM:AIR program is a landmark for our agency, we also hope it’s a landmark moment for the creative industry.