• Blair Brady

Q&A WITH/Kyle Stapleton, Manager of Culture & Experience at Turner Studios || The Corporate Vibe

Kyle is an advocate for Atlanta's culture and creative scene – of the past, present and future. I met Kyle in 2018 at an event we hosted on Atlanta's place as the Capital of Creative Diversity - as you can imagine, he had some strong opinions and perspective to add to the discussion. Blair Brady sat down with Kyle to discuss some of his thoughts on the unicorn we call "culture", his love for ATL, and music.

Kyle Stapleton, Manager of Culture & Experience at Turner Studios

BB: Kyle, you have a very unique job. Tell us about your role at Turner Studios.

KS: My job definitely does not suck. I sometimes describe myself as our gardener or groundskeeper – my job is to tend to the “vibe” of Turner Studios, trying every day to cultivate the best possible place to work for content creators and the people who support them. That entails growing the ideas and initiatives that make a difference in our people’s lives and helping us pull the weeds that make our work lives more difficult. I touch on a little bit of everything we do so I’m never bored, and I try to never take for granted the privilege of supporting the caliber of creative, caring people I get to be around every day.

BB: So why is company culture so important in today's world? And, has this been a fairly recent development?

KS: I LOVE this question – there are lots of angles from which to reflect on it. For now, though, I’d counter by asking why it hasn’t been much more important all along. People all want their lives to mean something, and work could be such a powerful vehicle for that.

Dr. Steven Tomlinson spoke beautifully about this in Austin earlier this year; his keynote blew my mind.

One of his points was that science now suggests that people are always unconsciously pushing to give 100% of themselves to things, no matter what. That means it’s not about how much “value” we can extract from our people, but how much of people’s talent and humanity we’re prepared to employ. That’s a huge paradigm shift.

The way we’ve treated work for generations says a lot about the people with whom we entrust power, but the bottom line is that we’ve placed our trust in work to give us the life we want and it’s failed us again and again. Now that (1) we have access to more information and connection and (2) the types of jobs we do are changing, it’s really starting to collectively dawn on us that we have to do something different.

BB: Is it fair to say you have a love affair with Atlanta? How has that come to be and what makes our city so unique?

KS: YES. Forever I Love Atlanta. They’d better play Spottieottie at my funeral.

I was born and raised here, and I’ve always been so proud of being from a place where the most important thing was to be “the first you.” MLK, Maynard, Stacey Abrams, Ted Turner, OutKast, Donald Glover … at our best, we make moments that move humanity. And whether it realizes it or not, the world now looks to ATL for cues on where the culture’s headed. The fact that NPR now has a hip-hop writer – and it’s a dude from Atlanta (big ups, Rodney!) – is no small thing. As my friend Bem Joiner says, “Atlanta Influences Everything.”

(Also, I recently did a talk on this topic at Gensler’s Future of Cities Forecast event – if you need someone to talk to a group about what makes ATL magical and what elements of our DNA we should protect, hit me up.)

BB: FILA it is then, my friend. So, what are some cool things you see happening or developing on Atlanta that we should all know about?

KS: Lots! Specifically, the caliber of “social good” innovation happening in ATL should make everyone here super proud. Jasmine Crowe’s Goodr feels like a game-changer to me. There are lots of locals I’m rooting for because of their bold ideas, convening power, or both: Wanona Satcher (Makhers Studio), Heather Infantry (Generator), Joey Womack (Goodie Nation), Nikishka Iyengar (The Guild), Rohit Malhotra (Center for Civic Innovation), Malika Whitley (ChopArt), and more. We should be working toward a multiplier effect by amplifying bright spots like these and connecting overlapping efforts.

We’re lucky to have a city full of artists who not only produce incredible work, but do so to elevate civic discourse – in particular, Fabian Williams (who led #Kaeperbowl), Fahamu Pecou, Charmaine Minnfield (The New Freedom Project), and Maya Bailey (via his new Peters Street Station space). I always have to show love to Cam Kirk, who has elevated ATL culture so much through his own photography and now through his studio space and shop (DTour).

A few random ones: I’m a HUGE fan of “Atlanta’s culture channel” Butter.ATL, led by Brandon Butler. I’m intrigued by what Tavani is attempting with Switchyards’ evolution to a neighborhood-focused model. And I think Creative Mornings (led by Blake Howard) has really hit its stride, and they’re convening some of the most interesting, inspiring perspectives month after month.

BB: Inclusion has been a recent focus for many organizations - why is this so important and what kinds of efforts do you try to make organizationally and personally in that area?

KS: Every group of people in the world, large and small, is better off when different perspectives have a seat at the table and a voice that’s truly heard. That goes for business, too – look at the success of creative companies like HBO and Netflix, who have made concerted efforts to give a platform to underrepresented voices.

For us, it’s all about doing the right things at moments of choice: prioritizing ongoing learning and development, creating spaces for our own underrepresented voices (and looking to them for guidance about how we can do more), empowering more boldness in hiring and promoting, and being more intentional about how we want the future of our organization to look. We know how true it is that people can’t be what they can’t see, so getting young people into our studios and helping them envision themselves in roles they didn’t even know existed can be huge. That’s why I love working with organizations like re:imagine/ATL.

BB: We've talked about organizational and civic culture. Give us an example of how you manage your personal brand today? Do you have a mantra or statement you operate by?

KS: Thinking of myself as a brand has always felt disingenuous. It makes me think of a Zach Galifianakis interview where he said “Diet Pepsi is a brand; you’re a human being.”

I’ve had amazing role models in Atlantans like Ann Cramer, Glen Jackson, and Doug Shipman, who’ve staked their success in the depth of their relationships and the energy they infuse into others. Those are the kinds of people who I think really make a difference here. Plus, that feels like a distinctly Atlanta (or Southern) way to live.

This is the home of Dr. King and the most meaningful social movement in American history – to keep this the place we know and love, we shouldn’t strive for anything less than honoring that legacy by building toward a Beloved Community.

BB: If you had one piece of advice to give to culture makers in their own organizations - what would it be?

KS: Make y’all’s work mean something.

Be an activist. Don’t accept the status quo. Turn over tables in the temple.

If the people around you refuse to be moved, they don’t deserve the progress.

BB: Lastly, you're a big music fan - I mean, you have a podcast where you and a co-host discuss albums in depth (plug! check out TuneDig). So, what are you listening to these days?

KS: I rarely go more than a day without listening to Guwop or a Dungeon Family artist – it’s wild to me how easy it is to only listen to homegrown music for days or weeks at a time.

More recently, though, the podcast actually has taught me to be better at sitting with albums more presently and intently – my listening instincts have always skewed toward breadth instead of depth. I thought I loved music before, but it’s opened up entirely new dimensions for me and challenged me to make new connections between ideas and expressions. As a result, it’s made me gravitate more to music that can push away time and space and feels like a world I can get lost in.

I’ve been updating a Spotify playlist each week with the songs that are doing that for me at a given moment. Obviously this combination of songs resonates with me in a super personal way, but if it adds richness and color to even one other person’s life, that would make my day.


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