ZEFR senior product manager Kaelin Burns’ first piece of graffiti was not an act of vandalism, but it was gang-related, in a sense.
The spray paint-rendered cityscape she and a group of coworkers created earlier this month was part of a larger daylong ZEFR offsite team-building exercise that culminated with a takeover of the Venice Art Walls on Venice Beach.
Other works ranged from fanciful depictions of palm trees and space ships to ZEFR co-founder/co-CEO Zach James’ recreation of the tag used by local surfers back in the 1970s, altered from hostile (“Valley Go Home”) to welcoming (“Valley Stay”).
James’ ode to beach culture was not a casual coincidence. The name ZEFR is a phonetic homage to the the Zephyr skateboarding team that roamed Venice and Santa Monica in the ’70s, revolutionizing the sport with daring, acrobatic moves, and the company’s “go big, go fast” ethos was inspired by their outside-of-the-box approach. So that means Venice isn’t just something employees experience on their walk from the car (or the bus) to the office, it’s deeply ingrained in the company culture. And if ZEFR is going to put on an event to promote interdepartmental communication, it’s going to do it in the most Venice way possible.
The day started at The Rose Café, a few blocks from ZEFR’s headquarters on Abbot Kinney Blvd., where the company’s tech, product, and Research & Innovation teams came together to prep themselves for 2017. Following short presentations by each team, employee broke off into discussion groups to explore how to better synergize their efforts. Then it was off to Venice Beach for some all-hands-on-cans graffiti action.
“My goal was to get everyone outside on the beach and engaging in something out of their comfort zones, not to mention an activity so quintessentially Venice,” says Jamie Andersen, ZEFR’s department coordinator for technology. “Most of our team had never graffiti’ed before, but everyone jumped in with paint, and the results were incredibly impressive.”
The walls were originally part of the Venice Pavilion, an open-air amphitheater built in 1961. It hosted concerts by acts ranging from The Byrds to Duke Ellington, as well as poetry readings, dance performances and plays. But the often-cool, windy beach weather proved less-than-hospitable to performers, and when a roof was added to solve that problem, it created another: abysmal acoustics.
Over the years, the pavilion fell into disrepair. Finally shuttered in 1984, it became a haven for the homeless and a target for graffiti artists. When the city decided to redevelop the Venice oceanfront walk area in 1999, members of the community banded together to raise money to turn the venue into a community center, but their efforts fell short. The bulk of the pavilion was subsequently torn down, leaving just the walls.
Today, the Venice Art Walls are managed by the arts-focused nonprofit the STP Foundation.
“They helped me to craft the graffiti experience from breaking the teams down, to setting up a template, and providing all of our supplies and consulting artists,” explains Andersen, who says her day-to-day job makes her more like the “coordinator of fun.”
While some might turn their nose up at the very idea of corporate team building activities, Burns says she’s a huge fan.
“It’s hard to get to know your team in a strictly social setting,” says Burns. “There can be social pressure and anxiety around what to say or how to connect, but when you have a chance to get outside of your day-to day-day space and responsibilities and engage with each other in other creative, fun, problem solving activities, you can create a different kind of bond.”