By Rod Kurtz
At the massive Industry City complex in Brooklyn, home to thousands of entrepreneurs, artists, and other creatives, Kendall Tichner is responsible for bringing the space to life.
If you sat in Arts and Crafts class as a kid and daydreamed of somehow getting paid to create cool stuff when you grew up, you'll probably be pretty jealous of Kendall Tichner's career path.
As Director of Content and Art for Industry City, a massive Brooklyn-based entrepreneurial and creative “ecosystem,” Tichner wears many hats. (And sometimes, literally—check out her colorful Instagram feed.)
But perhaps most simply put, Tichner creates. In a big way. Like, 6 million square feet big. Industry City, a former shipping and manufacturing hub that dates back to the late 1800s, now brings together some 500 companies in industries ranging from biotech to manufacturing to fashion, and is home to an innovation lab, an extensive food hall, retail, and lots and lots of common areas. That’s where Tichner comes in—working with artists to design shared spaces and art installations that drive conversations at Industry City, and then documenting this beehive of creative collaboration through photos, videos, and other storytelling means. She also helps oversee partnerships, and is working on a new initiative called The Collision Project to expand Industry City’s ranks of artists and creatives.
The average day—if there is one—sees Tichner crisscrossing the 35-acre waterfront campus, dipping in and out of meetings, connecting with some of the 6,500 people who call Industry City home daily. A sign that she’s done her job? “I think everyone leaves here very excited,” she says.
We recently caught up with Tichner (in between meetings, of course) to learn more about what inspires her to keep creating, her take on the future of entrepreneurship and media, and why she faces the one challenge that no other New Yorker has—too much space.
I confess, you’ve got one of the cooler jobs I’ve come across—having 6 million square feet as your creative canvas. What led you here?
Before Industry City, I was working on a similar project that was 2 million square feet, doing all the marketing and helping launch the space. I love helping people feel connected to a space and seeing them become happier about their day-to-day. It’s been amazing to watch people transition to not knowing a space to feeling part of a community. I have this great network of creatives and artists, helping the vision of people I really believe in. The artists get their work shown to an amazing audience, they get paid for their work, and it’s a win-win for everyone. I sort of sit on the cusps of these worlds. My niche is launching creative-reuse projects and creating a community.
What drives your passion for this unique work?
I really love being able to think of a crazy concept—and then have the space and money to execute it. Working in these types of spaces has gotten my brain to, “Nothing is too big, nothing is impossible.”
What’s a typical day like?
I go to the gym in the morning, then I have meetings all day with anyone from a community to an artist, a large business or small business. I have a team that helps me out there. Then we’ll sometimes have events. Then I’ll usually get dinner or do something at night. It’s honestly a lot of walking a giant campus and showing people around and trying to figure out collaborations.
As someone with a finger on the pulse, do you think we’re in a golden age of entrepreneurship? On the one hand, it’s easier than ever to start a business. But that also creates a lot more noise.
Yeah, but I think there’s also a lot of light shining on the BS. Which I think is kind of awesome. I don’t want to put anyone down who’s going for it, because I think that’s great. But you actually need to work super hard and have experience, and I think the people who have the experience and grit and charisma will shine. It’s hard, because anyone can call themselves CEO. But I am all for people going after their dreams. Just seeing a macro lense of the businesses who work here—it has a lot to do with the work ethic of the leader.
You create a range of content in your role, and have a strong following of your own. Where do you think media and social are headed?
I think the biggest issue is that people are over-producing content. At least with social, people should think a little less and create more visually appealing short-form video. I just tend to see that I’ll make a profile piece that has a beginning, middle, and end, and a video we post of someone poking dough will get 30 times more views. I think consistency is important. Always think, “Would I want to watch it?” Putting people in it is also important. And not worry too much about it. People get too precious about it. Messing up can be engaging, like posting something that is a little shaky. People want to see what’s behind everything.
Our guiding principles are Feel, Form, and Function. Anything that steers you through this maze of creativity?
I’m pretty crazy about only working with people I like. If someone makes you feel good, then I’ll work with them. If they give you bad energy, I tend to politely stay away. Also, I tend to be a good balance of adventuring and a steady, consistent routine, so I’m trying to take more chances.
What keeps you going, Every Step of the Way?
I guess it’s people. And the spaces. I love these beautiful raw spaces and seeing them go from abandoned nothingness to vibrant places and seeing that place in its totality. You have a million people communicating, how can you design for human interaction? What else keeps me going is just little conversations with people every day. I think that’s one of the reasons I like what I do—being able to talk to so many inspired people.