What Is Uptalking

I have a confession to make: I’m an “uptalker.” (And I’m not the only one out there.) Uptalk, or “upward inflection,” is the speech habit of ending sentences like questions: the pitch of your voice trails up at the end.

Examples Of Uptalking

“The Millennial generation is known for uptalking, and there is a lot of debate as to when this uptalk habit began,” says Dr. Susan Miller, a sought-after vocal trainer and an assistant professor of Otolaryngology at the Georgetown University Hospital. “Did it begin in the ‘60s in Australia or did it begin in the ‘90s in California with the ‘Valley Girl’ speech pattern?”

If you’re picturing Clueless, you’re correct. But men uptalk, too.

“Partly this is how we’ve learned to talk. We learn from older ‘uptalkers’—brothers and sisters and friends,” says Kim Dower, also known as “Kim from LA,” a Los Angeles-based media trainer who has coached many authors, celebrities, and business leaders, including Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz.

According to Dower, “Uptalking implies a lack of certainty in what we’re saying—more like floating a suggestion than stating a fact—somewhere in between a question and a statement. It conveys a lack of authority, knowledge, depth, and experience.”

So for young professionals, entrepreneurs, and anyone else interested in communicating their expertise around their work, uptalk creates an obstacle to being taken seriously.

Miller says, “Women are referred to me by their employers, and the employers will say, ‘She’s great, but she sounds young.’ With guys who uptalk, people say, ‘He sounds uncertain. He’s not very confident.’”

When we speak with certainty, we’re perceived as being knowledgeable and competent—whether we’re talking about our most recent work project or our opinion of the latest iPhone update. We can use our voice and intonation as a tool to influence people and situations.

Ready to begin that intonation makeover? Let’s go.

Record yourself talking

According to Dower, the best strategy is to record yourself and listen to how it sounds.

“The moment you hear it, you know why it doesn’t work,” says Dower. “Say the sentence: ‘It’s time for us to get started on this project.’ Then say it in ‘uptalk.’ Then say it ‘normally.’ Hear the difference. As with everything we do, the first step in changing a habit is to watch ourselves doing it. When we hear it, we’ll be motivated to change.”

Note: it’s okay—normal, even—if you cringe at the way your voice sounds recorded.

“No one likes the way their voice sounds,” says Miller. “It’s because as we’re talking, we hear ourselves through the bones in our head. So everybody thinks their voice is lower. That’s why you sound different on a voicemail.”

Miller has her clients write down five statements and practice saying them with delicate conviction.

“You need to end the sentence as a fact. For example, ‘My name is Susan.’ I am very certain about what I’m saying. So if I am certain of what I’m saying, I’m going to remember to give air through that last word. I need to make sure that last word is heard.”

It may sound or feel a little bold at first, but hey—be bold.

Record a phone conversation

With permission from a friend, significant other, or family member, record a phone conversation (there are several good apps—I like TapeACall Pro). Start an involved conversation. Then listen to the recording.

Miller says, “That’s another way to catch yourself doing it: when you’re thinking more about what you’re saying to someone than you are of how you sound.”

Erin Matson, a Washington, D.C.-based writer and the co-founder of Reproaction, a buzzy non-profit that advocates for women’s reproductive rights, says standing during phone conversations is always a good idea.

“One thing that really helps for important phone conversations is to stand up,” says Matson. “You automatically sound more confident—and start to learn how to transfer that to your sitting voice.”

Break old habits

Consider if you use upward inflection as a strategy to temper a big ask or a strong viewpoint. Dower reveals, “We do it when we’re not sure whether the person is going to accept what we’re saying—it sounds like a suggestion, when in fact it’s a statement.”

Miller has had patients suggest that they started uptalking in high school, as an unintended byproduct of doing so many group projects. “I’ve asked clients, ‘Why do you think you uptalk?’ And some people say, ‘Maybe it’s because in high school, we did all team activities. We didn’t want to act like we knew the absolute answer.’”

Matson says, “There’s a whole body of linguistics that tracks how women in the United States tend to use communication styles that seek consensus. Uptalk is an extension of that, especially among younger adults.”

If you want to be heard, speak. If you need to disagree, disagree. No matter what point you’re making, you’ll invite a more favorable outcome if you sound eloquent and polished when you speak.

Don’t forget to breathe

Come to understand your voice as both an instrument and a business tool.

“We can have a voice we like,” says Miller. “It’s an instrument, and we can all learn to play it.”

As in music, speaking well is inseparable from the practice of taking good breaths.

“When we speak, breath has to come from below, from your lower ribcage,” says Miller. “When someone wants to project their voice, if they take a sucky breath instead of a relaxed, lower breath, then their throat tightens, so that sound—their voice—is resonating through a piccolo instead of a clarinet or saxophone.”

Voice is an area where we have great influence over how others perceive us. We have the power to maximize this flexible, adaptable medium through which we communicate: to influence, to share our thoughts, and to own our expertise.

Photo credit: Lauren Kallen

Startup founders have infamously unpredictable daily schedules as they work to establish and grow their businesses. What does such an entrepreneur’s weekly, daily, or even hourly routine look like when sometimes there aren’t enough hours in a day? In The Startup Diaries, founders walk us through a week in their lives and show what it really takes to get a fledgling business off the ground.

December 2017 was a period of change for Rebecca Lima. First, she decided to shave her head. “For the longest time my hair was my security blanket,” she says. “Shaving it was kind of a release for me—from what other people thought of me, from what I thought about myself and what made me feel beautiful.”

Then she decided to jettison the startup she’d been working on for two years. It was an airport- navigation app called Ment, and she wasn’t happy with her work. “I was doing it to fulfill some selfish need of mine to be bigger than I was,” she says. “It was an ego trip, basically, and I realized that because I was doing it for myself and not to help other people, I had to put an end to it.” In January 2018, she sold her company assets, and in February, she incorporated The Lieu.

Her new idea was to provide women with a space (and tools) to freshen up so they didn’t have to schlep their beauty supplies around every day. “I shaved my head because I didn’t need any more distraction—I didn’t want to carry this straightener around anymore,” says Lima, a WeWork Labs member at WeWork 142 W 57th St in New York. “But shaving your head, that’s not a solution that’s scalable.” She wanted to pay forward her newfound freedom by creating what she calls a “24 Hour Fitness for beauty”—a pit stop for fixing your hair, applying lotion, changing clothes, or putting on spray deodorant.   

Rebecca Lima of The Lieu.

She started by hosting pop-ups at WeWork locations around the city, bringing lighted mirrors and curated beauty kits to conference rooms. “I got a lot of validation that women wanted this,” particularly in their workspaces, Lima says. “[The service] integrates so beautifully into the life of a corporate woman.” So she shifted her focus from launching a storefront to creating corporate subscription kits with hair, body, and feminine-care products for businesses.

Though opening storefront locations is still a long-term goal, Lima says the subscription model allows her to build a following. tRight now, she’s working with a team of contractors to build smart beauty cabinets, which are set to  that launch in July. “”Think of them as big retail display cases curated with grooming and personal care products,”” she says. The smart part: The cases will have QR codes and the products will have RFID tags. “”This provides brands with a new distribution channel to connect with their consumers.””

Below, Lima shares a breakdown of a recent workweek.

Monday

8 a.m. Wake up in Florida. I was here for my best friend’s baby shower over the weekend, and I fly back to New York this afternoon. I enjoy the hotel pool for a few hours.

2 p.m. Take a branding call with my contract designer while I’m at the airport. We’re rethinking the logo, the feeling of it. Pink’s been done 50,000 times. We want a level of sophistication and playfulness.

4 p.m. Board flight.

6:30 p.m. Layover in Atlanta. I use the time to answer emails. Any free time is a time to answer email.

7:40 p.m. Off to NYC. I try to detach from the world on planes. Since it’s a short flight, I listen to music.

10 p.m. Land at LaGuardia and hop in an Uber home. Order Seamless (a burger from my favorite spot), unpack, and shower.

1 a.m. Bed. I have so many meetings tomorrow, but I’ll manage.  

Tuesday

7:30 a.m. Wake up. I used to start my morning—and end my day—on social media, but I’ve been detoxing from Instagram and Facebook for about a month- and- a- half. At first, it was super hard: I was too caught up in everyone’s lives, comparing my situation to what I saw depicted on IG, and it was really unhealthy. Forty-five minutes go by and you’re like, I just did nothing. All I’ve done is watch other people’s lives.

Now I don’t even open those apps. I wake up, spend some time meditating and praying, get out of bed, shower, and start my six-step skincare routine: cleanser, toner, elixir spray, hyaluronic acid, serums, and moisturizer. (It used to be 10, but I cut back on face masks and certain serums.)

9:30 a.m. Leave my apartment in Astoria, Queens. Today I have three separate investor meetings—we’re in our pre-seed round—so I spend the morning prepping for my first meeting at noon.

12 p.m. The first investor wasn’t the right fit for my company. The more meetings that I’ve taken, the more I can instantly tell if a person’s a good fit or not. Most of the time I’m talking to a white, older male—that’s just the reality of the situation. It’s another human, and they have predisposed thoughts and beliefs. And it’s not my job to persuadeconvince someone to do this if they’ve already been persuadedconvinced otherwise.

3 p.m. The next meeting went better. The conversation was more fluid and the investor understood the true vision and importance of the company. My business partner, Domonique Sims, came with me, too, and we feed off each other really well. She joined the company in November 2018 because I needed help with operations. We’re the only full-time employees, but we have eight contractors, including an industrial designer and a two-person manufacturing team.

4:45 p.m. Last meeting of the day. At this point, I’ve traversed the entire city. I’m tired, but this is what it takes. Fundraising is a two-way street—founders tend to forget that. You always feel like the investor has the upper hand. But you have to switch your mentality to think, This is the partner that’s going to be with me for the long haul of my company.

7 p.m. Dinner with a founder friend.

12 a.m. Go to bed exhausted after watching videos on YouTube. I don’t own a television—I haven’t had a TV in, like, three years —and I don’t have any streaming subscriptions. I do watch YouTube—I love educational videos and things that will make me learn more about life. I’ve been really into growth- hacking my life.  

Wednesday

6 a.m. Wake up earlier than usual for an 8 a.m. event.

8 a.m. Arrive at the Female Founders Day event hosted by the venture- capital firm Female Founders Fund for International Women’s Day. It is so cool to see such a diverse group of women connected by entrepreneurship networking under one roof.

11 a.m. Attend a panel with Glamsquad CEO Amy Schecter about building your brand for scale.

1:45 p.m. Attend panel featuring Rent the Runway co-founder Jenny Fleiss, Birchbox co-founder Katia Beauchamp, and Female Founders Fund partner Sutian Dong. I asked the question, “When fundraising, how do you initiate the close faster?” They suggested putting a few investors on the same timeline to incite a sense of urgency.

3 p.m. Leave the event because reality has hit: I’m flying to California on Friday—more investor meetings!—and I have no clean clothes. I go home to do laundry. I take work calls while folding. The glamorous life of a founder.

6:30 p.m. Dinner with a friend—she just got a new job at Spotify, and we’re celebrating.

“For the longest time my hair was my security blanket,” says Lima. “Shaving it was kind of a release for me.”

Thursday

7:30 a.m. Morning routine.

10 a.m. Meet with a lawyer at The Wing. She’s super cool—a mutual friend connected us—and really well-connected within the angel phase of fundraising. I already have a lawyer, so I was basically there to hear about what services she provides.

11 a.m. Run into a friend at The Wing and chat for an hour.

1:45 p.m. Call with another potential investor.

2:30 p.m. Salad from Sweetgreen, one of my favorite places.

3:30 p.m. Meet with a top-notch fund. My co-founder is supposed to join but she came down with a cold and can’t make it. The meeting goes well.

4:30 p.m. Crank out emails.

8 p.m. Attend an “interesting- persons dinner” hosted by a friend. There are eight of us. We introduce ourselves and talk about how we stay grounded—that’s the topic of the dinner. I talk about my social media cleanse and they’re like, WHAT? One of the guys connects me to two of his angel- investor friends, and I have meetings with them on the Friday after I return to California.

Friday

8 a.m. Wake up, pack, and hang out at home for a few hours before I head to Newark Aairport.

10 a.m. Answer emails and follow up with previous investors. I feel like these past few weeks got the best of me as I tried to close this round of funding. Going to California is a lot of energy—and money—and I don’t know what’s going to happen.

That’s the frustrating thing about being a founder. There’s a lot of risk, and it’s disheartening when you have a meeting and it doesn’t go as expected. Or I’ll walk out of a really good meeting and then get a bad email. Every single day it’s a battle to see how resilient you are.

2 p.m. Board my direct flight, pop in my headphones, and crank the tunes. Not even five minutes in, I’m passed out. I wake up and watch A Star Is Born and Green Book.

5 p.m. (PST) Land in L.A. and pick up my rental car. I’m staying with my friend in Long Beach.

6:30 p.m. Dinner and ice cream. We catch up and enjoy a lot of laughs.

11 p.m. Back at my friend’s house. I shower and go to bed. The time difference—and this week full of meetings—has finally caught up to me.

Photos by Katelyn Perry

Shortly after she turned 25, Julie Zhuo became a manager for the first time. This was at Facebook, where she started as the social-network’s very first intern 13 years ago, and where she still works, as vice president of design.

Zhuo admits that in her earliest days of leadership, she had no idea what she was doing. “When teams grow rapidly, there’s a lot of opportunities for leadership,” she says. “But it’s not usually the thing that [startups] are focused on because we’re figuring out what we can do to keep things running.”

As Zhuo grew as a manager, uncertainty followed. So she took matters into her own hands, recording her musings on her blog, The Year of the Looking Glass, which she began as an act of self-reflection. It struck a chord—week after week, her most popular articles were on the topic of being a first-time leader.

In her new book, The Making of a Manager, Zhuo crafted the field guide she wished she had had after that first promotion nearly a decade ago.

Initially, one of the managerial responsibilities Zhuo most struggled with was giving feedback—especially critical feedback, given that many of her new reports were once her direct peers. But constructive criticism, while challenging to give and receive, is a gift. Zhuo is so devoted to feedback, in fact, that a whole chapter of her book (Chapter 5: “The Art of Feedback”) is based on it.

At a recent event at WeWork 315 W 36th St in New York, Zhuo spoke about how employers can give more caring and productive feedback that leads to positive action. Below, Zhuo discusses four steps managers can take to maximize their critical feedback—even if it is really, really critical.

Julie Zhuo was prompted to write “The Making of a Manager” after becoming a first-time manager at 25 and feeling unconfident in her leadership skills.

Step 1: Establish a baseline of trust with your reports. Well before a situation arises, make it clear to your team that you’re their coach and their ally. In the first three months of your tenure, carve out standing one-on-one meeting time to get to probing questions like, What do you really care about? In three years, assume you had your dream job—what does it look like? What are the things you’re scared of or nervous about? By establishing an honest relationship right off the bat, you can set the tone for potentially more difficult conversations in the future.

“Sometimes it takes a little time to develop the trust,” Zhuo says. “But it starts by asking those questions to truly try to understand someone and have them understand you, too, because you’re not going to get that much honesty and vulnerability if they’re not getting any of that in return. It is a two-way street, and I think the first three months is really about building that relationship.”

In her current role (she leads the team responsible for the design of the Facebook app), Zhuo blocks out one day a week for one-on-one sit-downs. These discussions shouldn’t be viewed as meetings for managers to get status updates, she says, but rather focused on the report (who, by the way, should walk away from the conversation thinking it was a great use of their time).

Step 2: Remind yourself why this matters. “I’ve read thousands of reviews people have written about their managers over the years, and I can assure you that, by far, the No. 1 ask is, ‘I wish my manager would give me more feedback,’” says Zhuo. However, feedback only counts if it makes things better, so the onus is on you as a manager to develop a practice that’s going to benefit both of you.

“People don’t like to be surprised,” she says. “A lot of our doubt might come from that lack of alignment between how other people see us and how we want to be seen. Just knowing the truth is a lot more grounding than having someone wonder all the time.”

Outside of one-on-ones, commit to what Zhuo calls “task-specific feedback,” or objective comments meant to help people do specific activities better. Our behavior changes when someone acknowledges that we’re doing something well; psychologically, encouragement prompts us to stretch ourselves even more. Give task-specific feedback to all your reports, and give it often.

“I’ve read thousands of reviews people have written about their managers over the years, and I can assure you that, by far, the No. 1 ask is, ‘I wish my manager would give me more feedback,'” says Zhuo.

Step 3: Tell it straight. So the moment has come—it’s time for you to confront an issue with one of your reports. No matter the circumstance, avoid “compliment sandwiches,” or starting and ending your feedback with praise with the criticism wedged somewhere in the middle.

“Say the news as plainly as possible so there are no misinterpretations,” says Zhuo. “It’s just harder for someone to understand what the actual message is. If you want to tell someone something you know is going to be disappointing to them, just tell it directly to them. It is a sign of respect.”

Zhuo offers the following template: “When you <XYZ>, I felt <concerned/disappointed/upset> because <ABC>. I wanted to bring this up with you to understand your perspective and see what we can do work through it.” If you’ve done the first two steps, your reports will see you as their partner, not a bully. “It’s important for us to recognize why, sometimes, we should put ourselves in that uncomfortable position: It’s meant to help somebody else,” she says.

Step 4: Remain curious about the other perspective. To prevent your feedback from coming across as an accusation, engage in your report’s response and encourage a discussion. Zhuo says it’s always helpful to end your criticism with a check-in, like, “Does that resonate with you?” If your report says yes, that’s great—they’re acknowledging it, and you’re already on the same page. But if they say no, that’s OK, too, because you’re not delivering a verdict, rendering their points moot.

“Now they have a chance to tell you how they feel—why they have a different perspective or why you might be the one who’s misinterpreting right and wrong,” she says. Start with the phrase, “I want to understand your perspective and I want to see what we can do to work together,” and go from there. “You want them to know you’re doing this because you care about them.”

Illustration by Vladimir Obradovic/iStock; event photos by Lori Gutman

After completing his last treatment for stage-four throat cancer in 2009, Michael Hayes, a serial entrepreneur with a software-engineering background, spent years thinking, How can I use software to solve problems in the real world?

The problems he was most interested in solving were the big ones—cancer prevention, detection, and cure. But it wasn’t until around 2012, when breakthroughs in machine-learning made it possible for computers to read massive amounts of medical-records data, that Hayes began to see the role software could play in cancer care. In 2018, Hayes founded the nonprofit research organization CancerAI, a member at WeWork 625 Massachusetts Ave in Boston that aims to break down the walls between organizations and across sectors to bring the results seen in experimental research to the real world.

Removing the barriers in communication, says Hayes, is key to developing the artificial intelligence needed to improve cancer prevention, detection, and treatment. “In some ways, everyone who develops cancer has a unique case,” he says. “That makes fighting cancer extremely daunting, which is why collaboration amongst different cancer-fighting groups is so important.”

Hayes and CancerAI had a seat at the table this past fall, when WeWork and the Biden Cancer Initiative (BCI), a nonprofit founded by former Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, launched their “collaboration hubs” in cities across the country. The aim: to make sure that every person, no matter where they are in their cancer journey, has a voice in the fight against the disease.

CancerAI is a founding member of the collaboration hub in Boston, and in the organization’s first session, members of the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research and the Broad Institute were present.

“It was small, it was the first step, but there was a lot of interest in the collaboration in the Boston area,” says Hayes.

These hubs—which have expanded to New York City and San Francisco—broaden what is normally a one-sided conversation to include stakeholders or members of the community who would not normally be involved in decision-making.

“It’s incredibly important to get perspectives beyond CEOs of top pharmaceutical companies,” says Catharine Young, BCI senior director of science policy. “Whether it’s a nurse or a caretaker, they all bring with them a wealth of knowledge.”

Earlier this year, Dr. Rahul Remanan, who has hosted sessions associated with BCI for years, led a collaboration hub at WeWork 750 Lexington Ave on New York’s Upper East Side. At the gathering of about 70 professionalsmostly technologists and health-care practitioners—Remanan, who is trained as a doctor and founder of the full-stack AI firm Moad Computer, focused on the idea of open data systems used in early cancer detection.

“I want to reach out to as many people as possible around [the technology] because I know I can’t do it on my own,” says Remanan, who shared his collected data before discussing the lessons and range of challenges of using artificial intelligence in cancer detection.

The push for shared data in medical research is a departure from tradition with a huge potential payoff: The hope is that if these technologies become successful on a wide scale, the highest-quality cancer care can become available to everyone. The software systems Remanan and Hayes hope to build can help doctors by flagging high- and low-priority images, greatly increasing the likelihood of getting a diagnosis for the people who need it most, no matter where they live or their socioeconomic levels.

“[We would] have an efficiency that’s accessible to anyone from across the world,” he explained. “You don’t have to pay more and more money to get quality care.”

“The future is here—it’s just unevenly distributed,” says Koios Medical CEO Chad McClennan, an AI medical-image-analysis platform approved by the FDA that analyzes the data in images and notifies physicians when something in an image, often naked to the human eye, looks suspicious.

This virtual second opinion can level the playing field for patients everywhere. Accuracy goes up, fewer people are sent home mistakenly, and fewer people are subject to treatment that turns out to be unnecessary. Koios, a member at New York’s WeWork 500 7th Ave, has half a million images linked to pathology results and is currently deployed with about 50 physicians in the New York area. “You have an expert’s second opinion at your disposal instantly and ubiquitously,” says McClennan, who is currently planning a hackathon at a collaboration hub.  

The future that McClennan speaks of can be available to everyone—regardless of geographic location or income—only if the fight against cancer extends across silos and disciplines.

“It’s hard and it takes time, but I’m optimistic that it will happen,” Hayes says. “Within a couple of years, some of these [software] tools will be quite prevalent in making a big difference in the fight against cancer.”

Photo courtesy of iStock

I’ve always had this theory that money can “feel” different, depending on where it comes from. That the money you get for grinding out paid work for a company has a different energy than the money you get for your true-blue creative-soul work (if you’re able to get paid for that work at all).

But there are many artists and creatives who make a strong case to the contrary. A group of them came together recently to discuss the intersection between art and commerce at a panel co-hosted by WeWork x BRIC at WeWork 81 Prospect St in Brooklyn, New York. They shared what it means to be a working artist in today’s world, how corporate work can inspire a richer artistic practice, and the trick to maintaining your ethical center when a company is footing the bill.

Every bit of making feeds the beast.

“I’m lucky I get to make art every day,” says Mike Perry, a multidisciplinary artist and illustrator. To Perry, there is no line between “art for them” and “art for me”—rather, all the work he does feeds his daily practice. “I love an assignment because I’m free to explore, learn something, experiment with new materials and ideas,” he says. “I can be influenced by something I’m paid for.” Perry says he can sit down at 7 a.m. and work on a project for T-Mobile for five hours, then turn to his tackle box of oil paints in the afternoon to create something entirely for himself.

This conversation goes way back.

The Baltimore-based street artist-cum-muralist Gaia is quick to point out that art has been dependent on commerce for centuries. Drawing a strict boundary between what is “real” art and what is paid for by someone else doesn’t add much to the conversation, he says—and if taking commissions allows the artist to focus on their work and put food on the table while remaining in touch with the real world and engaging with audiences, why shouldn’t they?

Panelists (from left) Mike Perry, Devin Vermeulen, Gaia, and Chelsea Campbell with moderator and WeWork’s vice president of content and campaigns Laura Brounstein (center).

Boundaries spark creativity.

As a creative director at Pandora, Chelsea Campbell works within some of the strictest borders of all: 30-second audio ads. “Constraints make for better creation and better creativity,” she says, noting that the ad can play to the listener’s “theater of the mind”.

Money affords bigger, better projects.

If someone will pay you to go bigger—and let you learn how to do it in the process—could you turn it down? “Scale is hard, and money makes scale happen,” says Perry. Money also allows projects to expand and grow. At Pandora, the algorithm is so good at predicting what music listeners will enjoy because musicologists work behind the scenes categorizing each song by up to 400 traits. This form of creativity is born from technology funded by a corporation … but it trickles down to a pleasurable user experience. When Pandora uncovers your new favorite song, you’re not thinking “What a smart technology company,” but instead, “Wow, they know me so well.”

Ethics drive compatibility.

Finding a brand or company whose mission aligns with yours as an artist is critical to a successful collaboration. When Devin Vermeulen, a senior creative director at WeWork, asks an artist to create a mural for a WeWork location, the project isn’t just in service of the brand. He’s going to them “because we like what they do and want the project to align with their mission,” he says. “We want to see success as a byproduct of having an impact on the world.”

Every project needs to please stakeholders.

Any creative project comes with different voices telling the artist what to do—and that doesn’t change whether it’s a corporate gig or a mural on a street corner. Gaia says it’s important to build consensus among competing agendas and what each person expects to see. “My job is to synthesize and find a balance” between everyone, he says, whether that’s a hotel manager with specific needs for an installation, or a grandmother living on the corner in Baltimore who has expectations for the art that should be on her street.

“Selling out” is different for everyone.

Perry noted a recent uptick in the use of the phrase “selling out,” which he says peaked in the early 2000s and now seems to be coming back around. Perhaps that’s a function of a robust economy—more companies have the ability to commission artistsas more people are ditching the 9-to-5 and identifying as artists and creatives.

But when a brand and an artist want to work together and their missions align, there’s no harm done, says Vermeulen. Campbell put a fine point on it: “Sellout has turned into collaboration.” It’s the artist’s prerogative to decide what “selling out” means for them—if it means anything at all. Getting paid by a corporation may allow them to live their dream in another capacity.

The blur can be good.

Perry recounted creating a giant 80-by-30-foot mural for Jameson whiskey. People on Instagram loved it, and he was confused—It’s an ad, he thought, They all love an ad?! Finally, someone told him, “Mike, we’re just really happy you got a job!”

The public is often less concerned with the distinction between art and commerce than one would think, especially if the merger gives rise to something better. As Vermeulen said: “If I’m going to be bombarded by an ad, I’m glad it’s done by an artist.”

For all the blurring of art and commerce, Perry said something that rang in my ears after the night was over. “Maybe,” he says, “we should think about ourselves as humans and people and not brands at all.”

Photos by Lori Gutman