Diversity in Advertising, Picture Farm's Toddy Stewart

We set our cultural tone at Picture Farm by operating an art gallery out of our storefront office space and filling it with a range of artists with many points of view.

Tell us about yourself and your job.

I’ve made a journey out of my career. Like some, I started in one place and kept moving, never quite succeeding in settling down into one role for too long. I went from being a television cameraman to being a commercial editor to being a director to growing into a hybrid supervising-editor-creative-director role, which doesn’t preclude me still doing those other things. I’ll just say I am a very involved partner at Picture Farm Production, an integrated production and post production company that services artists, agencies and brands in nearly every production role a project might demand.


What was the greatest obstacle you’ve had to overcome since you began working in advertising?        

Well, the vocabulary of advertising, its core lexicon and cultural norms have always come very easy to me. It all seems pretty comfortable and intuitive and understandable. This of course is highlighted by the fact that I’m a white guy and the whole system was set up, more or less, by people like me for people like me. No wonder I was able to just sync in. I’ve always had the sneaking suspicion that this facility has been a possible obstacle in doing something truly great so I’m thankful I’ve been very fortunate to work with people who come from different places than me; with people for whom the system wasn’t built. I’m not sure how that sounds. I just can’t cop to surviving too many obstacles, I can only be grateful for the opportunities.


What is your opinion on the current state of diversity within the industry?

The current state? Well, I think it’s becoming a far more interesting space to engage in. It certainly hasn’t hit any peak parity, but there is so much agitation for change and true desire to clear, inclusive communication. It is a positive position to be in. Full of hope, I hope. The industry will keep convulsing and shifting in some part thanks to technical developments and I think that can offer all sorts of opportunities for the diversification of storytelling. So long as we ensure it does.


What do you think causes agencies such difficulty when attracting, retaining, and nurturing people of color?

From one perspective I’d say a big difficulty is a conception of time. I just don’t think our culture as a whole respects time as a relative thing. The industry must keep opening up, seeking people from all backgrounds and then give them the time to learn technique, time to fashion a creative space in a new environment, time to understand their voice. It is an investment on both sides. People are rushed to adapt or get out without being given the chance to find their feet and figure out what they’ll bring to the table. People have a difficulty allowing themselves the appropriate amount of time to master the craft. People need to be able to stumble upon how they’ll make evolution.


The advertising industry has for years been talking about its many diversity issues, what do you think a long-term solution could look like?

It starts with education. I mean internships, mentorship programs, community engagement. Advertisers, image makers, filmmakers, we have a craft we can teach. Methods and models that are ripe for reinterpretation. But to reinterpret, one has to learn the ropes, figure out how to use the technical processes, push them further in new directions. The only solution I can conceive of involves investing in supporting diversity from the ground up this way. The practical education we can help provide.


What is going on within your agency to improve diversity?

For years, we set our cultural tone at Picture Farm by operating an art gallery out of our storefront office space and filling it with a range of artists with many points of view. This kind of engagement helped set the default sensibility to “open.” This has survived in the form of the Picture Farm Film Fest, an annual Brooklyn based weekend festival with programming that highlights diversity in voice and content. In conjunction with the film fest, we’ve developed a “Director Mentorship” program that, in it’s infancy still, is meant to foster talent in the commercial directing marketplace that might not normally find easy entry. And our Post Department has always had an aggressive internship program that fosters editing talent which enables us to give the time and attention needed to develop talent the way we’d like. It now includes a burgeoning relationship with Made In New York, internship program that pulls prospective production and post production talent from local schools and communities. We keep trying to engage in it.


How do you plan to inspire the next generation?

I’m not sure there’s a way for us to inspire the next generation in some sort of top-down way. Maybe all we can do is facilitate their own inspiration. Help create space for the next generation’s voice. Help give them the tools to communicate and some wisdom as to how much power they will eventually wield. Maybe if we can be somehow inspirational with the way we’re continually trying to rethink our own assumptions, that might be something. Maybe we can pass on our craft and technique, spreading them around to people from all corners. Maybe the craft itself can be the inspiration.  And of course, in the end, time spent together creates conversation, understanding and inspiration.