bonus episode – the unforeseeable outcomes of art | Tara O’Shea

This bonus track is part of a series of interviews we conducted for episode 23 Draw Everywhere: Space and Quantum Computing Art with Forest Stearns. This time we interview Tara O’Shea, the director of forest programs at Planet. We spoke about her relationship with the artist-in-residence program at Planet and how it can promote inclusivity in a company.


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The transcript was produced by an AI, mistakes might appear. 

Nir Hindi: [00:00:00] Can you take a moment to introduce yourself?

Tara O’Shea: Yeah, sure. Hi, I am Tara O’Shea and I lead forest and land-use programs here at planet. Planet I think as an aerospace and data analytics company has really revolutionized earth observation capacities.  Imaging the full earth every day at a high resolution.

This is really an unprecedented data set for us globally. And we spend a lot of time thinking about an activating, what this can do for not only improved forest monitoring, but also practically understanding the services that that forest provide to help us better value those services and, and ultimately create more sustainable models for, for managing forest and land use globally.

Nir Hindi: Yeah, I think for somebody it is important to mention that when you mentioned forest in your world, it is not our forest. At least

Tara O’Shea: that is correct. Yes. But that is another point of overlap that, that forest and I shared.

Nir Hindi: you joined planet [00:01:00] after forestry was there. You are going to this company, and they tell you, okay, hi, get to know forest our artist in residence.

In this company, what do you have in mind when you meet an artist in such a technological environment?

Tara O’Shea: Yeah. So, I joined planet after forest, and I was fortunate to work directly on a team with forest. And I think one of the first things that, that struck me, you know, I think when we think about the intersection of art and technology, we often think about inspiration around engineering.

And I think that makes a lot of sense. And at planet that certainly holds. When we look at. The sorts of innovations that that planet is bringing to both hardware and software and, and the role of art in all of that. But what really struck me about what forest was doing, you know, even back in 2016, the sort of datasets that planet was starting to produce was totally unprecedented.

And I think this is the [00:02:00] case that a lot of technology companies, you are building something that has not existed before. And so, it is not just about. Building that thing. It is also about inspiring others to understand what you can do with that thing, inspiring others who, you know, might have specialties in other fields and, and find ways to apply your technology in ways that you could not even see yourself.

And so, I really thought for us work was critical in helping inspire and communicate what might be possible. With the data sets that are coming from this new technology. And I remember one of the earlier projects that the forest had worked on before I got, there were these massive biodiversity murals, and they were hanging throughout our office.

They were on, they were sketched onto the hardware of the satellites themselves. And I think that is, that is so important because at that time, you know, there still was so much focus on the space aspect and the innovation around space hardware, which [00:03:00] again is critical. But I think that sort of art and inspiration and communications.

Really helped, you know, inspire what are we going to do with these data sets? Once we do hit, you know, mission one of imaging, the full earth every day, how might this improve things like ecosystem monitoring that ultimately can lead to biodiversity conservation. And so, I think, yeah, I think it, what Forrest did really help build a bridge from technology to application.

Nir Hindi: And, and I am interested to hear from your perspective, what, how he touched you, how he touched you on a personal level. Obviously, you are talking about how it is influenced the company and what is allowed, but I am interested. How does it feel to come to a workplace when you have artists working next to a scientist?

Because us was not the only one, the only artist you had out the whole program, and every few months you had the different artists.

[00:04:00] Tara O’Shea: Yeah, it feels very inclusive, honestly. I can say as someone who sorts of feels like I do not have an artistic bone in my body, I am, I am someone who grew up, you know, like a kid taking music lessons, not a ton of formal art training.

It is not something that I thought I had a skill in.  You know, many of our employees are involved in the art programs in one way or another. And one way that, that, that sometimes manifests is like, we will have these employee events where the artists and residents will host a workshop with us, and we will do a hands-on art project that, that evening.

And there, there was one where we made this kind of Tetra Hedron. Cubes where we, each side of, you know, the shape that you were making pulled in a different earth observation image from our catalog. And it was just a fun way to connect with my colleagues, you know, doing something that I did not think I necessarily knew how to do, but it shows you yes, you [00:05:00] can.

And it is something to bond with. So, it really feels very inclusive, and I think brings a lot of great sorts of confidence and team building to the whole organization.

Nir Hindi: So, I have, I have now a question for, for you, if we have Business manager, entrepreneurial. Why should they start their own artist in residence? And, and before that, I want to say something always when I speak about artist-in-residence the answer that I hear from people yeah, all these big companies have the budget and I always bring planet because the artist in residence started when you were 24, 25 people.

And that is why I think for me, It is kind of symbolized that captivity. It is a matter of commitment. It is not a matter of sources. So, I am kind of interested to hear from your perspective, if you need to kind of maybe pinpoint in bullet points to listeners, [00:06:00] why they should have put this thing, that residents in the company, what would you say?

Tara O’Shea: Yeah, I think anytime you. Bring together people who have different perspectives or skill sets or experiences, there are going to be numerous valuable outcomes from that, that you cannot even foresee, let alone quantify at the time.

And I think we see this repeatedly at planet, for example, where we bring this, you know, 30,000-foot view, this space-based monitoring view. And when you bring folks with local contextual knowledge of a given place and empower them with that tool, that that combination is so much more powerful than what we could do as you know, the with, with just the monitoring ourselves and, you know, one area where I have seen this, for example, we are working with the United Nations to improve national forest monitoring [00:07:00] systems and international forest reporting.

And just one example and Indonesia, we began working. With the government of Indonesia. And, the first thing that they went and looked for in our imagery was a certain type of infrastructure that is used to drain peatlands, which are super important ecosystems to conserve they are super carbon-rich.

And they knew exactly what pieces of infrastructure were used to drain those peatlands and how to look for whether those have been illegally activated. Or not, which was just mind-boggling to me. Right. Because even though I have years of experience in forest monitoring and reporting standards, I do not have any of that local knowledge on the ground.

I would not know to look for that. Neither would our partners, you know, in international institutions, it takes that combination and of, of all these different perspectives and, and experiential. You know, understandings to really create a comprehensive solution. And I think it is the same when you bring together artists with [00:08:00] engineers or marketers, or you are just going to have these amplified benefits that you could not even see that full picture without bringing those groups together.

And I think we have certainly seen that at planet again, whether it is the inspiration that ends up. Sparking something for an engineer working on our space systems, or whether it is helping us tell a story about what might be possible and inspiring that scientists down the line to try a new method with this technology.

And so, I just think it is, it is critical, not to have group think and to have a seat at the table for, for multiple different perspectives, because it is going to only amplify the impact and potential of your work.

Nir Hindi: Eh, last thoughts, comments, ideas you would like to share with us?

Tara O’Shea: I do not think so. I am just, I am super excited that this conversation is happening and that we could be a part of it.

We all are benefiting from the groundwork that forest lead at planet. [00:09:00] And you know, it is certainly something that I am, I am excited to see how this continues to evolve both, you know, the application and the engineering side.

Nir Hindi: Great.  First, thank you very, very much for taking the time to chat with me.

It seems exciting. I mean, when I was in planet, I felt this energy speaking with so many people from planet just reinforce it. So, I am very happy. We got the chance to have this conversation. I think it is, it is wonderful to see how things are connected and not only staying is, as we just discussed in the specific discipline.

I think that often innovation happens at the intersections of disciplines, not necessarily from within