Stephen Guerin is founder and president of Santa Fe Complex, a multifaceted nonprofit that encourages collaboration between art, science and technology. He also is founder and principal of RedfishGroup, an organization that specializes in “complex adaptive systems.”
SFR: What kind of work does RedfishGroup do?
SG: We do a lot of work for cities, visualizing data and simulating urban issues—anything from traffic dynamics to wildfire modeling. We’re moving through the social services and looking at youth mental-health issues in San Francisco at the moment. We model complex systems using data.
What led you to form Santa Fe Complex?
I came out of a very creative endeavor called BiosGroup, which was one of Santa Fe’s larger employers, with branches around the world until the dot-com thing fell apart. I missed that kind of free exchange of concepts, the hotbed of technology and constant, collaborative idea development. In Santa Fe, there’s always a lot of that in the air, but we lacked a place to bring together people and provide workspace.
So SFC is a nonprofit venue that hosts various kinds of projects?
Exactly. We’re looking for a lot of the creative professionals in Santa Fe and beyond that need a project space to set up shop for small and large projects. Our mission is directly in line with the city’s Economic Development Department, which provided the start-up funding, so we’re really trying to bring through projects that have a discernible economic impact.
SFC also does a fair amount of education, exposing kids to technology in creative ways?
That’s right. Kids get to play with a lot of stuff here, but it’s really about getting them engaged. In the last few years, the field of education has seen a big push in place-based learning. Rather than teaching kids about monkeys in Borneo, teach them about issues facing the arroyo in the backyard or empower them to identify and improve safe routes to school.
How does that fit with SFC’s other work?
Well, the questions are how to get kids plugged in to the community and doing meaningful, rewarding work. The whole project-based paradigm enables us to say, ‘Hey, why not start a project now?’ You don’t have to wait until you’re out of high school or until you’re out of college. The same applies to workers who have been displaced in the current economy. Maybe waiting around to find a job isn’t the best thing when you can start working on a project-by-project basis. It’s a changing mentality and SFC is trying to play a role in it.
What kind of projects might be happening simultaneously at SFC at any given time?
There’s a project here now related to the smart grid and improving the nation’s electrical distribution and generation system. We’ve got a climate change monitoring project happening and there’s a loose group called Urban Studio [with] a shared interest in modeling cities and urban planning.
And those projects could interact with an experimental music project or 100 school kids?
Definitely. There is constant interaction. We encourage people to come to our events but, more importantly, we encourage people to come and work from here. If it gets to the point that your project needs more access or regular desk space, then there’s a modest fee structure.
What’s the briefcase full of sand for?
It’s a portable sand table that we use for simulation. Using a projector, it allows people to experience a whole new form of human/computer interaction. It’s been very well-received here and in Boston and in Venice, Italy.
How is it received by airport security?
Well, if you’re looking to get pulled off a Southwest Airlines flight, pack a suitcase full of sand and see how it goes for you.