21-23 Aug 2024
ICC, Sydney

The Loop Lab: Creating equal opportunities in the AV industry

The AV industry is at the forefront of innovation, however there is no denying a need for change when it comes to equality and eradicating discrimination. Integrate talks with Chris Hope, Executive Director and Co-Founder of The Loop Lab, on starting a career in AV, challenges for young people entering the industry and being an advocate for change.

Q: How did you get started in the AV industry?

A: “I got my start in the AV industry at my local church, Pentecostal Tabernacle (ptspice.org). Houses of worship make up roughly 12% of the AV industry. I used to think that the role of an AV professional was to set up equipment, but through my work at the church, I saw that the true role of AV and the AV industry is to enhance communications and the communication experience. 

My work in the industry also opened my eyes to how non-diverse the AV workforce is, which fueled my other mission which is to advocate for workforce diversity and inclusion. “

Q: Are there any challenges you’ve had to overcome in your career so far?

A: “Racism: Implicit and explicit bias. Systemic racism and injustice are present in most industries but is especially prominent in the AV industry. A glance at a companywide photo at a typical AV company would yield images of mostly white men over the age of 40.

Both women and people of color are grossly underrepresented in the industry. Beyond lack of diversity in the workforce, underrepresented people who do work in the industry face additional challenges, such as lower promotion rates, lower pay rates, higher instances of building security following them around during installation or work visits, dealing with higher levels of scrutiny on field jobs due to a perception of stereotypical laziness.

To share a recent example, I was recently oversearched while attempting to enter a museum where my team was filming, the assistant to the executive director of museum ran out when she saw it was me, but think of all the people who don’t have that interference? I have dealt with this by internalizing my professional validation and continuing to consistently deliver high-quality work while acknowledging the systemic/structural challenges that are working against my progress.

While I can’t say I have “solved” this issue, I work every day to reduce these challenges for my students and to help companies reduce these instances in the workplace. “

Q: What inspired/motivated you to create The Loop Lab?

A: “The Loop Lab is a nonprofit organization located in greater Boston, Massachusetts which empowers young adults of color and women to enter the audio/visual industry through workforce development and job placement.

I started it because I wanted to disrupt the school to prison pipeline that is derailing the lives of countless young Black and Brown youth in my community.  Years ago, I served as a minister at Harvard Divinity School and was in charge of the AV at Pentecostal Tabernacle. The church that I served is in the center of the most impoverished part of the city.

At the time, I mentored several young adults in the neighborhood and invited them to be guests on my radio show at Harvard radio (WHRB) to learn how to use the equipment and to teach them AV skills. I identified an opportunity to help these youths by helping them connect their passion or AV and music to meaningful and prosperous careers.

Soon, I began to talk with city officials about funding a formal program where students could receive free workforce development and training. The Loop Lab was initially funded in 2017 by ArtPlace America and The Cambridge Arts Foundation. “

Q: How has The Loop Lab been successful in its mission to create equity within the industry?

A: “Most importantly, The Loop Lab continues to graduate students from our program. Each student who has graduated has demonstrated at least one of our benchmarks for success (employment, continuing higher education, or entrepreneurship).

Every time a student is finished with the program they have the potential to continue The Loop Lab’s mission at their new organization. Diversity in AV is more than increasing the number of underrepresented people on their payroll, and our students can help change the culture of the organization using the skills we teach them while in the program. 

Additionally, I consult with many organizations that have reached out to me to address and reduce disparity and biases within their companies. I work with them to identify, control, and to handle systemic, structural and interpersonal unfairness judiciously and empathetically, identify specific growth areas, form action steps, implement training and initiatives aimed at advancing equity and inclusion at their organization. “

Q: What are the main challenges for young people entering the industry?

A: “Lack of mentorship and implicit bias in the hiring process to me is the biggest challenge a young underrepresented person would face when trying to enter the AV industry. Most how-to videos are made by white professionals, and the vast majority of executives are white males, which can send the message to youth that they are “not welcome” to apply and succeed in the industry.

One way The Loop Lab is addressing this is by producing a series of “How to” AV tutorials that will be produced by content creators of color, featuring people from different backgrounds demonstrating the work. Sponsorships from employers would help to increase the production and reach of these videos. 

Q: What does the future look like for The Loop Lab?

A: “The Loop Lab continues to grow! In the past five months as a result of virtual learning, we have gone from 5 to 30 students, including high school students in Cambridge and Boston. To help sustain our training program, we operate a video production studio that generates up to 30% of our gross revenue as a company but also gives trainees and alumni employment and experience opportunities.

The need to diversify the AV industry is not limited to Massachusetts, and eventually, The Loop Lab hopes to expand training to other states and Countries!  I am interested in seeing how the AV industry could help support more Aboriginal Australians into entering the AV industry.”

Q: Any advice for AV professionals during these turbulent times?

A: “The best advice that I can give to AV professionals is to try to position yourself in the broadcasting and live streaming niches within AV. This is a thriving part of the AV industry right now. Because of COVID-19 much of the live performance industry is suffering massive lay-offs.

However, the crisis also presents an opportunity. Last year our production studio added broadcasting events as a service that we offered, in addition to video documentation. During the national lock down in the U.S., my organization The Loop Lab began to offer free consultations to other organizations and companies on supporting them in broadcasting and live streaming solutions. This has led to a 20% increase in work for our production studio during a time when many other companies are closing their doors.”

For more information on The Loop Lab, please visit: www.TheLoopLab.org.

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