No Events, No Problem: How The Creatives Behind The Annual CultureCon Conference Are Leveling Up With New Digital Offerings – Forbes

Posted: August 22, 2020 at 2:51 am

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Imani Ellis, Founder of The Creative Collective NYC and CultureCon

In the midst of a season where stay-at-home orders are in full effect, what does it look like to grow a community dedicated to curating events specifically for creatives of color? For Imani Ellis, Founder of The Creative Collective NYC and CultureCon, answering this question meant that the team behind what has become the go-to conference for creatives of color had to completely reimagine their core offerings.

Like so many, weve had to pivot and go back to the drawing board, said Ellis in our recent interview. Were constantly asking ourselves, What does our community need more of? and What are we going to do about it? With the help of these routine questions, The Creative Collective NYC (CCNYC) team has been able to reach an unprecedented breakthrough for their community. Ellis was kind enough to share here what their followers can expect next and how she and her team have been able to remain innovative, reaching higher heights during a time thats presented them with quite possibly their most unique challenge yet.

Remember Why You Started

Having in-person events has been a part of our DNA from day one, Ellis expressed referring to events like the annual CultureCon conference. What began as a Bible-study-sized brave space in Ellis Harlem, NY apartment had ballooned to nearly 2,500 attendees by 2019. Striving to keep the same vibe of intimate connection established from its inception, the NYC-based brand had still grown rapidly enough to have planned a much-anticipated expansion to Atlanta in the upcoming year.

Prior to the rolling shutdowns triggered by the rapid-fire spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, CCNYC had been hosting up to four in-person events per month. By CultureCons third year theyd welcomed some of the industrys most successful creatives of color to join the cause for their community like Will Smith, Tracee Ellis Ross, Regina King, Spike Lee, Lena Waith and Elaine Welteroth. They also had plans of creating a job fair and a market featuring Black-owned businesses. But just as things were beginning to pick up, the nation shut down, leaving Ellis and her team in the same boat as many other event-focused brands who needed to quickly figure out ways to reach and serve their communities.

CCNYCs solution had to be as creative as the thousands of loyal attendees who flocked to their community-hosted events each year. So when postponements quickly turned into cancellations, CCNYC stayed true to their mission of collective effort in service of their communities and wasted no time in reaching out to their community to see what they wanted most during this time.

Lean On What You Know

Recognizing that a large part of their community had begun to use the time during the pandemic as an opportunity to reimagine what their true interests looked like and improve their skill sets, the CCNYC team reached out across their increasingly busy social media channels for feedback on which direction they should move next. We polled about 5,000 of our community members and asked them what they wanted more of - virtual happy hours or skill-based workshops, Ellis recalls. 95% said they preferred a skill-based workshop, so we set out to build a digital platform that would deliver that and then some.

Once it was decided that they were creating a brand new platform, the colleagues that Ellis mentions as some of the most incredibly talented and hard-working people she knows, jumped right to work. We talked through course ideas and prioritized topics wed actually want to learn more about, then started identifying talent and building out curriculums. With an enduring mission to help those creatives who identify as POC to live and learn unapologetically as their full selves, CCNYC leaned on their 360-degree approach of catering to their audience by building the Creative Curriculum, a dynamic learning website curated specifically for creatives of color launching today.

Team photo, CultureCon & The Creative Collective NYC

Creative Curriculum originally began as short takeovers on the brands Instagram page that showcased helpful skills on a variety of topics. Today this space has transformed into a full-service digital suite meant for community empowerment and invaluable resource sharing. This new digital platform will be presented by the all-in-one website building platform, Squarespace. Catering to the specific needs and lifestyles of CCNYCs most curious and ambitious Black and Brown community members, the Creative Curriculum will feature four tailored tracks focusing on entrepreneurship, creative innovation, professional and personal development as well as financial health and literacy.

We're proud to partner and collaborate with The Creative Collective NYC to help develop their new Creative Curriculum program, which we see as an incredible digital resource for creatives of color looking for support in getting their projects off the ground, said Kinjil Mathur, Chief Marketing Officer, Squarespace. The Creative Collective NYC's mission of providing a hub to inspire and educate the multicultural creative community aligns perfectly with Squarespace's mission to equip anyone with an idea or dream the tools they need to succeed."

Employing keynote conversations and masterclasses given by larger-than-life creative minds like Gabrielle Union-Wade, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and Grammy-Award winning artist Kandi Burruss, guests will have the option to follow suggested tracks of learning or combine their favorite courses to create a custom curriculum of their own. And with on-demand videos (workshops can be watched nonstop for up to 30 days) making it easier for creatives to learn on their schedules, its obvious how enthusiastic the CCNYC team remains when it comes to creating spaces that address the whole individual.

We believe that establishing these creative ecosystems can lead to real change and that over time, this can lend itself to an overall economic shift with an emphasis on the importance of ownership, shares Ellis.

Never Forget What Youve Been Working For

Through their focus on having the right people in the right roles, putting effective processes in place, and striving for excellent performance no matter the project, the CCNYC team has demonstrated the importance of both leadership in service as well as effective teamwork. No one is self-made - not even those who refer to themselves as such, Ellis asserts. Its the team behind the mission that moves the needle. Its the collective effort of many that makes it all possible. Theres a common misconception that as an entrepreneur youll finally get to work for yourself...WRONG, she emphasizes. Youre working for your team, for your community, and for the vision youve created.

For any entrepreneur whos just begun their journey or whos maybe even become an expert in their own right, during uncertain times its not at all out of the ordinary to question whether or not you were built for such an unpredictable season. But according to Ellis, whos shown remarkable resilience during this time, self-awareness is key to coming out on top. You shouldnt believe every thought that you have - especially when youre going through a difficult time, urges Ellis. I would advise every entrepreneur to constantly take inventory of how theyre doing personally and professionally, she explains. There is a difference between a difficult moment and a difficult life and you have to be honest with yourself [about what] youre experiencing.

Find Joy In The Journey

Entrepreneurship isnt for everyone and thats totally okay, continued Ellis. There is no shame in trying something new or closing one chapter to begin a new one. Mentioning how weve all begun to reframe what success looks like, Ellis hopes that Millennial creatives continue to pursue the things that they love; no longer glorifying burn out culture, but doing those things that make them happy. Taking to estate sales on the weekends, Ellis has kept her curiosity high and her stress low by digging through piles of historical artifacts in her free time. Viewing the joy shes gained from the activities shes grown to love as absolutely necessary for achieving and maintaining success, the thriving entrepreneur is committed to living a full life not entirely defined by business decisions and career highlights.

You truly have to live in your truth and do your best to step out of the shadow of the worlds expectationseverything else will follow.

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No Events, No Problem: How The Creatives Behind The Annual CultureCon Conference Are Leveling Up With New Digital Offerings - Forbes

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