The National Collaborative for Creative Work was a network of creators, policy thinkers, movement makers and change agents who worked together to weave projects, partnerships and policy solutions to enable healthy, equitable creative work in the United States.

Artists and culture workers experience chronic wage instability and lack of access to basic worker protections, health care and long-term safety nets like retirement savings. Black, Indigenous and other people facing the double impact of race and other intersectional identities in this larger picture of financial instability. When creative workers are unhealthy and financially unstable, so are our communities.

Creative work isn’t working for workers.

The arts, culture and entertainment sector pays more than $25 million annually to gig workers and non-employees who work as contractors.
Aspen Institute

Most creative workers in the U.S. identify as contractors working on average 6-8 gigs and part time work for annual income.
Gig Economy Data Hub

25% of gig workers have health insurance.
Gig Economy Data Hub

38% of gig workers have any retirement savings.
Gig Economy Data Hub

95% of creative workers experienced pandemic-related wage loss.
Americans for the Arts

63% of creative workers experienced unemployment during the pandemic.
Americans for the Arts

The Mountain West has the highest rate of gig work in the U.S., estimated at around 40% of the total workforce of the total workforce concentrated in gig work.
Aspen Institute

Black and Hispanic workers had the highest rates of unemployment and wage loss and are over-represented in the gig workforce.
Brookings Institute

We believe creative work can sustain people and their communities. The Collaborative works toward that future.

Our mission

To activate artists, educators, movement leaders and policy makers to imagine learning, tools and policies that support the social, financial and civic health of workers and their communities.  

How we ground our work

  • Facilitating dynamic collaboration with artists and creative networks that center community wisdom and support self-determination.
  • Modeling of racially equitable decision making and leadership in our work.
  • Leveraging our unique place and investment in the civic and economic health of creative workers and communities in the Southwest. 

We did this work through partnerships, projects and research that spanned several portfolios.

Sustaining a healthy creative workforce in the Southwest

Artists are a fundamental building block of our arts and culture ecosystems. By investing in and partnering with culture workers at the intersection of social impact and Southwestern ways of knowing and understanding, we invested in our communities’ well-being. Our work leveraged resources, documented innovative practices and built rhizomatic networks of support regionally, nationally and across nations. The Projecting All Voices initiative is continuing as part of the Studio for Creativity, Place and Equitable Communities.

Transforming teaching and learning about equitable creative work

Historically, arts and design degrees focused on the sharpening of craft and not the viability of that career in the world. Through innovative degrees, public programs and new scholarship, we deepened student understanding and skills about working and working well as a creative. The Creative Enterprise and Cultural Leadership in an ongoing program in the Herberger Institute.

Scaling tools that help creatives build income and community

Creative workers are essential in building healthy communities and a strong arts and culture ecosystem. Through co-design and collaborative knowledge exchange, we invested in the professional development and sustainable possibilities of community-engaged creative work at the intersections of arts, culture and other sectors.

Building thought leadership and policy that support equitable creative work

In order for creative work to sustain people and their communities, we must change how we define our creative economy, what we invest in, and the policies and norms that drive the creative workforce. Our work supported projects, research and alliances that support new policies that redefine healthy, creative work.

Our past work

Since 2018, the National Collaborative for Creative Work (formerly the National Accelerator for Cultural Innovation) has engaged more than 200 collaborators from artists to national thought leaders in applied projects that transform our notion of creative work:

  • Partnered with the Arizona Commission on the Arts and the Southwest Folklife Alliance in AZ Creative Communities, a network of 9 communities investing in artists and place-based projects.
  • Invested in fourteen Phoenix-based artists, unemployed due to COVID-19, as content creators helping other artists navigate state pandemic assistance and artist recovery resources.
  • Hosted dozens of community projects, online career sessions and conversations helping students navigate the complexities of gig and community-focused careers.
  • Initiated national partnerships and fellowships exploring the expansion of cultural work in health, transportation, infrastructure, juvenile justice, parks and community development.

How we made decisions 

The Collaborative was coordinated through a shared leadership structure between BIPOC and non-BIPOC team members who committed to facilitate internal and external work, with a focus on power analysis, reparative action and mutual support. Each co-leader managed key operational functions of the collaborative and served as team lead for a core portfolio.

Our team

Anna Alvarez-Loucks
Office Specialist (and magical being)
Gabriela Muñoz
Co-Lead, Artists and Southwest Networks
Jen Cole
Co-Lead, Policy and Research
Karyn Ricci
Program Coordinator Sr., Creative Enterprise and Cultural Leadership
Estrella Esquilín
Co-Lead, Professional Development and Learning
Johanna Taylor
Faculty Director, Creative Enterprise and Cultural Leadership Program
Yolotzi Lopez-Ortega
Public Ally/AmeriCorps, Artists and Southwest Networks
Xanthia Walker
Program Coordinator Sr., Professional Development and Learning

Our partners and investors

We participated as a thought leader, partner and collaborator in a variety of national efforts to provide increased wages and worker protections, deeper investments in BIPOC-driven creative industries and better public policy for creative workers. We did this partnership with others working toward similar goals in our field. 

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