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The Future of Creative Work + Labour

Rae Kess is a writer and Integral Master Coach™ who helps creatives build financial stability so they can keep themselves, their work, and their communities well long-term. Her projects include a daily blog, an online education platform, and a soon-to-be-launched podcast. She loves hearing from and collaborating with creatives and creative organisations that are also committed to making our world a more just, sustainable, and human place to be.

“Something is always born of excess: great art was born of great terrors, great loneliness, great inhibitions, instabilities, and it always balances them.” —Anaïs Nin

I think of creative practice like an ecosystem. And every project that I create as an organism within it that’s integral to the wellbeing of the whole. There’s something both serious and playful about approaching my work as if it’s alive. On the one hand, I feel a sense of responsibility towards it. It’s up to me to care for and protect it. And, if the time comes, to compost it so that it can nourish new life. On the other hand, I have to accept that my work has a life of its own. A life that has the potential to diverge from my original plans and desires.

Treating our work as if it is alive lends itself to decolonising the creative process. Because built into this approach is an invitation to unite and nurture as opposed to divide and conquer.  

As in nature, parts of a creative ecosystem can overlap with the ecosystems of other creative professionals. This too contributes to the health and longevity of the projects that we are tending to. Like the story of two rivers—whereby one was generous with its waters and surrounded by greenery as a result while the other kept its waters to itself until it became a lifeless swap—it’s important for creatives to link up with other ecosystems that are diverse, generous, and interconnected. And it’s this interconnectedness that I think will be the defining characteristic of the future of creative work and labour. 

There are five key areas where I see this playing out. They are money and funding, what work gets made, our creative ways of being, how we use technology, and cross-pollination as collaboration.

Area 1: Money & Funding

“We are the ones we have been waiting for.” — Alice Walker

If money were a defining part of which creative ecosystems flourished and which ones became dead zones before the coronavirus pandemic, then the ways that COVID-19 has reshaped our world and lives has only magnified this fact. In response to this, creatives will seek out new ways of funding their work and wellbeing. And, out of necessity, they will address the topic of money more directly within their relationships and networks. These more open conversations, in turn, will allow a new kind of collective to emerge. These collectives will pool their resources together—from money to time to connections—to help projects get made.

Over time, these resource-savvy professional biomes will allow creatives to self-fund their work and be less reliant on more traditional funding models.

Area 2: What Work Gets Made

“This, then, is the great humanistic and historical task of the oppressed: to liberate themselves and their oppressors as well.” — Paulo Freire

If we are to build a brighter future for ourselves from the rubble of our world pre-COVID-19, and if we are determined not to recreate our culture’s previous shortcomings, then we need to tell new stories about who and what we can be. New stories inevitably require new perspectives and new voices. As such, the work that emerges from these creative ecosystems will need to be representative of the experiences of those who have previously been underrepresented, silenced, spoken over, and/or spoken for. So that the majority of work that gets made comes from folks who are Black, Indiginous, POC, trans, queer, disabled, fat, poor, and/or neurologically atypical.

By contrast, professionals who have identities that have historically been overrepresented in our culture, will leverage their power and privilege in the service of this shift in narrative.

Area 3: Our Creative Ways Of Being

“The role of the artist is to make the revolution irresistible.” — Toni Cade Bambara

As creative ecosystems prioritise elevating the work of historically underrepresented professionals, our creative ways of being will shift to accommodate this. As a culture, we will move farther away from the cult of celebrity and even closer to art as something that increases in value when it's done in community. We will also spend more time examining the long-term impact of our work and collaborations. Because nothing we create exists in a bubble and how we show up as humans, artists, and collaborators is not without repercussions. In response to this, we will need to work on embodying new creative ways of being.

These new creative ways of being will force us to rethink how we organise ourselves in relation to each other, our local communities, and even the technology that we use to make our work.

Area 4: The Ways Technology Is Used

“The master's tools will never dismantle the master's house.” — Audre Lorde

With tighter travel measures in effect, creatives and their professional ecosystems will prioritise taking their work out into their local communities. The technology that once allowed them to work from anywhere will now be used to reshape the places that they currently live most of the time. There will be an exodus from mainstream social media apps as creatives learn to code their own online spaces. And there will be a reclaiming of public spaces by creatives and the art that they make. Technology will be used to not just humanse the digital and physical spaces that we occupy but will also be used to make those spaces more beautiful.

No longer at the mercy of large tech companies, creatives will use technology as a means to organise and radicalise those who are fighting for a more just and human world.

Area 5: Cross-Pollination As Collaboration

“As we yearn, we make ourselves ready to receive the love that is coming to us, as gift, as promise, as earthly paradise.” — bell hooks

Money aside, creative ecosystems that link up will share other resources, from work opportunities to mentorship. In this way, these professional biomes will become hubs for not just making work but also for personal development. There will be a collapsing of the vertical hierarchies that once existed within the creative world in favour of horizontal support. Like a bee hive, everyone’s wellbeing within these ecosystems will contribute to the health of the whole community. What’s more, cross-pollination between different ecosystems—even those that aren’t creative in nature—will help us to adapt to the new world that we’re now living in.

With this, creatives will be seen as not just visionaries but also as leaders. Professionals who are capable of giving form and direction to our hope for a better future. 

The Seeds Of The Future

“I think it is healing behavior, to look at something so broken and see the possibility and wholeness in it.” — adrienne maree brown

If there is any one group of people who can help us to find our way in these uncertain times, it’s creatives. So it’s their professional ecosystems that we must invest in. Which is not to be confused with investing in the larger cultural mechanisms and institutions that, up until very recently, many creatives operated inside of and/or depended upon for their livelihood. In this moment, we need to focus on funding smaller projects that require fewer resources in order to thrive. Because it is inside of those creative ecosystems that we can sow and water the seeds of the future. All we have to do is look to our communities—whether geographical and/or digital—and start asking questions about who is trying to cultivate change and about what resources they need in order to successfully do so.

Of course, before any of this is possible, creatives have to make the choice to adapt. To develop their professional ecosystems so that they are in a position to accept and skillfully leverage these incoming resources.



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