AmbitioUS is an initiative of the Center for Cultural Innovation to act as an experimental arm of the artist-support sector. The program will build cross-sector relationships, invest in changemakers, deploy capital in field-informing ways, and disseminate learning and knowledge at the intersection of building alternative economies and developing support systems for artists’ financial self-determination. AmbitioUS is comprised of a set of activities aimed at shaping the next generation of artist-support infrastructure, encouraging economic justice systems that build ownership and power among those who have been excluded by conventional systems of for-profit and nonprofit support, and centering artists in the development of financial systems that work better for them and all those who share their challenging gig conditions of low wages, unpredictable income, high debt, few assets, and little credit.
AmbitioUS is a time-limited effort to take advantage of a moment of tremendous change. There are growing numbers of experiments with new economic models that aim to shift capital and ownership to build a more just, sustainable, and healthy world, some of which show real promise to create systemic change. CCI—a long-time service provider and ally of artists—believes that artists can play an essential role in advancing these alternative economic approaches, and can benefit significantly from them in turn. In other words, arts and culture can be situated as strategic leverage for change.
The artist workforce has characteristics that makes it ripe for new economy efforts. Artists, cultural producers, artisans, and creative entrepreneurs are spread across various labor markets, face inequities in their own arts ecosystem that mirror inequities in society more broadly, and share challenging conditions of income insecurity, high debt, and few assets with other segments of the overall American workforce (CCI & National Endowment for the Arts, Creativity Connects, 2016). Artists tend to earn less than professionals with similar levels of educational attainment of non-arts fields while carrying substantial student debt, have incomes below the median income of the overall U.S. labor force of $39,280, often juggle multiple jobs, and are 3.5 times more likely to be self-employed than other workers (CCI & National Endowment for the Arts, Creativity Connects, 2016). Today, many Americans now share the same precarious working arrangements as artists, struggling with income insecurity and the challenges of advancing technology while lacking basic safety nets and workplace protections. Our premise is that if financial innovations and economic systems can work for the large, diverse, and challenged creative workforce, these advances can work for millions of other Americans.
AmbitioUS has four domains of activities:
AmbitioUS will be the first national initiative explicitly designed to accelerate the development of economic systems that are more just, sustainable, and creative for artists and others who share their economic conditions. By acting as a bridge across conventional silos, CCI will help shape the future farther and faster together.
This cross-sector, experimental, systems-level work doesn’t easily fit in any foundation’s program guidelines, and we tremendously appreciate the vision, partnership, and support of the following supporters.
What we're learning:
Bollier, David. (May 10, 2016). Progressive Philanthropy Needs to Spur System Change. EDGE Funders Alliance. https://edgefunders.org/progressive-philanthropy-needs-spur-system-change/
Dubb, Steve. Remaking the Economy. (November 9, 2018). Nonprofit Quarterly. (7-part YouTube series). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OW4n20NT4Pg
Foxworth, Rodney. Do Good by Giving Up More: A Vision of Restorative Investing. (November 26, 2018). Medium. https://medium.com/balle/do-good-by-giving-up-more-a-vision-of-restorative-investing-ae987cf5750d
Frieze, Deborah. (December 15, 2015). How I Became a Localist. TEDx Jamaica Plain. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2jTdZSPBRRE
Harris, S. D., & Krueger, A.B. (December 2015). A proposal for modernizing labor laws for Twentieth-First Century work: The “Independent Worker.” [PDF document]. The Hamilton Project. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution. http://www.hamiltonproject.org/assets/files/modernizing_labor_laws_for_twenty_first_century_work_krueger_harris.pdf
Hook, Leslie. (December 29, 2015). Year in a word: Gig economy. Financial Times. https://www.ft.com/content/b5a2b122-a41b-11e5-8218-6b8ff73aae15
Kawano, E. (May 1, 2018). Solidarity Economy: Building an Economy for People & Planet. https://thenextsystem.org/learn/stories/solidarity-economy-building-economy-people-planet
Warren, Elizabeth. (2016) Strengthening the Basic Bargain for Workers in the Modern Economy [PDF document]- https://www.warren.senate.gov/files/documents/2016-5-19_Warren_New_America_Remarks.pdf