Artist > Activist > Leader: Evolution & Throughline

The gathered group of attendees at ART>NET>WORK, June 17, 2017. Jon Endow.

Over the course of this Creative Industries Incentive Network (CIIN) documentation project, we’ve offered background context and interviews with the artists, creative entrepreneurs, academics, and civic leaders that have shepherded the CIIN projects and shaped their outcomes. For this final city-specific post, we spoke with CCI Artists Knowledge Manager, Allison Wyper, who joined Center for Cultural Innovation’s (CCI) team midway through the project, in 2017.

How did you come to join the CCI team?

I actually applied to the first round of the CEDF (Creative Economic Development Fund) grant here! That’s probably what made me attractive for this project and this team–I am one of these creative social entrepreneurs. I’m an artist with a performance background in dance, theater, performance art, and a lot of site-specific civic projects. I also come from over a decade of different kinds of support for artists from administration to production, so I have a strong connection to the arts community here, particularly around social justice arts activism and underground community-based arts. The CEDF world feels very native to me.

I’m also very much interested in artist sustainability and how artists can develop business skills to support themselves. Since 2014 I’ve been developing a network for artists who are working independently and have some kind of skills that they want to exchange and barter with each other. I’ve been providing happy hours for artists to get together and see what they have to offer, what they need, and help them find jobs and gigs and make collaborations. I held the happy hours at LACE, and various people’s homes, and parks, and just sort of organically built a network of around 115 people between L.A. and San Diego. My company is called Rhizomatic Arts and it’s based on the idea of horizontal exchange and support growing horizontally, like a rhizome.

And how has your background intersected with, or informed, your work at CCI?

The Rhizomatic Arts work is extremely complementary to my position at CCI. I’m basically doing what I was already doing but in a more institutionally supported setting, and I’ve certainly drawn upon my network for the workshops and events that I have programmed. One of the first things I put together from scratch was an event called ART>NET>WORK which was meant to be an informal way for CEDF grantees to meet each other, but also appealing to all of the folks who might have applied to the grants–so anyone who’s working as a creative social entrepreneur. The idea was to have a networking event that also had a little bit of facilitated workshop activity for learning how to articulate your mission coming from a values place as opposed to a corporate elevator pitch. Basically, the most important gesture is just getting people in the room with food and drink–it’s social–and practicing talking about what they do with each other.

How would you describe the current community of creative social entrepreneurs in LA?

The L.A. arts community is very intersectional. The folks who are creating this particular community around CEDF are very active in community campaigns like anti-gentrification campaigns, LGBTQ work, and feminist communities. It’s such a massive city that you have to have your smaller network to survive. You rely on your community for gigs and to find a place to live. My first impression early on when I moved here was that people were very eager to give me opportunities to perform or to curate shows for each other and bring each other in. That felt very different than San Francisco where the communities were smaller and there were much more limited resources, so you sort of found one or two people who supported you and then fought to raise your own visibility. Here I feel like it’s much more of a true network. I especially find a wider network in the sort of politically active underground world that I’m part of.


There’s a perception outside of L.A. that there’s a big boom going on in the arts there. Do you see that reflected in the communities that you work with?

Well, the large, commercial galleries and the stuff that the New York Times likes to write about…I’m not involved in that or particularly invested in that world, but that is definitely growing. Just yesterday I was hanging out with a young artist from Boston who just moved here because the reputation of L.A. as a flourishing art scene is reaching all the way out to MassArt. At the same time, I would say that community-based arts are “continuing” to flourish here. We’re building on communities that have been here for a very long time. In the performance world, many of us are beholden to the 18th Street scene of the 80s and 90s. So whereas the commercial art scene is getting a lot of attention, the underground scene is continuing to be strong.

I’m sure social media is helping this moment of recognition, because everything is instantly telegraphable. Of course, the challenge is that the cost of living is going up so rapidly, and so many arts and cultural communities like the Chicano community in Boyle Heights are being driven out by the monied art worlds that aren’t really invested in these communities. Displacement and cultural divide is something that L.A. has always had to deal with. A lot of times art is happening in response to that. A lot of our grantees are very much embedded in these areas of potential conflict.

What would you say are the greatest training and support needs for emerging artists today?

Like CCI has been saying for a very long time: artists need to be entrepreneurs. They need to manage their own careers. As we know, this gig economy thing is growing, so folks younger than me are not assuming that they’re going to have any kind of full-time job to support their art practice on the side. So if they’re going to be entrepreneurs they want to incorporate their whole creative selves. That’s why I started my business the way that I did, because I wanted it to have a studio component that was a place for me to legitimately make my work and do my performance workshops alongside the web design and the networking and different types of services that I do. People don’t want to separate their identities in the way that they used to.

I think campaigns like Working Artists and the Greater Economy are really important. They’re creating pay standards and making it really clear that artists have value and need to get paid. Those kinds of standards already exist in Canada and Europe. Those movements are really helpful because artists are going to have to make a living as freelancers and they need to have certain kinds of standards in the same way that unions offer some kind of support to workers. I think the Freelancers Union and other online resources are useful even if you’re not in New York, because you can benefit from their contract templates, and the knowledge and community resources around how to make a living as a freelancer. These are all different expressions of ways to work independently.

How does CCI’s work align with–or differ from—what other funders can do?

This year, we were able to do an Activating Artists series that Angie [Kim, CCI’s President & CEO] had wanted to do, which was free workshops happening all around the county, especially in underserved areas. Because we are independent of membership and our funders were not prescriptive, we were free to develop content that is timely. So I proposed having Beth Pickens teach her workshop called “Making Art During Fascism.” And then we had Shamell Bell, the arts and culture liaison for Black Lives Matter L.A. lead one of her “Street Dance Activism” workshops. We’re fortunate to have the kinds of funders who allow us to use our grant in ways that let us be more assertive and political than they could be in our programming. Being an independent nonprofit with a strong point of view and deep knowledge of the field of artist support is why foundations and municipal funders use us.

What are you most hoping to accomplish in your role?

I really believe in the power of getting like-minded enthusiastic people in a room together talking about what they love, because they get excited by each other, and then they instantly, organically start collaborating. We’re in the middle of a four-class strategic planning workshop that is mostly CEDF grantees. Folks are already looking for ways that they can leverage their relationships. Creating the space for those organic relationships to build, grow, and deepen is the most exciting thing for me.