An initiative of the Center for Cultural Innovation

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What Is AmbitioUS?

AmbitioUS is an initiative of the Center for Cultural Innovation (CCI) to act as an experimental arm of the artist-support sector. AmbitioUS is 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.

Launched in January 2019, AmbitioUS is a time-limited effort to take advantage of a moment of tremendous change. There are growing numbers of experiments with alternative 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. As such, arts and culture can and should be situated as strategic leverage for change. In many ways, the artist workforce has characteristics that makes it ripe for influencing alternative economic 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. Moreover, shifting economic power in ways that include culture bearers ensures that communities are anchored authentically and meaningfully.

The next generation of economic and financial systems is being written today—new worker contracts, portability of benefits, and community-centered capital—and if we want to ensure that people who matter to our quality of life are sustained, now is the time to situate artists in the center of this decision-making.

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