“We’ve made it so people feel like they can make it,” John Andrews, founder and managing director of Creative Collective, told me a couple weeks back.

The Salem organization describes itself as “a business program designed to provide opportunities, connections, marketing, collaborations, resources and support for the creative industries.” It’s part chamber of commerce, part arts association, part tourism and destination marketing organization. It has about 215 members, Andrews says, ranging from “individual artists, restaurants, retails” to a copyright and trademark attorney and Salem’s Peabody Essex Museum.

Creative Collective offers business support to its members—workshops, marketing, banking, finance, legal assistance. They operate Creative North Shore, an online guide to culture in the area highlighting members’ activities. And they give arts and culture a seat at the table with business and government.

“Chambers of commerce don’t talk to a lot of freelancers and giggers and artists,” Andrews says. “They know how to do business, but they don’t know how to do business in a completely unsure market. … We’re used to hustling to find work.”

Since stay-at-home recommendations arrived in March to help stem the spread of coronavirus, Andrews says, Creative Collective has been “teaching people how to pivot, teaching people how to be nimble.” As art venues closed, day jobs that may artists use to get by were also shrinking or disappearing. “I think people are coming to grips that they’re not going to be able to live the lifestyle they’re used to.”

“I want to get back to a better normal,” Andrews says. “I want to get back to a more sustainable normal. I don’t want to get back to what it was.”

At the beginning, Creative Collective’s message was: “We have no idea how long we’re going to be locked down, so let’s put everything online.” Some paused, some shut down. “Where are the windows of opportunity? And are you ready? Are you prepared?”

Some Creative Collective members have pivoted to completely online stores. Some restaurant members have added grocery sales

“I’m not pressuring anyone,” Andrews says. “I’ve talked a handful of members off ledges.”

Andrews adds, “It’s all about staying afloat right now. It’s not about getting ahead.”

Since the coronavirus shut down began in March, Andrews says Creative Collective has offered more that 150 livestreams—online drag shows, music, live painting workshops, “Virtual Drink N Draw” hangouts, free writing, trivia. They’re helping North Shore Pride reimagine this year’s festival as online events.

They’ve also offered guidance and online trainings to help their members adapt. They help artist set up Venmo accounts for online payments. They’ve offered instruction on how to host Zoom events and help moderate the livesteams. Andrews says, “We invest in the technology so they have the tech to use.”

“Can you have private events? Can you do that safely?” Andrews asks members. “Are you able to transition your stuff outdoors?” They’re looking into producing socially-distanced outdoor performances. They’ve worked with restaurants to make picnic kits with art included—like hiring artists to make color-your-own Mother’s Day cards included in take-out bags.

Andrews says the institutional relationships Creative Collective has built allows him to be at the table with government and business to ask questions like is there plan to subsidize masks and other personal protective equipment?

Andrews sees the adaptations creators are making as skills to use now and keep in their back pockets for the future. Facing a snowstorm that would have cancelled your event in the past, now you can move it online. Or in the future, combine live events with streaming to increase audiences.

Andrews says, “Developing the skill sets and tool boxes now is key.”

If this is the kind of coverage of arts, cultures and activisms you appreciate, please support Wonderland by contributing to Wonderland on Patreon. And sign up for our free, weekly newsletter so that you don’t miss any of our reporting.

Categories: Art