On June 26, the Office of Film + Music had its second of a four-part Mixer series focused on the creative economy, this time at Clock-Out Lounge discussing “Surviving and Thriving in the Creative Gig Economy”. (Read our blog post about the first Mixer in this series and related creative economy research.)
The Mixer drew about 80 people, most of whom are freelancers, gig workers, and creative entrepreneurs working in fields such as audio engineering, screenwriting, music, marketing, film and media production and editing, journalism, and photography.
SAVE THE DATE:
Join us on July 31, 5-7 p.m., at Youngstown Cultural Arts Center for the third Mixer in this series, “Space Affordability for Creatives”. Tim Lennon, Executive Director of LANGSTON, will lead a discussion with panelists Cassie Chinn (Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience), David Bestock (Delridge Neighborhoods Development Association), and Julie-C (Artist Coalition for Equitable Development). We’ll have complimentary food and soft drinks, and guests 21+ can purchase drinks from the bar. The Mixer is a free event, and all ages are welcome. RSVP here.
Please mark your calendars for the fourth and final Mixer in this series on August 28. Stay tuned for details.
Surviving and Thriving: About the Panel
Washington Filmworks Executive Director Amy Lillard moderated a panel on how to survive and thrive in the creative gig economy in Seattle. Panelists were brand strategist, cultural connector, and founder of creative agency Milli, Michael Huang; independent journalist, photographer, graphic designer and communication specialist Naomi Ishisaka; and film and XR producer, director, and co-founder of Electric Dream Factory, Lacey Leavitt. (Learn more about the speakers here.)
The Road Less Traveled
Leavitt and Huang shared their respective entrepreneurial journey and which involved risk-taking, overcoming “imposter syndrome”, fighting to get the work made and to get paid for it, and in starting their own businesses. For example, after recognizing the personal and cultural mismatch of his corporate job in NYC, Huang decided to take a leap of faith – he quit his job and returned to Seattle to launch his own agency. Today, the values of his business are aligned with his own; diversity, youth culture and general inclusivity are at the core of the organization.
Lillard acknowledged that it is hard for artists and creatives to make a living in Seattle, especially when they are reliant on freelance work or gigs. Ishisaka and Leavitt both discussed the challenges of being a freelancer and expressed concern about the tendency for creative freelance work to be undervalued. They both suggested that a standardized rate sheet could help creatives and those who hire them arrange for fair compensation. Ishisaka added that as a POC creative, it’s critical to have the courage to thrive in a city where “often folks who are undervalued are [also] marginalized folks.”
Making it Work
The panelists then shared their tips for how they made it work as freelancers. Ishisaka suggested that pragmatically, finding a few foundational clients who can provide a stable monthly income led to her striking out on her own. Having these steady clients was essential to leaving her full-time day job, and to begin paying for her own health benefits, a topic which was a significant barrier for many freelancers, especially those who have dependents. Leavitt championed the need to be in a constant learning process to expand one’s skill set; investing in her own personal and professional development has helped her dedicate 100% of her time to film production.
Huang stressed the importance of self-confidence while taking the leap into freelance or gig work. “Your existence is revolutionary,” he said. “Set your moral boundaries, draw the lines in the sand. Don’t second guess yourself.”
The Sense of Urgency: A POC Creative Exodus?
All panelists agreed that they feel a sense of urgency to improve the creative economy in Seattle. Ishisaka referred to the unaffordability challenges of paying for housing and healthcare. Leavitt mentioned the state’s low film incentive and the lack of communication between production companies and unions.
Along the same lines, Huang explained that we’re at an inflection point: creatives under 30 are not even complaining about the competitive market and struggles of the city, they are just leaving, which makes it necessary to reposition the city to retain creatives of all ages and levels.
Following the panel discussion, attendees broke into groups to provide deeper feedback on the opportunities and challenges that freelancers and gig workers face in Seattle.
Break Out Sessions–Recap
- In-Person and Online Networks: Hiring is frequently done through personal referrals, existing relationships, or social media (Facebook and Facebook groups were mentioned most frequently; other platforms mentioned were Twitter, LinkedIn, Craigslist, and Instagram). Having a web and social media presence are important for cultivating leads.
- Boost tax incentives to create more jobs and retain more gig workers in the creative sector. Incentivize local hiring between private companies (especially in the tech sector) and creative freelancers.
- Health benefits are hard to navigate for gig workers, and so are the steps in applying for them.
- Access and Representation: Increase access to resources and opportunities for underrepresented communities, especially immigrants.
- Job Finding Resources: Participants expressed a desire for centralized resources: a “public jobs board” or “directory” providing free, accessible, and open information on how and where to find jobs; shared studio space; access to cloud resources; shared equipment; and a hub of information about available grants and loans. Create more points of connection through networking event and mixers.
- Mentorship and professional development are critical. Participants discussed the need for accountability in internships and learning experiences, and the desire for investments in trainings, vocational classes, and fellowships.
- Improve the image of the city as a creative city.
- Freelancers and artists should fairly value their work and ask to be paid at the rate they are worth, but it’s difficult to know how to set rates. Some folks underbid so they can get the gig. Sometimes, companies hire students rather than professionals, to pay less. Participants said a source for local industry standard rates would be helpful.
- Space affordability challenges are significant (which is why our next mixer will expand this conversation).
Of the participants who responded to an interactive prompt, the majority shared that they do creative work on the side while holding down a creative “day job”.