Upstate Alliance For The Creative Economy Working To Strengthen The Freelance Community

There was a time when working Americans could expect to spend their career in one, maybe two, places, where they received healthcare and other benefits, including a pension upon retirement. That is no longer the case.

In the new freelance-oriented economy, people who work in the arts and related businesses—the “creative industries”—make up the sixth-largest employment sector in the Capital Region. There are now over 31,000 people employed locally in cultural institutions, as well as industries such as media, design, heritage preservation, and artisanal food and agriculture.

Maureen Sager is the project director for Upstate Alliance for the Creative Economy, also known as ACE. The organization defines the creative economy as “the enterprises and people involved in the origination, production and distribution of goods and services in which artistic and cultural content gives the product or service value in the marketplace.” The group works to strengthen the creative economy, bringing focus to, and connecting, the various segments.

Founded in 2013, ACE has a rapidly growing list of accomplishments: forming Film Upstate and the Creative Industries Council, and winning grants that led to Pathways to Dance and the award-winning Breathing Lights art installation. The group hosts educational/inspirational events and partnered, for a time, with the Freelancer’s Union, putting on monthly events to facilitate networking among the 13,000 freelancers who live and work in our region.

Freelancing is by definition a solitary pursuit. On the first Wednesday of each month, ACE hosts a networking event specifically for freelancers. The September event was held at The Mopco Improv Theatre in Schenectady, where Maria’s Café and Catering provided pulled pork and other nibbles. There’s a format to these gatherings. After signing in, there’s an informal introduction among the attendees, very low-key, casual and comfortable. People are quick to make connections as they explore the venue and enjoy the food and drink provided.

The second portion of the September event was a mini workshop and demonstration led by Koppett & Company. In jazz, improvisation is spontaneous composition. Life is that way too, and Koppett is an industry leader in the art of applied improv. Founding partner Kat Koppett led the group in a bit of role play, then brought up partner Michael Burns and performers Alex Timmis and Livia Armstrong for a rollicking demonstration of the art. There was much laughter, as well as a bit of insight into the human condition. The evening ended with a chance for more networking. The chance to learn something new, meet someone new, with a hearty dose of laughter and tasty treats, is the hallmark of an ACE networking event.

The October networking event, hosted by Saratoga Arts and ACE, was held at Kru Coffee in Saratoga Springs. SUPER DARK Collective artist Selector David Normal curated the soundtrack, and the discussion part of the evening was facilitated by Eddy Abraham, owner/founder of True North BA Consulting, and Bob Carlton, an expert on virtual and augmented reality technology. Conversation flowed and connections were made.

There was a very special event for 50 ACE members on Sept. 26: a private, behind-the- scenes tour of Yaddo, the world-famous artist’s retreat, located on a 400-acre estate in Saratoga Springs. The group gathered in the magnificent wood-paneled dining room to enjoy punch and sandwiches provided by Yaddo, and macarons from Albany’s Crisan Bakery. The group was then separated, with two leaders for the tour of the buildings and grounds.

Yaddo offers 200 residencies a year to artists working in a long list of disciplines. By offering time and studio space, free of charge, in a supportive communal setting, they have amassed amazing results. Yaddo artists have been awarded 71 Pulitzer Prizes, 68 National Book Awards, a Nobel Prize, three Academy Awards, 456 Guggenheim Fellowships, 42 National Book Critics Circle Awards, 29 MacArthur Fellowships, numerous Emmy and Grammy awards, and many other honors. The grounds and the buildings, many of architectural or historic significance, are beautiful and gracious in a way that is rare today.

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