I moved to NYC after graduating from Sarah Lawrence College in 2006, and was living with my partner and a few friends. Many of us were working in the film industry, and didn’t like what we saw—the way our industry relied on the exploitation of young people willing to work for free, the gender and racial breakdown of who was behind the camera, and the way that decisions were made only by a few people at the top of hierarchy—and so we formed a media collective, where we could share resources, learn from each other, and continue to make art together in ways that aligned with our values.
As we individually pursued our own careers, in film, education, and the nonprofit sector, we realized we could turn this informal structure into a more formal one, and eventually make a living this way, working together to produce meaningful films, on our own and in collaboration with mission-aligned organizations around the city. Eventually, our collective came to hold two entities: a worker-owned production company cooperative, which produces feature documentaries and commissioned short films, and a self-organized artist residency program.
What does ‘solidarity economy’ mean to you?
The solidarity economy helps us meet our needs together, in ways that reflect values of justice, ecological sustainability, cooperation and democracy. Participating in the solidarity economy doesn’t mean that we can ignore the very real ways that capitalism enacts violence on us and our communities, but it helps us remember that even within a capitalist system, we can create projects and practices that help us imagine the world we want to see, and develop the skills we’ll need to build it.
What are the biggest challenges you face in this work?
Our goal as a production company cooperative is to produce media projects that are socially and politically useful, artistically exciting, and financially sustainable, all while paying ourselves a living wage — and because we are competing in a capitalist market, these needs are often in conflict. We also can’t escape racism, sexism, or any of the other oppressive structures and systems that permeate every aspect of our lives. We have to confront those pressures, both inside and outside our cooperative. But one of the best things about running a cooperative is that when issues come up, we collectively have the power to address them — by creating space to share our experiences, honestly reflect on our failures, and experiment with new strategies.
Why do you think it’s important for cooperatives to help other cooperatives?
I see individual cooperatives as just one small part of the larger project of building a strong and interconnected solidarity economy, committed not only to one group’s well-being and self-determination, but to a broader social justice vision. And the only way we get there is by supporting each other, in large and small ways, over the long-term.
What is your ‘theory of change’?
Change is painful, messy, and takes generations. It’s not linear, and there’s not one right way to get there. It requires a lot of listening, particularly to voices that have been the most marginalized. And it can only happen if we shift the narrative around what we think is possible. Only if we truly believe that inequality is not inevitable, and that all people are deserving of respect and dignity, will we be able to build systems and structures that reflect these beliefs.
That’s why I work in film, and try to tell stories that help us see each other’s common humanity, and imagine new possibilities. That’s also why I feel so strongly about the value of cooperatives and the solidarity economy. Participating in institutions that allow us to experience what it’s like to live and work together in ways that reflect our values also helps us believe in the possibility that more of the world could operate that way in the future.
Where can we find more information about the work you are doing in the future?
What is the best way for people to get involved and support your work?
Watch and support media made by underrepresented artists, support CEANYC so that we can build a stronger network, and buy coop whenever you can! (Check out this great map to see what’s out there.)