• Next Big Thing

From The Ground Up With The Creative Collective NYC

Written By| Myles Matthews


As you entered the Navy yard following the signs that directed you to registration, you could feel the rare energy that was building as the start of Culture Con arrived. An event that started three years ago has become a mecca for creators of color. When you think of places in history where people of color can excel or can be recognized as being the truest versions of themselves, a few places and events come to mind. You have the Essence Festival that is held annually in New Orleans, LA and the BET Awards that are held annually to recognize the best of the best in the culture. A collective group founded by Imani Ellis has created an environment that should be on the list of events that people in our culture should be at year in and year out.



Imani Ellis, Founder of The Creative Collective NYC.(photo by KVLE)

The year was 2016 and the location was a one-bedroom apartment in Harlem, New York. An emerging creator, now founder of The Creative Collective NYC, by the name of Imani Ellis, invited a few of her friends over to discuss their visions and the resources that they would need to obtain their goals. This tight-knit group would bounce ideas off of each other and ultimately would leave inspired do to more. What started as a small meeting of like-minded individuals has grown into a worldwide collective. Imani told NBT, “I had dreams of keeping it small, like a monthly bible study but since then, we’ve hosted over 60 events, and have grown into the fastest growing community dedicated to creatives and professionals of color in New York City.

When you first walked into the event space, of the third annual Culture Con experience, the mood, and vibe of the early stages of the event were that of individuals who put a lot of time and effort to create an environment that could not be replicated, but instead admired and appreciated by everyone who was in attendance. Attendees were dressed to impress and full of color, Kenneth Kyrell set the tone as he mixed some of the most timeless records to remind everyone what the energy of the conference was going to be like.

DJ Kenneth Kyrell during Culture Con ( photo by Tre Crews )

The most impressive thing was the individuals who were behind the entire process. From start to finish you felt as if you were right at home and exactly where you belonged. Many times as creators or people of color we tend to feel outnumbered in certain spaces but this was not the case as this experience was the exact opposite. The time and effort that went into this production should not go unnoticed but instead detailed to show everyone you can obtain your goals if you have the right plan in place. It was made clear that this production was a valiant effort by the entire team. Imani made it known how great the collective group was by saying, “Our team is made up of incredible individuals and together we’re just unstoppable. Most of our team has fully-baked careers and they give up their spare time to contribute to building Culture Con.”


Keke Palmer and Regina King (photo by Dorothy Hong)

The amount of talent across each industry that was under one roof was so important to see because of representation and seeing individuals in positions of power will give the up and coming generation hope and inspiration. The likes of Dave East, KeKe Palmer, Regina King, and Tracee Ellis Ross amongst many others were in attendance for Culture Con 2019. Not only were they in attendance, but they all took the time out to enlighten the audience about their personal journey on their road to success. Tracee Ellis Ross stated during her sit down, “The biggest thing I started to realize is that as black and brown people we historically have not been able to have equity in what we build.”

The mindset and conversation of having ownership of the things we build was definitely a focal point of discussion throughout the day. A positive saying was stamped throughout the venue that read, “We Are The Culture”, and reminded everyone nothing moves without us.


Kitana Monae (photo by Neka Peters)

The Creative Collective NYC has entered and established itself as a group of individuals that should be continued to be recognized as pioneers and innovators that should not be taken lightly. Their ability to bring talented people across a variety of industries under one roof was simply amazing. The connections that were made within the black community was so important and shined a light on the ability, we as black people and people color, have to control any and every conversation that we want to. Being a person of color the one thing I could compare this idea to was that of the Harlem Renaissance, which was a focal point of the development of our people that focused on literature, philosophy, and music during the 1920s and 1930s. Even though we weren’t alive to experience the cultural shift of that time, this cultural shift felt like a modern-day renaissance that reminded people of color the importance of collaboration and the influence we have in the world.


Dave East, Tracee Ellis Ross, Kerby Jean-Raymond (photo by Noémie Marguerite)

In a post-interview, we asked what do you want the legacy of The Creative Collective NYC to be? Imani told NBT, “I’d like the legacy of The Creative Collective NYC to be remembered as a revolutionary act. That when the world asked us to shrink ourselves, we decided to expand collectively and we were braver because of it.”


This revolution is something that will not go silently, 2019 was great, 2020 will be an experience you do not want to say you missed.



Follow Next Big Thing: Faces of The Future @Nbt_theonepercent

Follow The Creative Collective NYC @TheCCNYC


For more work by photographer Jarrod Anderson visit www.createdbyjarrod.com

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© 2023 by Myles Matthews