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Cooperatives For Creatives

Introduction To Democratically-Owned Businesses In Three Parts

In partnership with Art.coop


Course Description

1. Welcome!

Q: “How can I afford to survive and thrive?”
A: “Cooperatives are a way of pooling our resources, including our labor and creative power, to answer that question in community.”
As a creative person, you have the agency to create your own business and be your own boss! Yet it is challenging to find clients, get grants, adhere to the best practices of your field, and make work when you are working alone. What if you could join other creatives to freelance together as one business? What if you could rotate tasks such as sales and marketing? Or what if you could focus on your strengths while others focus on theirs, with everyone collaborating toward a common goal? Artists and culture-bearers are increasingly turning to cooperative structures—businesses owned and managed by the workers that comprise them—because they provide meaningful work environments in which resources and responsibilities are shared. In this lesson, worker-owners Joseph Ahmed and Daniel Park join popular educator Chris Myers to explain potential structures and motivations behind cooperative businesses (also known as co-ops).

This introduction consists of a 7-minute video, hours of research opportunity, and a moment to test your knowledge.

2. Obvious Agency

“I don’t think Obvious Agency’s origin story is unique. We came together in the same way that artists come together all the time. This is something that anybody can do.” 
To get creative projects done, many artists and creative workers instinctively pool resources and labor to accomplish everything from community murals and mutual aid projects to magical works of visual and performing art, writing, and music. They share risk, profits, recognition, and opportunities. Though many do this work without giving it a name, others formalize their intuitive, values-driven, people-centered structures into cooperatives (co-ops), which are businesses like any other (minus the oppressive hierarchies and the capitalist drive which results in one person making all of the profit while paying workers as little as possible). In this mini documentary we visit Philadelphia, where three members of the worker-owned, performance-based cooperative Obvious Agency (Joseph Ahmed, Arianna Gass, Daniel Park, and Cat Ramirez) introduce us to their work, their trust in one another, and their motivation.

This lesson consists of a 7-minute video and over an hour of research and reflection.

3. Getting Started: Making A Worker-Owned Business

“The values in your art can be mirrored in the business of making your art.”
Create the working conditions you want from the start! Now that you know, generally, what a cooperative (co-op) is and you’ve seen one in action, what are the steps to form one yourself? Using L.A. Co-op Lab’s instruction as a foundation, Joseph Ahmed, Chris Myers, and Daniel Park walk us through seven steps to establish a cooperative business, including what makes starting a creative co-op different from starting any other business. They highlight the ways that workers can be empowered through democratic ownership and the importance of balancing the creative, cooperative, and money sides of your business. It really is possible!

​​This lesson consists of a 15-minute video, and several hours of reflection and actionable steps related to your business (or business idea!).

Course Contents


Joseph Ahmed
Artist, Worker-Owner of Obvious Agency

Joseph Ahmed (he/they) is a mixed race Asian, genderfluid, Philadelphia-based theater artist and arts administrator whose work swirls together the disciplines of theater, dance, circus, and interactive performance. They are a founding worker-owner of the interactive performance cooperative Obvious Agency, and a former company member of the Barrymore Award-winning physical theater/circus companies Tribe of Fools and Almanac Dance Circus Theatre. He co-directed ikantkoan’s Chaos Theory, which won Immersive Nation’s Best Social Immersion award in 2019. As an actor and director he has worked throughout Philadelphia with companies such as the Arden Theatre Company, Theater Exile, Philadelphia Artists’ Collective, Asian Arts Initiative, the Philadelphia Asian American Film Festival, First Person Arts, and Team Sunshine Performance Corporation. They hold a BFA in Theater Arts from Boston University.  

Chris Myers
Actor, Writer, Producer, Cultural Worker

Chris Myers is an actor, writer, producer, and cultural worker, born and based in New York City. His performance work has been featured at leading cultural institutions, networks, and streaming platforms. As an organizer and popular educator, he teaches class politics to artists as a founding member of Anticapitalism for Artists. He is the recipient of two Obie Awards—one for acting and one for his organizing work—as well as a CUNY Segal Center Award for Civic Engagement in the Arts. Education: Juilliard.

Daniel Park
Artist, Worker-Owner of Obvious Agency

Daniel Park (he/him) is a queer, bi-racial, theatre and performance artist, movement facilitator, and organizer for racial and labor justice in the cultural sector. Through all of the above, his work brings people together to understand and experiment with their individual and mutual roles in bringing about the liberation of all people. Since moving to Philadelphia in 2014, Daniel has become a leader for radical thought in the local creative ecosystem and a trusted national source for guidance on the intersection between cooperatives and the arts. Daniel has self-produced multiple major works, co-founded the worker cooperative Obvious Agency, created commissions for institutions such as the Barnes Foundation and Moore College of Art and Design, and taught anti-oppressive creation methodology at the University of the Arts. He was a recipient of the 2022 Art Works Grant from the Philadelphia Foundation and Forman Arts Initiative. Daniel has provided his services as a facilitator and consultant nationally with organizations such as Creatives Rebuild New York, The PA Governor’s Commission on Asian American Affairs, ArtPlace America, and many others. Daniel was also instrumental as an organizer and recruiter for Philadelphia Asian Performing Artists, a community group that brings together folks of pan-Asian descent involved in the performing arts.


We acknowledge your time and care.
We acknowledge the original stewards of the land.
We acknowledge our ancestors and your ancestors.
We acknowledge and thank all those who have struggled for workers’ rights and racial, economic, and environmental rights and emancipation. 

Course material: This course was made through a partnership between Art.coop and CreativeStudy and the participation of Obvious Agency. The video scripts for this course were written by Caroline Woolard in collaboration with Daniel Park and feedback from Joseph Ahmed, Heather Bhandari, Arianna Gass, Nati Linares, Marina Lopez, Chris Myers, Cat Ramirez, and Sruti Suryanarayanan. We also asked for course feedback from Julia Clark, Raymonii Cowan, Rice Gallardo, Mei Kazama, Ann Tarantino, and Dexter Wimberly. 

Thank you to L.A. Co-op Lab for providing their course structure and materials which we used to lay the groundwork for the third section of this mini-course, “Getting Started: Making A Worker-Owned Business.” And thank you to Commons.art, Grantmakers in the Arts, MEDLab, New Economy Coalition, and Traveling University for their support.

This series is made possible with financial support from the Mellon Foundation.

We stand on the shoulders of those who use solidarity and cooperative economics in the struggle for liberation. These are some of the folks who lead the way for us: Ella Baker, James Baldwin, Grace Lee Boggs, Barbara Dane, W. E. B. Du Bois, the Combahee River Collective, Fannie Lou Hamer, Lorraine Hansberry, Zora Neale Hurston, Paul Robeson, Shirley Sherrod, Nina Simone, Comandante Ramona, Elandria “E” C. Williams, Dr. Jessica Gordon Nembhard, and many others.