- Introduce learners to the concept of a cooperative business.
- Establish cooperatives as ancestral solutions in BIPOC and working class communities.
- Connect cooperative businesses to the larger Solidarity Economy movement.
- Define cooperatives in general terms, using specific examples of different types of co-ops.
2. Obvious Agency
- Introduce Obvious Agency as an example of a worker cooperative.
- Explore Obvious Agency’s motivation, structure, and challenges.
- Demonstrate the flexibility, trust, and thoughtful communication required of a worker cooperative.
- Emphasize a values-based decision-making process in harmony with creative work.
3. Getting Started: Making A Worker-Owned Business
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!
- Explain what makes starting a creative co-op different from starting another type of business.
- Connect the dots between the Solidarity Economy, monetary value, and cooperative businesses.
- Identify the seven steps to starting a cooperative business.
- Outline several of the most important hallmarks within each of the seven steps.
- Provide examples of how the steps are actionable, using Obvious Agency and LA Co-op Lab as guides.
- Fully understand the basics of what constitutes self-employment and expenses on your taxes.
- Track expenses successfully as a self-employed and/or W2’d individual.
- Alleviate stress and confusion related to taxes.
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 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 (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 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.
This series is made possible with financial support from the Mellon Foundation and Open Collective.
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.
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Image © James Adams