Inaugurated in 2022 as an initiative by Los Angeles’s Arts Education Collective, Creative Careers Online is a digital tool for young people in LA county to understand the creative economy and navigate careers within it. The Arts Education Collective “first started as an initiative to bring back the arts into the community and public education,” says Abraham Ahn, development manager at the Los Angeles Department of Arts and Culture. The collective, in partnership with career navigation platform Gladeo, started Creative Careers Online, which is part of a larger effort to expand the creative economy. In doing so, the platform provides a clear pipeline into creative jobs for young people in communities underserved by creative development programs.
After commissioning a field scan of Los Angeles’s creative economy, the Department of Arts and Culture understood that what young people need most are tangible resources, mentorships, and the skill sets necessary to begin interviewing and working within the creative industry. “One of the main recommendations that really surfaced is the need for a creative economy one stop. There was a need for a place that young people can go to find out about programs that they can participate in and a place where they can also explore different possibilities for their careers,” says Abraham. With this knowledge, Creative Careers Online began its formation.
“One of the main recommendations that really surfaced is the need for a creative economy one stop. There was a need for a place that young people can go to find out about programs that they can participate in and a place where they can also explore different possibilities for their careers,”
Creating a tool that is able to hit all of these marks, while also being accessible to a wide array of individuals, was no simple feat. “It's a daunting task. It's never really been done in LA County,” says Meia Johnson, senior program associate at the Department of Arts and Culture. “We weren't sure if this was something that should be a brick-and-mortar type of center or if it should be something online. There was a need for this to be widely accessible, and in order for that to happen, we would definitely need to do it online.” Through this online platform, young people throughout the county are able to explore dozens of career opportunities in the creative industry. “We worked with [Gladeo] hand in hand to ensure that the site reflected the areas that we wanted to lift up, which were specifically low-barrier to entry, high demand careers,” says Meia. It was important that the website reach youth in historically overlooked communities to communicate a realistic and attainable path towards a self-sustaining creative career.
With the option to take a quiz that exposes users to their unique creative strengths, Creative Careers Online serves those of all ages and backgrounds who are interested in the creative field. That said, there are certain areas of LA county that the Arts Education Collective targets more directly, including Antelope Valley, East LA, and South LA. “These are high need areas for employment of young people in general. We know that Black and Brown youth are disproportionately affected by low employment at an early age. So this is the reason why it's important for us to not just hit the traditional arts program participants but to touch young people who may have never been involved in those types of programs,” says Meia. What the collective found is that many young people were unaware that these creative careers existed, much less of how to enter them.
The creative labor force is an indispensable component of the overall California economy. According to the 2023 Otis Report on the Creative Economy, the creative sector directly contributes $507.4 billion of the state’s $3.4 trillion economy. That’s nearly 15 percent. The creative economy does not work in isolation either. The report also notes that “for every $100 of value-added output created by the creative economy in California, an additional $190 of value added is created in other sectors of the state’s economy” (41). In other words, California is dependent on the continued growth and success of the creative sector.
In order to expand and diversify the field, it’s important to bridge the gap between the young people with an interest in creativity and the companies who seek to employ new talent. “I work a lot with industry representatives who say, ‘We want to bring young people into the studios or into our company and teach them these skills, but they're not ready. They haven't gotten the basic fundamentals or understanding of this role. They don't really understand how to build a portfolio and things of that nature.’ And so what we wanted from Creative Careers Online was to start to break down some of those barriers,” says Meia.
The tool is not only needed to expose young people to the industry, but it also aims to build their skills so that once they come across these creative opportunities, they are able to seamlessly integrate into the field. This type of skill training has historically been reserved for those who can afford arts programs and university connections. “For decades, we've seen folks locked out [of the creative industry]. There was a lot of effort and intention during the racial justice reckonings of 2020 and lots of very public signs of support. Now we're seeing some of that erode and fade away, and so we need to keep our eyes set on the target. [We need to] keep this work going because otherwise, we'll be back to square one again,” says Abraham. For the Arts Education Collective, these steps towards diversity and inclusion do not happen overnight. It takes decades of intentional work.
Creative Careers Online is just one part of the solution because it allows young people to understand the full offerings of the creative economy. “[It’s about] understanding that the creative economy exists, that you can earn significant wages, and it can be a lifelong career. Dispelling the myths. What we learned is that, through discussions in our workshops with young people, they weren't aware that they could earn a lot of money from arts based careers,” says Meia. It’s these misunderstandings about the creative economy that have kept young people away from the industry, but through this online tool they are able to educate themselves and learn the transferable and monetizable skills that will bring them into the creative sector.
The website lays out, in explicit detail, facts about creative careers paths, the education that’s needed to enter those paths, and even the amount of money that one can earn. “The pathway to the creative industry is not necessarily discussed in the same way the pathway to the healthcare sector is. Early on, kids know that if they want to become a doctor, they have to go to four years of college and go to medical school. That's taught at some level, right? But there may not be the same discussion about how to become a graphic designer,” says Meia. Creative Careers Online takes away the mystery of the creative industry and defines a clear pathway to success.
In addition to educating young people about the creative industry and plugging them into arts programs, Creative Careers Online is also meant to educate adults who interact with students on a day-to-day basis in familial, educational, and community based settings. “Unfortunately, we have found that parents can actually be a hindrance to young people entering the creative sector, particularly because of these myths that the jobs are low paid and not stable,” says Meia. It’s not just young people who are affected by the myths of the creative economy. When the adults around them also have negative perceptions of these careers, they can, with or without knowing, diminish the chances of adolescents having successful pathways into the industry. This goes for academic and career advisors as well. “This is ideally workforce development. So it's important for people at America's job centers to be able to articulate creative careers just as effectively as someone who works in an arts organization,” adds Meia.
When leaders are able to speak confidently towards lucrative, creative careers they can begin to direct young people to the resources they need to enter the workforce. The tool can be most effective in educational environments. “We would like to be able to introduce Creative Careers Online as a tool that can be used in the classroom that educators can build curriculum for,” says Meia. So instead of having to source external, skill building workshops that may cost extra fees, these skills can be taught directly in the classroom. That is the goal of the online platform.
The access to supportive and influential adults for young people interested in the creative workforce cannot be overlooked. Having representation in the field is crucial for youth to see a future for themselves. The Creative Careers Online platform provides dozens of creative professional profiles where experts share their stories of how they entered and grew within the creative industry. Many of the profiles highlight Black and Brown individuals who can personally relate to the young people who use the website. An example of this would be the profile of Akira, a 28 year old African-American video game designer from Chicago who shares his story about entering the creative field and encourages other young people like him to do the same. In a workshop produced by the Arts Education Collective, Meia asks the attendees to close their eyes and imagine a video game designer. “The young people start describing who they see. Most times it's not Akira, let's just say that. So then we're able to show the video and have Akira talk about his journey. It takes that epiphany moment for young people to say, ‘Wait a minute. So I can be a game designer?’ ‘Yeah, you can be a game designer! In fact, there are programs that are teaching kids right now how to do this,’” Meia recounts. For many, all it takes is to see someone who looks like them finding success in this field, and they can understand that it’s possible to do it for themselves as well.