If you would have told Imani Ellis three years ago that a get-together with friends would evolve into an annual, highly-anticipated event, she may not have believed you.
In 2016, the entertainment publicist and founder of The Creative Collective, invited 10 people into her home to discuss their passions and current projects. Her initial goal was to simply build a community that was supportive of one another’s dreams. Two years later, that intimate meeting has become #CultureCon, a day-long conference in New York City, that brings together changemakers to talk, collaborate, and create.
“It was always meant to be a casual, yet effective, way to communicate, and to share, and ideate with your friends,” Ellis told ESSENCE about her initial idea for The Creative Collective. “The hunger for it grew, and so did the size of our meet up. At first, we had about 10 people in my apartment, then 50 people in my apartment. We decided it was time to move out of my apartment.”
Last year the team of 11 took their brainchild to a small event space in the city’s Meatpacking District for the first-ever #CultureCon conference.
“We thought, ‘Okay. We’ve created this brave space for us, by us. What if we created a conference where you weren’t just going for one speaker? You weren’t just going for one activation, but the entire conference was people that inspired us, ideas that we wanted to talk about, activations that were targeted toward us,” Ellis said.
The lineup for the day included breakout groups where attendees talked to peers about building and finding resources. The team of organizers also invited experts to come in and help participants level up in a way that was organic and made everyone feel like equals.
The first annual event uplifts and supports creative professionals in the tri-state area.
The inaugural conference started last year with 150 people. Spike Lee served as the keynote speaker. But much like the meetings inside of Ellis’ apartment, the demand for a safe space to learn, listen, and grow was much more than they anticipated.
“We looked and there were over 300 people on the waiting list,” Ellis recalled. “We said, ‘Oh my gosh. Like what is happening?’ Then we realized that people were hungry for this. It wasn’t just an idea in our mind of creating a brave space, but that other people really wanted it, too.”
For the second annual conference taking place on Saturday, October 13, the group is heading to the Knockdown Center in Queens, NY. With 50,000 square feet, organizers are excited to meet the demand for such an event, and accommodate a much larger crowd.
“We are just in such awe of how the community has really rallied behind us,” Ellis expressed gleefully.
For year two, John Legend will act as the keynote speaker. Other guests include Remy Ma, Charlamagne tha God and Angela Yee from The Breakfast Club, La La Anthony, and Tyler Mitchell who just shot Beyoncé for the September cover of Vogue.
Even with a list of high-profile attendees and celebrity guests, Ellis was careful to point out that at its core, #CultureCon is still about community.
“We’re always going to stay true to what has built us, which is just creatives,” Ellis iterated. “But we also want to make sure that we’re serving our community and giving them a place where they can see themselves. That’s really what it’s all about for us.”