How We (Hypothetically) Spent $3K in Universal Creative Income

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Spencer Kupish, Terence Edgerson and Trey Taylor

In the last year, COVID-19 has strained the already unstable reality of creative work. It added, for instance, mass job loss and insecurity to already simmering tensions regarding wealth and pay inequalities in creative industries. And as we slowly swing back to a new normal, the last six months have exposed disparities in opportunity for recovery, like those across gender and racial lines.

In response, Li Jin, founder of early-stage venture capital fund Atelier, and others have floated the concept of a Universal Creative Income (UCI). Jin proposes that creator-driven platforms like YouTube and TikTok might provide a monthly stipend for mid-tier accounts - the “creator middle class” as she calls it. She also cites a crypto-based grant, as proposed by Collab.Land founder James Young, or a government program along the lines of New Deal-era Federal Art Project as other potential frameworks.

Similarly to UBI, the thinking is that a dependable source of income could level the playing field, reduce burnout, allow creatives to invest in ambitious projects and ultimately produce more fulfilling, exciting work.

So we asked ourselves, what if (cough, cough) an agency gave its creative team monthly UCI stipends? We invited three D1Aers to imagine how they’d be able to expand, collaborate or recharge creatively if they had $1,000 per month this summer devoted purely to that purpose. Here’s how they spent their hypothetical “summer stimmys.”

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Creative Spencer Kupish saves up his June, July and August checks for an all-expenses-paid shoot for creators and their collaborators.

Inspired by Dreamville’s Revenge Documentary, which follows a hip-hop group as they produce an album through immense collaboration, my Universal Creative Income stipend would be spent on hosting a full-day shoot that brings my creative mind together with others. The goal of the event is threefold. First, to create a space where multiple creative lanes can co-exist and build off each other. Second, to promote a journey where creators are free to experiment and expand their skill sets. Then thirdly, to allow non-creator attendees to get to know creators and obtain unique content of themselves.

Before the shoot, creators would collaborate and brainstorm as they plan their mini-shoots, aiming to create four unique moments. As the creators plan their shoots, six to eight friends will be invited to attend and contribute to the event. Possible contributions: makeup/styling for the shoots, shopping for/cooking meals or just keeping the mood high. The day of the shoot will begin with two rental cars being filled with friends, equipment, and food.

Once on location, creators will set up their shoots and prep whoever will act as talent. After the first shoots wrap, creators will transition to their second, again prepping whoever will act as talent. A few hours later, creators and attendees will break down the shoots, clean up and prepare for dinner and drinks. The evening will consist of drinking responsibly, games and conversation. The following morning, breakfast will be served and everyone will head back to the city. After a couple weeks a reunion will take place where creators share their work with everyone over rooftop drinks.

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Community, Culture and Casting Coordinator Terence Edgerson keeps monthly journals as he enjoys a summer of creative restoration.

June: I’m running on fumes, but I’m incredibly excited that it’s June because it's Pride month. But as someone who’s also a creator of queer nightlife events, it also means a lot of pressure. Thankfully I’ve found just one quiet week this month that I can slip away for a moment of serenity. This month, I’m planning on using the $1,000 stipend I’ve gotten to restore and regenerate my mind, body and soul. As a creative it’s so important to take time to recharge from creative labor and make time to find unexpected sources of inspiration.

There’s a cute little house in Hudson that I found on Airbnb with an outdoor shower and a skylight, my entire stay there is $800. I’m also planning to hit the weekend flea market to see work by local artists. Maybe I’ll stumble on a new reference or two.I had a dream of me driving there but that wasn’t possible since I don’t have a license. I'm a New Yorker. What do I need that for? So I’m taking the train from Grand Central Station with my groceries I bought at Trader Joe's, and I’m pretending I’m Serena Van Der Woodsen skipping out of town from the Upper East Side. It’s a little cheaper if I take a coach seat, but if I’m going to be on a train for 2hrs and 59 minutes, I’m gonna need some comfort. And time to relax and protect my energy and peace before the swell of parties and socializing for 72 hours with pockets of sleep in between.

July: There’s no rest for the wicked! After coming off an incredibly busy and exhilarating June, I headed straight into Fourth of July on Fire Island: parties and bbq’s with no carbs in sight. I decided I needed a recovery period so I booked a 4-night stay at my favorite resort that has a yoga studio and a no cell phone policy, so I’ll be off the grid for a long weekend. I’m always tied to my phone, whether it be for office hours or the creative work I do in the nightlife industry or the charities that I volunteer for, I’m realizing that in order to best serve others it’s important to best take care of me. As creatives, we love our work. But sometimes the best inspiration comes when you actually take the time to step away and give yourself permission to unwind.The first night I have a guided meditation happening at 6pm on the roof that’s donation based, and it’s focused on getting back to who you are at your core. I had such a wonderful time, I’m going to give them $50 and then go to bed. Saturday morning I head to the spa for a deep tissue massage and 24k facial, they say I’ll look 15 years younger but at $100 a piece I want to look and feel like a newborn. Sunday is peaceful and quiet, I have a painting class that costs $40 and then Monday after spending the day by the pool I pack my bags and have a light lunch on the patio for $25 and then take a $25 Uber back home. I spent my ride newly inspired by up-and-coming artists introduced to me by a few people in my class.

August: As I sit rocking back and forth on the porch of this cabin in North Carolina, I think back over the summer and how I may be able to use some of the lessons I’ve learned to take better care of myself and my energy. Just having some alone time to cook meals by myself and not think about tickets to an event or list has been bliss. Going forward, I want to make sure I’m not running on fumes and I’m running on rested energy at least 7 hours of sleep. The time away has freed up mental space for me to come up with so many wonderful party ideas to produce, and dinners to put together for artists to gather with one another and share stories on how they maintain their peace and protect their energy. I've signed up for a wellness club where every Monday they have meditation at 9am and 7pm. I can tune in from anywhere. It’s perfect timing for in the evening when I have my glass of red wine.

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Editorial Director Trey Taylor travels to Grasse, drops a stack on aroma chemicals, and avoids the hobby economy in a self-guided “Fragrance Making 101” crash course.

During the pandemic, TikTok was saturated with people who were making sourdough, jewelry or 3D-printed nail art. I started making candles. Long story short: they sucked. After talking to a friend who makes perfume, I realized the only thing I was missing to make fragrances was ethanol. Forget candles, I thought, with a 10lb box of wax chips now haunting my closet.

I saw people monetizing their hobbies the moment they went ‘viral’ or had received a comment on TikTok from a stranger saying “where can I buy?” Look, I think that’s great if that’s your goal. But I’ve thought a lot about the hobby-to-job pipeline — especially among younger people. Nothing sucks the life out of a fun hobby or announces you’re a slave to capitalism quite like turning your hobby into order fulfillment. I thought about starting a business. I knew enough people to help get me started, but I’ve just seen too many episodes of Shark Tank to bank on a self-made career hawking weird perfume (a market which, believe it or not, is expected to reach $26 billion by 2026).

So I decided making fragrances would be just for me. Mostly, my goal is to become the uncle at your family gathering who bends your ear for a one-sided conversation. I want to become an expert and spend my free time like a chic chemist, putting together gorgeous smells.

Aroma chemicals vary in price, but aren’t too expensive when you imagine that a 100ml bottle of fragrance sells for something like $150-300 and the actual cost of the “juice” (industry term for what’s inside) is something like $2-4. A rip? Perhaps, but then you think of all the time a perfumer puts into it and the cost of the nice bottle and the marketing budgets and the launches etc.

A lot of perfumery is guesswork. Most of the best things happen by accident. The idea is to ensure you know your ingredients and where they originate. Grasse, France is the historic home of fragrance, and where a majority of the big fragrance houses harvest their ingredients. I’d like to attend a workshop where I can learn about building a fragrance, and tour a place that can show me how the ingredients are manufactured and transformed into aroma chemicals. The entirety of my trip is centered around a visit to Galimard, a perfume house that opened in 1747, and taking a perfume creation workshop there with 1:1 instruction. C’est very much la vie, non?

There wasn’t enough money leftover for a hotel or Airbnb, so I will be sleeping in my Renault Twingo.

The more that the creator economy becomes the default economy, and financial empowerment becomes the norm for Gen Zers dancing in front of their iPhone cameras or going live on TikTok for a buck, the more I want to escape technology entirely. Become a Luddite. After all, who are we, and what do we like, if we take away the audience?

Allowing space to work on something free from the vice-like squeeze of performative social media means that I can focus on my hobby without judgment or worrying about what it might look like to an outsider. Even the people who drip paint on TikTok have to consider the comment section when they post, right?

By this point, I’ve had the chance to experiment with my own pretty robust library of aroma chemicals and gotten to visit the home of fragrance in France and learn from an expert. I’d like to take one more online course at The Institute for Art and Olfaction. This one will be focused on the genealogy of citrus scents — the origins of certain materials and the “cultural impact” of each material. I love citrus smells, so I think this will be very enlightening.

Overall learnings: making fragrances isn’t cheap. I would undoubtedly go broke rather quickly if I tried to profit off of it. I do love making scents, but since smell is so personal and linked to memory, I couldn’t imagine opening up myself to severe judgment before I really know what I’m doing. After all, it’s supposed to be fun.