CultureCon 2023 welcomed another starry slate of Hollywood names, influencers and tastemakers.
The weekend-long event — most recently taking place at Duggal Greenhouse in the Brooklyn Navy Yard — has been dubbed the “biggest creative homecoming” for a reason. Young creatives in attendance were afforded many opportunities to gain career insight, ranging from valuable networking opportunities to sitting in on fireside chats with industry trailblazers.
Issa Rae, Teyana Taylor, Tinashe, Marsai Martin, Jharrel Jerome and Tamika D. Mallory were among the big names that took the stage over the weekend. Other featured talent included Candiace Dillard Bassett, Imani Ellis, Kollin Carter, De’Arra Taylor, Jayda Cheaves, Terrell Grice, Aaliyah Jay, Shan Boodram, Jessica Rich, Jana Fleishman, Tiffany “The Budgetnista” Aliche and Faith Jenkins.
Deandre Brown (a.k.a. The Corporate Baddie), Hot 97’s Miabelle and Destiny Mabry hosted the gathering, which was presented by Max.
Minutes before his own “Creative Genius” panel on Saturday, Jerome told PEOPLE it was “beautiful” to see attendees “still getting up to support each other, and to experience art, and share and connect” despite the rainy weather throughout the day. He also believes events of this caliber are still necessary in 2023, even with the many strides made that have allowed Black and brown creatives the chance to excel.
“Art is medicine. Art heals and saves. … We have progressed, but we still face endless amounts of struggles and lack of opportunities,” said the Emmy winner, 26. “So, when you can get under one building and feel like it’s about us and it’s about our love for what we do, it just sends you home with positive energy, positive attitude. Hopefully, we all leave here and go create something and try to make peace and happiness with the things going on in our lives.”
The When They See Us actor’s panel was centered around his creative journey through music, as he’s releasing the four-part project Someone I’m Not under Sony Music.
“I’m finally letting all my music out,” he explained to PEOPLE. “I’ve had a passion for rap for a long time, my whole life. And so, I’m finally taking that step in my career where I am just releasing music that I love. And I’m excited to share that information today and let people know a bit more about who I am as an artist.”
Teasing the four-part project further, the Moonlight actor added, “So, it’ll feel like an album, but it’s not an album. It’s more just the four separate mini projects that just all have different styles and flavors. And I’m doing different cadences and flows, and I’m just trying to be an artist who isn’t put in a box right away.”
As Rae took the stage on Saturday for her American Express-sponsored panel “How to Find Your People,” the Insecure alum spoke to moderator Glenda McNeal on what the recent success of woman-led endeavors — namely Rae’s Barbie movie, Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour and Beyoncé’s Renaissance Tour — means for the future of female creatives and female-driven storytelling.
“Every time something female-led is successful, we’re like, ‘Oh, hopefully this opens the doors’ and we know that we need it. And somehow, the door gets closed again and people forget. I feel like this industry has amnesia all the time, and it’s always a surprise, like, ‘Oh, women watch movies? Okay, well, we should have them make more movies,'” she explained. “And then, they make one and they’re like, ‘Oh, women do not watch movies.’ Then, they determine that there just isn’t an audience anymore.”
Rae, 38, noted that “success and money will drive interest and will drive what the industry ultimately produces.” And because of the current challenges the entertainment industry is facing amid the ongoing Screen Actors Guild strike, Rae admitted, “Honestly, I’m scared right now for the industry and I’m scared for so many of the strides that we’ve made given the strike.”
“Given all of these changes that we fought for, they’re all ultimately going to lead to less things being produced. And these are demands that we need. These are demands that the writers, actors absolutely need to be able to have a stake in this industry and longevity in this industry, but sometimes at the expense of our stories,” she continued, specifically referencing Black-led projects. “Anytime costs need to be cut, anytime the industry is in strife, we are the first ones to go. And so I think it’s absolutely essential for us to keep an eye on it so that that doesn’t happen again.”
As a proposed solution, Rae suggested that “we need people at higher positions to hire the people in these positions of power” to help greenlight necessary projects.
“I don’t mean to be a downer because I am generally optimistic,” she added, “but it really is up to us to keep you keep our foot on people’s necks to make sure that our stories get told.”
Aside from the many stars in attendance, The Creative Collective NYC — who founded the event — recruited major brands to participate in the two-day experience as well: Max, American Express, SheaMoisture, Prime Video and Freevee, Clinique, Google, CÎROC, Bulleit, Seedlip, Patreon, Paramount, Kickstarter, NBCUniversal, Spotify, Walmart, Tubi, Adidas, Ben & Jerry’s, Coca-Cola, Smart Water, LTK, Visible, Dotdash Meredith, Foot Locker, TikTok, Getty Images, Nielsen, #CultureTags, Raedio, NPR, When We All Vote, Tillary and Brooklyn Navy Yard.
Crystal Cartwright — Senior Director of Creator Success & Support at LTK (formerly known as rewardStyle & LIKEtoKNOW.it) — told PEOPLE ahead of the “Monetize Your Brand with LTK” panel that the company has a “creator-first” approach, unlike many competitor brands. At this time, they are “creating spaces for creators of color, especially” to thrive, which is why the brand was eager to make its CultureCon debut.
“That’s why we’re at CultureCon,” Cartwright said. “This is where we need to be. This is how we can speak to creatives of color and make sure that they get the bag. It’s really just the educational piece.”
Cartwright urged creatives to continue “being your authentic self” in order to excel — though she did acknowledge that can be particularly “hard” for creatives of color to avoid feeling as if they need to “fit into some type of box.” But “authenticity and then, just showing up for your community” will ultimately put creatives on the path to success.
Attendees at this year’s event also had the opportunity to mingle with high-profile companies at the Creative Careers Job Fair. As the weekend wrapped, creatives in attendance were then invited to attend Sunday’s CultureCon Block Party with American Express, where they could enjoy sets from local DJs as well as explore local eateries, support Black-owned entrepreneurs at the American Express Shop Small Business Market and mingle with other attendees.
“It’s just such a beautiful thing that our people can get together and do,” Jerome told PEOPLE of this year’s event. “So, I’m just here loving the moment and the spirit, and it feels like everyone’s family, even though we don’t even know each other.”
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For more information, visit CultureCon’s official website.