This past October, we sent our marketing mavens, Sade Ogungbemi and Erica Urias, to CultureCon 2022 in New York City. Known as “The Ultimate Creative Homecoming,” CultureCon touts itself as the fastest-growing conference for creatives and changemakers of colour who plan to elevate their social network and make a real mark on culture.
The conference took place on a Saturday, with over 25 talks and presentations across two separate stages, with additional pop-up events and activations across Brooklyn leading up to the main event. Featured speakers included celebrities like Tracee Ellis Ross, Lena Waithe and Taraji P. Henson, and executives from major brands like Nike, Netflix, HBO and Instagram.
Between sampling New York’s finest pizza, exploring Black-owned vintage shops and enjoying the nightlife (some pretty solid reasons to visit the Big Apple), this trip offered Sade and Erica an unforgettable experience that strengthened and validated their identity as Black creatives.
Cultivating Space to Empower Communities
CultureCon’s founder, Imani Ellis, launched the conference in 2017, intending to create a brave, safe space for creatives of colour to network, grow, learn, be inspired, and feel comfortable to authentically be themselves.
“At the first event we went to, it kinda felt strange to be surrounded by so many other people of colour because we weren’t used to it—but it was so cool. It was pretty different from what we experience here in Canada! That was a big reason why Erica and I were excited to go—just to be immersed and surrounded by like-minded people who are also in this creative industry.” — Sade Ogungbemi
Hearing Black celebrities and CEOs discuss their shared adversity—things like workplace and social inequities or struggling with their hair—ignited a powerful sense of belonging and renewed confidence.
“It really validated me as a creative person. There are so many ways to express creativity, and we got to see that through the many speakers that day. Podcasters, TikTok stars, authors, fashion designers, marketers—we are all creatives. And bringing diverse, creative minds together is where the magic happens. It not only benefits the project but also benefits our communities. When you see people who look like you or who come from a similar life experience doing things that inspire you, it feels more achievable.” — Erica Urias
Taking Off the Social Mask
The concept of “social masking” is often discussed within the disabled community, but really, any marginalized person can likely relate. When social norms are enforced by predominantly white, male, cisgender, neurotypical governing bodies, those who fall outside that demographic feel pressured to conform. Sometimes, this conformity becomes so second nature that you don’t realize how exhausting it is until the mask comes off.
“Everything feels easier when you’re being yourself.” — Sade Ogungbemi
The freedom and comfort to show up as your authentic self is a value that UpHouse has upheld since our beginning. However, throughout the development of our social purpose, we realized how important it is to provide further opportunities for our staff to embrace and explore their identities.
When that social mask is off, and you have the freedom to come as you are, your creative brain can activate in powerful ways without reservation. This doesn’t just make for better marketing—it reinforces self-love and acceptance and fosters diversity and tolerance.
“I think that was my biggest takeaway—being able to show up as your true self in a safe space allows you to understand what that feels like. It gives you the confidence to show up like that in other areas of your life. It was really inspiring to experience and to see others experience that as well.”— Erica Urias
Three Lessons Erica and Sade Learned from Culture Con 2022
With so many influential speakers and fascinating discussions, there was no shortage of insights to bring home from CultureCon—but for Sade and Erica, three big takeaways stood out from the rest.
1) Don’t Overthink Your Creativity
Striving for perfection almost always leads to procrastination and self-doubt. In a discussion between fashion industry executives, when asked about finding inspiration and coming up with a plan, one designer insisted, “just start.”
Sometimes as creatives, there’s a tendency to overthink things. Taking the first step can feel like the hardest part, but when you trust yourself, you can let your creativity guide you to amazing places.
2) Inclusion Belongs Everywhere
During one panel discussion, an audience member asked how to improve the representation of Black people or other underrepresented groups in the media. The response: include them in anything, regardless of it the topic relates to their identity or culture. Their perspectives matter! The opinions and experiences of a Black trans man don’t just belong in Black trans stories—they belong anywhere and everywhere.
3) If You Lack Community Spaces, Why Not Create Your Own?
When you create a strong, inclusive sense of community in your organization, all who feel welcome will become advocates for your company. The benefits reach even further when you create opportunities for your team members to connect with their own communities.
For Sade and Erica, the experience of discovering a community of Black creative collaborators was so enriching—professionally and personally—and they’re eager to share it with their community back home in Canada.
“It inspired us to look into possibly creating a community or a conference like that here in Winnipeg where Black creatives can meet together. The possibilities are endless. If they can do it, why can’t we?” — Sade Ogungbemi