our work

arts, culture and

Creative County

In partnership with the Barr Foundation, the Creative County Initiative (CCI) will invest more than $2 million in the arts, culture and creative sector of Essex County over at least the next five years. Together with our communities, we are committed to supporting a strong ecosystem for arts, culture and creative enterprise that is SUSTAINABLE, EQUITABLE and ACCESSIBLE for all in our region.

In response to the immediate needs of artists in the wake of COVID-19, ECCF has partnered with Rocky Neck Art Colony to launch the Essex County Artist Fund to support and lift up artists across Essex County.

Learn more, donate, or apply.

2020 – 2022 investment areas

Essex County Creates logo

NEW creative county website

A regional calendar of virtual and live event listings free for artists, makers, creators – and the community.

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public art & creative placemaking grants

Funding for new, collaborative placemaking and public art projects.

A group of folks gathering for cultural planning

cultural planning

Engaging communities in municipal planning that is inclusive of arts and culture.

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building capacity

Opportunities for arts and culture organizations to further their missions and compete in our creative economy.

A group of folks gathering for cultural planning


Bringing all parts of the creative system together to learn, network, inspire and thrive as one united ecosystem. 

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communications and connectivity

Helping artists and organizations reach new audiences, grow financial support and connect with each other.

learn more about creative county

creative county steering committee

Karen Ristuben, Program Director, Creative County Initiative
John Andrews, Creative Collective, LLC
Crystal Bates, Director of Communications and Development, ECCF
Ana Colmenero, Trustee, Peabody Essex Museum
Matthew Coogan, Chief of Staff, City of Newburyport
Judith Farzan, Board Chair, Essex Arts Center
Greg Federspiel, Town Administrator, Manchester-by-the-Sea
Michelle Finamore, Fashion+Design Curator, Art Consultant
Beth Francis, President & CEO, ECCF
Deborah Greel, Public Art Planner, City of Salem (retired)
Lillian Hsu, Public Art Director, City of Cambridge
Steve Immerman, President, Montserrat College of Art (retired)
Katie King, Principal, K2 Consulting
Noah Koretz, Director of Transformative Development, Mass Development
Stratton Lloyd, COO and Vice President for Community Leadership, ECCF
Barbara Lorenc, Creative Space Developer and Chair, Economic Development Committee, Amesbury Chamber of Commerce
Kate Luchini, Arts & Art Strategy Consultant
Pedro Miguel Soto, Planning Director, City of Lawrence
Jean Nichols, Biotechnology Executive, (retired)
Jon Payson, Community Volunteer and County Leadership Council, ECCF
Jackie Rosenthal, Community Volunteer
Carol Lavoie Schuster, Vice President for Grants, Nonprofit and Donor Services, ECCF
J. Casey Soward, Executive Director, The Cabot
Doneeca Thurston, Executive Director, Lynn Museum
Rosario Ubiera-Minaya, Executive Director, Amplify Latinx
Jennifer Welter, Town of Lynnfield, Planning & Conservation Commission

the work of creative county
  • CREATES a regional voice for arts, culture and creative expression in Essex County.
  • PROMOTES transformative community and economic development.
  • ELEVATES arts and cultural experiences that celebrate diversity, equity, inclusion, and access across communities.
  • INVESTS in artists and the creative economy in an environment of rapidly changing demographics.
  • CELEBRATES Essex County as a vibrant place to live, work, create and collaborate.
racial equity statement

ECCF’s Creative County Initiative is a systems-based commitment to supporting a strong ecosystem for arts, culture and creative enterprise that is SUSTAINABLE, EQUITABLE and ACCESSIBLE for all in our region.

Creative County holds racial equity and justice as core values. During this period of pain, stress, and national uprising and solidarity, we are committing to address injustice and systemic racism through the work of CCI.

We pledge to:  

  • Continually work to meet goals of diversity, equity, inclusion and access (DEIA) in our work across Essex County, recognizing that continued learning and adapting is needed.
  • Create and support a CCI Racial Equity Working Group to ensure that our commitment to DEIA manifests in CCI’s programs, policies, and structures with intention, integrity, and sustainability.
  • Educate ourselves as to white privilege and systemic racism and learn how to build equity and inclusivity in all areas of CCI investment.
  • Create opportunities for Black, Latinx, Indigenous, Asian – and other people of color – who, through arts, culture and creativity, bring meaning to our communities.
  • Build community through deep listening, learning, partnering, and collaboratively working to create a more equitable and just society.

Creative County Initiative strives to serve the health, well-being, and creative economy of Essex County communities by strengthening the region’s arts and culture ecosystem. CCI embraces a collaborative approach to building systems of sustainable support across all sectors for the creative makers, organizations, and citizens who bring creativity, connectivity, and meaning to our communities. Through its work, CCI strives to build community through cultural and civic engagement.

2020 is a time to pause, reset, reprioritize and continue to model the change we want and need in our world.

understanding the challenges

During the early planning period of this initiative, we spent time and resources to identify the creative sector’s greatest challenges. Six regional focus groups, 400+ respondent surveys, and economic data showed that Essex County is a culturally diverse region rich in arts and culture, which are necessary for strong, connected communities. Yet effective strategies to connect and support the creative sector across our region had not been developed.

This data showed clear needs from the arts and business communities:

  • We need SHARED AND EXPANDED RESOURCES for funding, creative spaces, and personnel/leadership development programs.
  • We need EDUCATION AND TRAINING to build capacity for collaborative work and stronger arts organizations.
  • We need MORE ART IN PUBLIC SPACES for greater access and engagement.
creative county goals

Phase 1 | 2017-2019: To build an arts ecosystem across our region and invest in arts, culture, design and creative enterprise that is sustainable, equitable and accessible for all.

Phase 2 | 2020-2022: Equip the Essex County arts and culture community with knowledge, tools and systems to increase the visibility and impact of the transformative power of arts and culture.

pilot phase success

During the first 2-year pilot phase, $750,000 was invested in four strategies:

  • Granted more than $300,000 to collaborative partnerships, bringing to life 12 Public Art and Creative Placemaking projects across our region. Learn more.
  • Convened 125 participants from 30 communities in support of cultural planning initiatives and mapping our critical cultural resources.
  • Gathered more than 700 attendees at the Essex County Arts & Culture Summit for meaningful discussion, workshops and networking to embolden the local arts sector.
  • Launched EssexCountyCreates.org, a regional online platform for artists and cultural organizations to enhance their visibility and share resources across the arts community. Learn more.

art is essential.

ECCF’s Creative County work is powered by the contributions of our generous community.

arts & culture news

Essex County Creative Economy to Get Boost from State Grant

ECCF-led virtual platform will distribute and promote region’s digital creative content Essex County’s cultural organizations and artists will soon have a powerful tool to aid in their economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, thanks to a $230,000 grant from the...

Lights, History, Agriculture! ECCF Funds Six New Public Art Projects

Merrimack Valley photographers, writers and people seeking calm have probably found themselves at some point on the edge of the Spicket River in Methuen, where Essex County’s only natural waterfall – which once powered 19th century textile mills – drops 100 feet and...

work & impact

creative county brochure cover

get in touch

Karen Ristuben headshot

Karen Ristuben

Program Director
Creative County Initiative

how can we help?

We would love to hear from you.

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  1. 175 Andover Street, Suite 101
    Danvers, Massachusetts 01923