our work

arts, culture and

Creative County Initiative

Art inspires us, connects us and helps us to innovate and imagine new possibilities. ECCF is committed to supporting a strong ecosystem for arts, culture and creative enterprise that is sustainable, equitable and accessible to all.

In partnership with our communities and the Barr Foundation, ECCF’s Creative County Initiative (CCI) will invest more than $2 million in the arts, culture and creative sector of Essex County as part of a multi-year commitment. We’re strategically investing in the creative people, places and partnerships that make Essex County such a vibrant place to live and work. Here’s how:

Communications and Connectivity

CreativeCounty.org is Essex County’s source for local arts and culture, connecting community and creativity.

Our goals for establishing and deepening connections includes:

Inspiring public appreciation for the arts by increasing the visibility of and accessibility to local experiences.

Supporting local artists and organizations by increasing attendance at their events and experiences.

Enabling collaboration within the arts community by providing a place to connect and share resources.

Want to learn more? Visit creativecounty.org.

Capacity Building

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


ECCF and the Creative County Initiative is committed to creating professional development and capacity-building opportunities for cultural leaders and small and volunteer-run arts and culture organizations so they can further their missions and compete in our creative economy. These opportunities include small, hands-on workshops and large-scale conferences like ECCF’s annual Institute for Trustees, which added an arts track in 2023.

For more details on current workshops, visit creativecounty.org.


ChangeMakers is an immersive leadership support program that fosters participants’ roles as creative leaders building a more inclusive and sustainable arts and culture ecosystem in Essex County.

Since 2021, ECCF has graduated 34 artists, nonprofit and municipal leaders from this eight-month-long program that includes facilitated and project-based learning, peer networking and leadership trainings. Rooted in a collaborative process of local and regional ecosystem building, ChangeMakers is connecting people with diverse perspectives and different backgrounds to grow a network of creative leaders that understand the importance and power of thinking regionally and strategically about the ecosystem.

The 2024 ChangeMakers cohort will begin the program in March 2024.

For more information about ChangeMakers, contact k.ristuben@eccf.org.


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

When all parts of the creative system come together, it’s possible to identify root causes of challenges and find innovative solutions. Together, we can address issues like barriers to funding, creative workforce support, affordable artist space and professional leadership development.

ECCF is committed to bringing people together to build a stronger and more resilient regional network. By doing this, we hope to:

Create stronger connections across sectors to enable arts and creativity to thrive.

Inspire co-funders to invest in long-term projects that address critical challenges.

Pilot and scale innovative systems solutions to support a healthy creative sector.

Monthly Creative County Meet Ups

Virtual opportunities for creatives to connect around timely topics. For more information contact k.ristuben@eccf.org or register here.

Essex County Arts and Culture Summit
The Essex County Arts and Culture Summit brings together hundreds of artists, nonprofits and cross-sector creative leaders for networking, educational opportunities and inspiration.

Creative Sector Think Labs
Creative sector Think Labs are meetings designed to bring people together to incubate ideas in emerging areas affecting the creative sector. Dates TBA.

Cultural Planning

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

Through its Creative County Initiative, ECCF is committed to supporting cultural planning initiatives that create better conditions for the arts sector to thrive, and investing in knowledge and technical support to engage communities in municipal planning that is inclusive of arts and culture. As a result, we aim to:

  • Earn Essex County recognition as a supportive region for creative professionals.
  • Strengthen the capacity for collaboration within and between communities.
  • Foster inclusion and equity among our diverse communities.
  • Broaden the value of tangible and intangible cultural assets related to community development goals.


Municipal planning for the arts and culture sector of our communities can ensure that community health, vibrancy, identity, history, creativity and cohesion can thrive.

Apply for your community to participate in a FREE cultural planning assessment with consultant Tom Borrup of Creative Community Builders.


Creative County’s grantmaking programs support individual artists, creative cross-sector collaborations and special projects that enrich, educate and enhance the cities and towns of Essex County.

learn more about creative county

creative county steering committee

Karen Ristuben, Program Director, Creative County Initiative
John Andrews, Creative Collective, LLC
Rachel Borgatti, Executive Director, Beverly Main Streets
Nonie  Brady, Community activist, philanthropist
Hehershe Busuego, Director of Programs & Racial Equity
Danielle Coates-Connor, Communications consultant
Aaron Clausen, City Planner, City of Lynn
Ana Colmenero, Trustee, Peabody Essex Museum
John Colucci, ECCF Board Chair
Michelle Curran, Communications writer, storyteller
Michelle Finamore, Fashion+Design Curator, Art Consultant
Beth Francis, President & CEO, ECCF
Steve Immerman, President, Montserrat College of Art (retired)
Katie King, Owner, KM Recruiting
Kelly Shea Knowles, Director of Development and Communications
Stratton Lloyd, COO and Vice President for Community Leadership, ECCF
Ana Tinajeros, Founder Dance to Power, Afro-Latin dance artist
Lisa Miller-Gillespie, Eecutive Director, Lawrence Festival of the Arts
John Moynihan, Executive Director, Firehouse Performing Arts
Jean Nichols, Biotechnology Executive, (retired)
Jon Payson, Former ECCF Board Chair
Cristian Recinos, Community Activist
J. Casey Soward, Executive Director, The Cabot
Jennifer Welter, Town of Lynnfield, Planning & Conservation Commission
Eunice Zeigler, City of Methuen City Councilor, State Senate candidate, singer/songwriter

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.

measuring impact

Executive Summary: Creative County Initiative year 6 evaluation report

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

arts & culture news

work & impact

creative county brochure cover

get in touch

Karen Ristuben headshot

Karen Ristuben

Program Director
Creative County Initiative

Want to schedule a call with Karen? Click here.

arts & culture summit

Five years have passed since ECCF first launched its partnership with the Barr Foundation, and the Creative County Initiative and we were delighted to share the celebration with over 300 Arts and Culture stakeholders from across the county!

Thank you to those that joined us as we shared community impact stories, introduced inspiring collaborations, heard from some of our most gifted artists, and shared a vision for our next several years of investment, leadership, and advocacy.

community voices

“Cities and towns across Massachusetts are full of creative talent and cultural assets that have the power to inspire us, challenge us, and bring us together. Yet, depending on geography, an art form, or networks, access to funding can be uneven – and so are opportunities to experience arts and creativity.”

– BARR Foundation, Creative Commonwealth Initiative

how can we help?

We would love to hear from you.

ECCF Logo in White Overlay


500 Cummings Center, Suite 5450
Beverly, Massachusetts 01915