Since it's founding in 2005, NEC member Sol Collective has grown from a small project into a gallery, youth center, music label, marketplace, and activist hub. Governed by boards made up of youth, educators, and community advisors, the Sacramento- based non-profit has evolved into a space for members to create the culture, media, and community they want to see. We spoke to co-founder and executive director Estella Sanchez about how Sol Collective got its start and the role of collective creation in the new economy. Read about their awesome work below!
NEC: How did Sol Collective come to be?
Estella Sanchez: Sol Collective was created after I had the opportunity to travel through the US and the Caribbean as part of the Libertad Tour. We had the opportunity to visit various community spaces over a three year period while organizing travel for over 120 artists, educators, activist, and community organizers.
When I returned home to Sacramento I was looking for something similar to what I had witnessed in various communities. I soon learned about the spaces created in the 70's by the RCAF ( Royal Chicano Air Force) , local artist/activists. It inspired me to look into the possibilities of collective creation. Sol Collective was born in 2005, and became my Master Thesis project as I studied Education Leadership and Policy Studies. I was researching how to create community based programming using a collective leadership model.
What does your day-to-day look like?
Our day to day is very busy and constantly in transformation. Our collective space has a gallery, music studio, shop, printing area and collective work space. On any given day, you can come in and step into a yoga class, a music session, a community podcast being recorded , or a activist class being taught.
What does a "new economy" mean to you and where do you see the work of Sol Collective and cultural organizing fitting in the new economy world?
New Economy to us means a reciprocal flow of energy, resources and knowledge that is inclusive to all in a community. Sol Collective has programs and collective resources that we share with the community. We believe in sharing what we do through reciprocal exchange, this may be funds, volunteer time, knowledge etc, but no one is ever turned away for lack of funds. This has been challenging throughout the years, but after over a decade we have been not only able to survive but thrive.
Sol Collective is also working to support sister collectives and local artists and artisans through our Global Local Mercado (on site and online store). We work with a artisan collective of over 170 indigenous families in Oaxaca and are carrying their beautiful products, as well as participating in cultural exchanges. We are expanding to include artisans in India and support local makers and creators. We are learning as we go along and are sharing what we learn with our community. Making a shift and change from how we purchase and how we value handmade items is a cultural change, so as a community we are going through this learning experience.
In 2015 Sol Collective launched it’s own collaborative record label, Sol Life, and media outlet, Sol Life Media— what was the impetus for branching out?
Sol Life Media launched in 2015 after years of hearing complaints about our stories being told by others or our communities being misrepresented or not represented at all. We look to be solution based and wanted to create a community media platform to allow us to tell our own stories. We also recognize that music is a powerful cultural tool and we wanted to support music that uplifts our communities. We currently have five artists on the label and have a variety of community podcasts ranging from health to activism.
What is the greatest challenge facing your organizing? What do you believe is the greatest strength of your community?
The greatest challenge is that we are often exploring ideas or starting programs that have not been implemented in our community before, so we don't have a blue print. The greatest strength of our community is that we are resilient and that we are open to working together and trying new things.
What are you most excited for in the upcoming months? The upcoming years?
Sol Collective recently purchased our building, so it is very excited to lay down deep roots in our community and know that the work will continue after the founding collective is gone. We are also very excited about sharing our model and sharing what we have learned over 12 years of collective organizing. We are looking at the possibilities of Sol Collective in Los Angeles and Detroit!