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Rethinking Professional Development as a Creative Class Struggle

In March 2023, the Department of History at Temple University hosted a roundtable on creative-class struggles in Philadelphia. I had the joy of moderating this conversation with colleages from various art museums, universities, and schools of design.

Nonprofits are big business. Theorists like Richard Florida and Paul Romer believed that cultural economies should unlock the limitless potential of knowledge to produce profit – and prosperity. Following the Great Recession in 2008, their ideas inspired civic leaders to waive corporate taxes within innovation districts while prompting university administrators to recapture funding through public-private partnerships.

Yet, the wealth hasn’t trickled down and nonprofit workers are unionizing at a record-setting pace. Since 2022, members of AFSCME at the Philadelphia Museum of Art won 14 percent raises following a 19-day strike; a supermajority of resident physicians and fellows with Penn Medicine joined the SEIU; public historians at Eastern State Penitentiary secured representation through United Steelworkers; and graduate workers in TUGSA just waged the longest strike in Temple University’s history. Philly is, indeed, a union town.  


Our roundtable asked what an increasingly political creative class struggle means for the future of professional development? Are we building networks that harness our collective power in addition to individual advancement? How can we, and how should we, translate our strength to effect positive, long-term change in public policy?


TUGSA – Jake Wolff (he/him), rank and file

UAP – Sam Heaps (they/them)

PMA Union – Amanda Bock (she/her), Curator of Photography

PTM United – Anand Ghorpadey (he/him), Temple BA, ‘21

Public Historian – Joana Arruda (she/her), Temple MPH, ‘16

TUGSA – Shourjendra Mukherjee (he/him)

RUAAUP/HELU – Ian Gavigan

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