This interview is part of our Empowered Women series in partnership with FREE THE WORK, The 3% Movement, The Female Quotient, and TIME’S UP Foundation — a coalition effort to champion more equal and accurate representation of women leading at work, at home, in their communities and beyond. Read more about this initiative here and download images from the Empowered Women collection here.
Chloe Coover is the Community Manager at FREE THE WORK, where she is the point person for the organization’s community of creators. In addition to finding new talent to bring to the network and assisting creators with the onboarding process and building long-lasting relationships with FTW’s creative family, she also hosts “The Future, Through Our Eyes,” a podcast mini-series that focuses on trans, non-binary, and intersex creative voices who are defining media’s next wave.
We spoke with Chloe about her work, how FREE THE WORK is championing underrepresented creators, and the power and importance of visual representation.
Hi Chloe! Tell us about yourself — how did you get to where you are today? What inspired you to join the team at FREE THE WORK?
I joined the team back when FREE THE WORK was still Free The Bid, its initial iteration, back in February 2017. I had just moved to Los Angeles in January of that year, and I was eager to find ways to get involved in work that was pushing for social change within the creative world. A mutual friend connected me with Free The Bid’s Executive Director, who had just been appointed to the role herself by founder Alma Har’el, and the rest is history.
From as early as I can remember, my original goal in life was to be a great painter. I pored over Sister Wendy’s Story Of Painting, begged my art teacher to train me to use oil paints when I was 8, and dressed up as Impressionist painters for school projects. Art was life for me. After graduating from college with a dual degree from Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and University of Pennsylvania, I intended to focus my energy on my studio practice, but I gradually began to feel unfulfilled by focusing solely on my own creative output.
An internship at The Leeway Foundation in Philadelphia totally changed my career trajectory. The Leeway Foundation is a grant-making nonprofit organization that provides grants for women and trans artists in the Philadelphia area making work in service of social change. My experience there opened the door to the possibility that my life’s work could be in service of fostering creativity, in a way that positively impacts communities on an immediate, intimate level. I genuinely believe in art’s transformative power, its ability to model futures, the way that it can give voice to concerns that have gone unheard.
I’m so glad that I found my way to Free The Bid, and have had the chance to be involved in the process of dreamscaping our way to FREE THE WORK. My work here has enabled me to advocate in support of communities I love, connect with world-class talents from around the globe, and shine a spotlight on innovative creative projects.
FREE THE WORK is leading the charge to champion underrepresented creators across creative industries. What is a day on the job like for you as FREE THE WORK’s Community Manager? What have been some of your favorite projects and initiatives?
A typical day for me, working from home during lockdown, usually consists of waking up earlier than I’d prefer, spending an egregious amount of time on makeup (once a painter, always a painter), migrating from the bedroom to the living room, drawing the blinds and settling in for a full day of emails, Zoom meetings, and rapid-fire Slacking.
My job as FREE THE WORK’s Community Manager means that I’m a point person for our community of creators. The day-to-day responsibilities in this role include scouting out for new talent to bring into our network and highlight; assisting creators with the onboarding process and with questions that they may have about the platform; hosting webinars for our international creators; helping our Culture team put together spotlights of creators and work; and generally mapping out bigger picture strategy with the FTW crew.
The fact that I get to work alongside my FREE THE WORK teammates is, by far, a highlight of every work day. I’m consistently amazed by how dedicated, inventive, whip-smart and thoughtful each of them are, in their own specific ways. We all come to the work that we’re engaged in from different angles — filmmakers, performers, writers, designers, etc. — and from different backgrounds, and I feel like I learn daily just simply through conversation.
A recent project that’s near and dear to my heart is “The Future, Through Our Eyes,” the podcast mini-series I’ve been hosting since June. This series focuses on trans, non-binary, and intersex creative voices who are defining media’s next wave, fundamentally re-shaping the ways in which our community is represented on-screen and behind the scenes. I’ve had the opportunity to speak with filmmakers like River Gallo, Kase Pena, Nava Mau, and Ava Benjamin Schorr, looking toward a future where where we get to tell our own stories instead of being represented through the cis gaze. This project was deeply important to me as a reminder to the world that artwork created by gender variant artists is not monolithic, and that each of these creators have a unique vision of what’s next.
Can you tell us more about the community aspect of FREE THE WORK and how the platform facilitates mentorship and building more meaningful connections in the industry?
The strength of FREE THE WORK’s model, I believe, is the way in which it serves as a connector between underrepresented talent and those interested in making a commitment to inclusive hiring. We work hard to try and ensure that the platform is meeting the needs of both communities. Our goal is for creator profiles to feel representative of each creator’s vision; and for business users to have access to a wide variety of ways to discover authentic storytelling voices, from search results and playlists to in-depth articles, social media spotlights, and monthly newsletters.
However, our team is determined to continue to push and find further ways to serve the needs of our community. Over the past few months, we’ve been working on implementing some new ideas — including a jobs board, mentorship sessions, and more — that are the result of listening carefully and adapting accordingly. Ultimately, I feel most proud of the work we do when it comes closest to reflecting our community’s concerns.
On a personal note, I’ll always really cherish the connections I’ve been able to foster with creators throughout my time at FREE THE WORK. Nothing makes my day more than receiving an email from a creator telling me that they’ve booked a job because of a connection we facilitated. That’s what I want to see — underrepresented creators connecting, getting hired, getting PAID and recognized for their brilliance.
What are your thoughts on the power and importance of visual representation to help support the rise of more women in leadership in creative industries?
As a trans person, I have an intimate understanding of the power that visible representation can have. I wasn’t able to understand my own identity until the internet revealed possibility models for me; discovering trailblazing trans women — like Zackary Drucker, Juliana Huxtable, Janet Mock, Laverne Cox, and many others — through the lens of their creative work helped me hold up a mirror to myself and make sense of what I saw.
While I agree with the concept of “see it, be it,” I don’t think it gives enough credit to how visionary humans can be. People have always been capable of inventing unprecedented ways of being, making something out of nothing. But I do think that when we establish visible examples of leadership today that reflect our vision for a more equitable world, we give future generations the permission to dream even further beyond the boundaries of our current reality.
When you look to the future, what inspires you and what initiatives are you currently most excited about?
Ok, so apologies for the shameless plug: two of the episodes of my podcast miniseries, “The Future Through Our Eyes,” feature creators who worked, in different capacities, on the set of the Netflix documentary “Disclosure.” Both Nava Mau and Ava Benjamin Schorr were extremely enthusiastic about the intentional on-set environment fostered by director Sam Feder and the team, where trans talent was prioritized for key production roles across the crew.
If a trans creator at the level of experience required could not be identified for any role, a trans Production Fellow would be given the opportunity to shadow the crew member who was hired in that role. These Fellows were paid for their time and given an invaluable opportunity to step onto a professional set of this scale. Even if the role that they were shadowing didn’t end up being the role for them, the Fellows had visibility into all other on-set roles, and had the chance to make connections that could lead to further opportunities down the road.
I’m paraphrasing second-hand accounts, but the core idea is one that has continued to inspire me ever since. If, as an example, fostering the next generation of trans talent is important to you, there are actionable steps that can be taken to prove your commitment (and if they can take those steps on a small indie feature, the resources are available to make an effort at the studio level). On a daily basis, we create the world we live in through the choices we make, through our priorities. It’s incredibly heartening to see people making choices that allow things to function differently than historical precedent would dictate, in service of a world that prioritizes different values.
How can people get involved with and support the critical work FREE THE WORK is doing?
We welcome everyone to visit our homepage, create an account (either as a Creator or Business user), and dig in to discover the wealth of incredible talent from all over the world that’s bursting out of every corner of the site. Follow us on Instagram and Twitter, and sign up to receive our monthly Here’s The Work roundup newsletters. Visit our Culture page to browse playlists of talent and read through articles, interviews, and more. Check out the FREE THE WORK podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or Soundcloud.
If you’re interested in finding a way for your company or organization to align with FREE THE WORK, reach out to our Partnerships team (email@example.com). And if you’re a Creator with questions about our community, I’d love to hear from you! Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll be happy to dig in.
What advice would you give to women who are currently navigating the path to leadership at work and in their communities?
In my own journey to embracing my leadership capabilities, I’ve found that beyond the barriers of systemic inequality, some of the biggest roadblocks I’ve encountered are ones I set up for myself. Imposter syndrome is real, and it can be incredibly difficult to combat, because the conflict is completely internal. Remember: even if your background is different from everyone else’s around you, you’re where you are for a reason. You’re the only person who’s lived your life, and you bring your history and your point of view into everything you do. Prioritize your integrity — I’ve never regretted speaking up when something didn’t align with my values, but I’ve definitely regretted times when I stayed silent.
Above all, the biggest lesson I’ve learned from my leadership experience so far is to check my ego at the door, to listen, and to open myself up to feedback. While each of us brings our own unique strengths to the table, we miss out on brilliance if we’re not acknowledging our blind spots and filling them in with the expertise of others. Great leadership isn’t about asserting a single point of view, it’s about finding a way to blend ideas and perspectives harmoniously.
About FREE THE WORK
FREE THE WORK is a nonprofit initiative dedicated to identifying systemic inequalities in film, television, advertising, and media, and finding actionable solutions to expand access for underrepresented creators.
This mission is supported by FREE THE WORK’s field work & advocacy, editorial content, events, partnerships and curated talent-discovery platform.