Arts & Culture as a Neighborhood Asset — New Role Announcement

TJ (Tiffany) Mikell
5 min readMar 2, 2020


I’ve joined the South East Chicago Commission (SECC) as Program Director of Arts & Culture!! Here’s why:

New Role — Effective February 2020

It is with great excitement and optimism that I announce a new professional trek I am embarking upon — one that will allow me to expand the work developed during my last 8 years as a social impact entrepreneur, including 2 years of running a South Side based media lab — while providing an opportunity to deepen my “Community Finance” experience.

“Media Making for Youth” Workshop hosted by The Neighbor Tech Lab ( ZaMLabs) — March 31st, 2019

A highlight snapshot of the last 8 years:

  • 2012 — Lean Startup Challenge; freelancing for local non-profits
  • 2013 — Joins Founding Team of Dev Bootcamp Chicago
  • 2014 — DBC Chicago is acquired by Kaplan University; Mikell joins Trans*H4CK as Technology Director; Mikell & Ziegler launch BlackStarLAUNCH: an edu platform for creative entrepreneurs of color -becoming the first project of the ZaMLabs portfolio
  • 2015 — BlackStarLAUNCH becomes SaaS (AerialSpaces); PipelineAngels pitch; $235K raised for Trans*H4CK Virtual Edu Center
  • 2016 — AerialSpaces Beta is piloted by Github & Microsoft
  • 2017 — Technori pitch; Mikell participates in WiSTEM Accelerator (Cohort 4); 1871.LIVE launches (powered by AerialSpaces); Appolition launches
  • 2018 — AerialSpaces raises a pre-seed round ($350K); Mikell participates in VentureSCALE (Cohort 1); South Side Media Lab opens on 79th/Woodlawn
  • 2019 — Appolition is featured in Chicago Tribune ($250K raised via spare change contributions) & Chicago Magazine, Mikell keynotes the South Side Pitch Competition and is awarded Crain’s Tech 50

“There are years that ask questions and years that answer.” ~Zora Neale Hurston

In 2018, after 4+ years of working remotely, our social impact startup studio opened its first physical office in Chicago’s Chatham neighborhood (above Arts & Culture Hub: The Woodlawn), including a media lab for local residents. Having a brick and mortar space, allowed a localization of our company mission: economic justice for marginalized communities — and for 18+ months we operated a physical “New Media Tech Incubator” — helping our neighbors design and launch experiments that created new streams of income in their own neighborhood.

The Media Lab: CHI — Neighborhood New Media Tech Incubator (2018–2020)

2019 was my year of exploring how to decrease Neighborhood Violence (specifically economic violence) by investing Neighborhood Capital (specifically new media, tech & venture) intentionally and strategically in previously under-invested Chicago community areas.

Our work with Appolition was honored and we are proud of the impact model designed and shared through that social project however sub-par technical infrastructure (i.e. lack of high speed internet on the South Side) created operating challenges for our media lab and the SaaS that powered that lab: AerialSpaces.

South Side Pitch Competition Keynote — Oct 2019

Ultimately, my former co-founder and I have decided to work on different problem sets — and as of December 31st, 2019, ZaMLabs, our general partnership of 6 years, has been officially sunset.

I still plan on raising a fund for South Side founders and I am most looking forward to designing new vehicles for “venture impact investing”. To that end, I’ve spent the last several months learning as much as I can about Community Development Frameworks including CDFIs (Community Development Finance Institutions).

I’m excited by local initiatives like Invest South & West — however I wonder why “community finance” is only offered via Debt-based asset classes. Initiatives created to increase venture activity like the Illinois Growth & Innovation Fund ( are interesting however only high-growth tech enabled businesses qualify.

Other models led by Chicago-based teams like Benefit Chicago and seem to be more inclusive and targeted.

My approach to Neighborhood Capital Development (i.e. my funding thesis) is based on a few key principles:

  • Local Founder-Leaders, with authentic connections to a community, are uniquely positioned to support a reinvestment of capital
  • Serving communities previously under-served requires designing “New Vehicles for Value Creation”
  • Leveraging New Media across the funding & product development life-cycle maximizes social & financial ROI

After designing founder education platforms and helping to build a crowdfunding app for social impact — I wanted an opportunity to design a new micro-granting & impact investing program for south and west side entrepreneurs specifically. I asked and the universe answered.

Beginning February 2020, I am now serving as the Program Director of Arts & Culture for the SECC — a community development innovator with over 68 years of experience. More info on the SECC & the new role here:

Equitable Investment in the Arts Seed Grant Initiative — Project Case Study

In this new role, I will be exploring how to equitably invest in Artrepreneurship — looking at Arts & Culture as a problem solving & wealth building asset — one that exists in EVERY neighborhood.

I will be helping to launch two new initiatives:

  1. Creative Entrepreneurship — strategically closing the knowledge gaps and providing skills in multiple areas of marketing, business and social media while addressing structural barriers and essential support to artists on the South Side, helping them think about their entrepreneurial options.
  2. Equitable Investment in the Arts Seed Grant — a new re-granting initiative for communities with previous under-investment in the arts; for arts-based projects that directly contribute to short- and/or long-term community asset and wealth building.

I’m thrilled by this new opportunity and hope you are also! Want to chat with me about collaboration possibilities? Here’s a scheduling link:

Thanks in advance for your support. Onward and upward!



TJ (Tiffany) Mikell

Bringing Ideas to Life is my Art .