After a two-year pandemic-induced hiatus, CAA’s in-person Amplify Summit is back.
An invitation-only group of artists, thought leaders and industry executives will gather in Ojai tomorrow for a lineup of keynotes, firesides and breakout sessions aimed at leveraging multicultural perspectives to advance goals in both business and justice.
Those who will address this year’s summit include filmmakers Ava DuVernay and Jeymes Samuels; actors Leslie Grace, Stephanie Hsu, Anthony Ramos, Storm Reid, Lauren Ridloff and Yara Shahidi; comedian Amber Ruffin; executives Cris Abrego (Banijay Americas chair and Endemol Shine president and CEO), Franklin Leonard (The Black List founder and CEO) and Jon Platt (Sony Music Publishing chair and CEO); and authors Tomi Adeyemi (Children of Blood and Bone) and Soman Chainani (School for Good and Evil) as well as White House senior advisor and former Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, IllumiNative founder and exec director Crystal Echo Hawk, UFC fighter Khalil Rountree and power lawyer Nina Shaw.
For its first three in-person gatherings, CAA Amplify was a hot ticket, an Aspen or TED-like ideas summit with an emphasis on historically excluded identities and located at the nexus of business, culture and entertainment. “This is not a diversity conference. This is [about] business that drives culture, and the people who drive culture are in that room,” CAA chief innovation officer Michelle Kydd Lee tells The Hollywood Reporter. “Folks of color drive popular culture and are chased for their ability to create culture. It’s just calling it out.”
Although the 2020 onset of the COVID-19 pandemic prompted the cancellation of CAA Amplify’s annual summer summits, which began in 2017 in Laguna Beach, the circumstances resulted in the expansion of the brand and network online, with the agents and executives on the Amplify team convening a series of virtual, publicly available town halls to address the myriad of social justice and equity issues and public concerns that emerged over the next two years, starting with a two-and-a-half-hour June 17, 2020 livestream attended by more than 11,000 to learn about actionable steps to combat systemic racism in the wake of the murder of George Floyd.
The virtual town halls were made possible because of the network of relationships that Amplify had begun to create through its in-person summits, and continued through weekly briefing calls with alumni from specific professional spheres – criminal justice, nonprofits – that CAA cultural business strategy co -heads Ruben Garcia and Kevin Lin were holding to discuss pandemic impact.
“We were getting calls from Amplify alumni, clients, business colleagues, family friends. People were like, what do I do? How do I get active? Garcia recalls of those tumultuous weeks in early June 2020 that precipitated the organization of the first town hall. “It was the first moment that I realized the true and honest power of the community that we have started to build, and how quickly they would make themselves available for this larger purpose.”
The success of those initial town halls proved that Amplify now had a community with diverse expertise that could be activated at a moment’s notice, and the team plans to continue holding semi-regular events both in-person and virtually even as the signature summit returns.
“We look at this annual gathering as a touchstone. It’s coming back to the well to be nourished and reconnected, but the work of Amplify is taking place all year long and is available in a variety of different moments, some we generate and some we just have to react to,” says Kydd Lee. “We have the infrastructure to be able to do that.”
Adds Garcia, “The gathering every summer will continue to be a place where we build community and quite frankly get to recharge a little bit, but it’s also about building this community to be able to elevate them, their voices and their expertise into a larger Amplify platform.”
In the five years of its existence, the Amplify team has learned a number of lessons that have helped clarify and sharpen its mission. “The building of that community five years ago, we could not have possibly expected how it would carry us through the past couple, especially both in moments of crisis and of celebration,” says Lin, pointing to last May’s virtual town halls on anti- AAPI hate and December’s in-person salute to the eight Black playwrights of the last Broadway season (a historic number) as an example of each.
As Amplify continues to grow and learn — Kydd Lee offers inclusion of people with disabilities as one area in which the team learned early on was in need of improvement — its core leadership has learned to hold its plans loosely and stay open to pivoting in times of necessity and also inspiration. “We’re an idea factory right now,” says Garcia, noting that building a next-gen network and someday expanding overseas are future goals. “What we can plan for feels so hard to say, but it is so much about business that drives culture and creates justice. Finding and living in the intersection of that is the future of Amplify.”