We learn by doing, so we’re doing it

[6 min read] As 2014 comes to an end, now feels like a good time to meditate on the most excellent 18 months of my life. 2014 has been beautifully intense, mind altering-ly educational and completely character shaping.

In the next few entries i’ll tell the story of why and how I opened Kollektiv, the positives and the negatives to encourage those wanting to start a crazy awesome project, that anyone with enough vision and passion can do it. I’m calling this entry, We learn by doing, so we’re doing it – my early project mantra.

Other stories
Story 1 We learn by doing so we’re doing it
Story 2 Work hard and be nice to people
Story 3 All we needed was the money

I’d like to dedicate this blog post to all the Kickstarter backers who helped us make this year a reality, without those generous people, non of this would of happened.

Incase you’re new here, Kollektiv is an award winning gallery responding to the needs of early career creatives, so that they know how best to utilise their city’s opportunities. We endorse using unfamiliar empty retail space and transforming them into collaborative agile galleries where we exhibit, sell, learn and teach together.

We concentrate on developing entrepreneurial skills, idea generation, risk-taking, collaboration, communication and resourcefulness. We put people before profit and feel dedicated to inspire ambition in those who are often struggling financially.

Summer of 2013, I’d just turned 24 and finished a degree in Music and Visual Art at Brighton University. It was a wonderfully abstract, theoretical course that pushed me to my artistic limitations.

Even though I loved the course, in hindsight I realise it had flaws. There could’ve been a more creative and physical approach to teaching the basics of professionalism and fundraising, by producing projects with the community and engaging in real life experience and work placements.

Other courses had saved up money during their three or four years, to curate an additional exhibition outside of university. Worried we had nothing similar planned and certainly no money saved, during the strange limbo between finishing our degree and still waiting for our results, I naively persuaded my friends to put on a small scale exhibition with me.

I remember clearly where my imagination took me; a rented space, underground, cold and echoey, below an office or a shop, with treated concrete floors, walls and rectangular pillars. Black stage lighting placed, with a contemporary feel, hung from the ceilings. Sculptures, art and photography delicately and cleverly filling the space. Blurbs, booklets, champagne and massive sales at the private view…

My friends were excited as I explained my daydream to them. Although it felt like a step forward, it wasn’t really about the exhibition as much as wanting to cling on to our closely knit friendship group a bit longer. Never-the-less, infused with ambition from my peer’s compliments to join in and drive the project forward, I let my mind explore and enjoy the long-shot dreams and possibilities of curating a hit show.

Just a few weeks later, I was gutted. Suddenly my peers didn’t have time to help me plan an exhibition as they went in to full time work. Some people said they needed a break from the arts and decided not to go into a creative career at all. Others trying to break into the scene were simply denied creative job opportunities. And sadly, the people successfully finding creative jobs were being over worked and under paid.

It was infuriating, each of us had been through a luxuriously intense artistic training. I’d been studying in higher education for 9 years. Still to this day I believe we were at our most creative and we should’ve been paid appropriately. But our lack of experience attracted the industry vultures, one by one they began picking out the recent grads who could use Photoshop and not knowing any better, would work for almost nothing.

It became increasingly difficult to see how anyone in the creative industries could sustain themselves making their own art. Feeling compromised, I worked as a freelance graphic designer for the music industry.

I was told I had no experience and lucky to even have a job. Working in the design part of the industry, agents used the musician’s long unpaid hours to write their albums as a wildcard negotiation tool to pay me less.

Some weeks into the summer I remember the playful lucid dreams I had pretending I owned a gallery. Worried I’d get sucked into a workplace I disliked, with more reason and clarity than ever, I said to my boyfriend (and soon to become Kollektiv’s technical, financial and conceptual advisor).

“I think i’m going to open a gallery.”

With a sweet and strange calmness, he simply said.

“Good idea. You should definitely open a gallery.”

It was then the adrenaline and ideas came flooding in. I wanted to open a gallery for myself and my friends, recent graduates, students and early career practitioners. I felt it was important to start something where we could carry on our learning for free, get the hang of professionalism so others could not compromise us. I wanted to create a space where we could sell our work and collaborate with likeminded people.

I faintly remembered a friend telling me about a speaker describing the importance of filling the city’s empty shops. That morning, I opened my laptop and typed into Google a few different variations of… how to open a pop-up gallery.

Lo and behold a book called “How to open a pop-up business for dummies” sat firmly at the top of the search engine. Without a doubt in my mind, I bought the book and nervously tweeted the writer Dan Thompson. That 140 character tweet was the first risk I ever took in starting Kollektiv. Once I had sent it, there was no return.

Every project starts with an idea, but it’s not until the first risk is taken that the project has really begun. Remembering that moment allows me to think back to my original vision, why I started the project and what problems I wanted to solve. I use that moment to generate new ideas, even a year later.

I read the book to give me a base understanding of getting inside an empty shop, but I needed to speak to knowledgable people. So I turned up to a We Are Pop Up event in Brighton. At the end of the talk I spoke to the man who introduced the event, he told me to get in touch with my soon to be mentor, Branwen Lorigan from Brighton and Hove Council. We arranged a meeting in the Marwood Cafe, I told her my idea and she advised that I speak to Tom Nixon, the guy literally sat at the end of the coffee table in his own meeting. So I did.

I arranged to meet Tom at the Fusebox, a co-working space in Brighton.
He asked, “When do you want to open the gallery?”
I had no idea, but I guessed, “In a years time I’ll open the gallery”.

He said I was stuck in an academic mentality where I think things take a year, but they don’t. He advised me to start my project immediately.

“Start where you are,
Use what you have,
Do what you can.” Arthur Ashe

Other stories
Story 1 We learn by doing so we’re doing it
Story 2 Work hard and be nice to people
Story 3 All we needed was the money

Sophie Giblin is the director of Kollektiv Gallery.

See more posts by Sophie Giblin

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