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

  • Billy

    What an inspiring article to read as we head into a new year, well done Sophie.

    • Thank you for a wonderful compliment and also thank you for coming on this crazy journey with me, you’ve been fantastic, I feel lucky to know such a brilliant creative. Happy New Year & I’m looking forward to our collective projects next year xox

  • lukephills

    I’m very proud of you. 2015 is going to be even better!

    • Oh you wonderful being. Thank you for being there every single day of this project. You are the back bone of my creativity. x

  • Julia Rogers

    Visionary, determined, realistic, pragmatic, courageous. You are a total powerhouse Sophie. You have always done it your way and ultimately with a smile and generous heart. Well done

    • Wow what a wonderful thing to write, it really means a lot. Since I was 12 or 13 you helped me take my artistic interests seriously, it was such an important time, so thank you for those years. It would be amazing to see you again, how about a coffee in the new year? xox

      • Julia Rogers

        That sounds good.There may even be some ideas worth discussing. I am currently working on getting some funding for R&D to ultimately write a proposal for an audience development idea. I am always happy to share ideas and help creative and thoughtful projects. Let me know when you are around for a coffee or beer, either is good. I have a deep feeling that this year is going to be catalytic, explosive and although not always pleasant, a lot will be achieved this year. We have to embrace those uncomfortable moments of fear before we surge on with what is needed. Don’t ever give up. xx

        • Yeah! And we cant let those uncomfortable moments ruin our lives! Lets embrace the nervous twitch! I’m moving to New Zealand in September, so lets meet before then. Are you in Reading? 🙂

          • Julia Rogers

            yes but not quite sure how long. However i’ll be around and about and hopefully with more time, less teaching and more making. Gotta get that balance right. Let me know when you are in Reading and meet up somewhere. x

  • Jesse Black

    Excellent read, very beautiful!

    & oh my gosh, I was there the 1st time you met Tom! I was working in the space & I remember seeing you come in because you were SO full of energy & enthusiasm; that passion made a lasting impression. Awesome.

    • Haha! Thank you dude! I was probably really nervous. The lasting memory i’ll always keep of you was at NixonMcinnes, you were standing up for your political feminist views, do you remember? I drew a little heart and gave it to you <3

  • Pingback: Work hard + be nice to people | Kollektiv Gallery()

  • So wonderful that you’re getting your story written down. You’re a true inspiration, Gibbles. Honoured to have played a small part… and have to credit Charles Davies who introduced me to Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can. I believe the quote came from tennis legend Arthur Ashe. Really helps direct the mind, but of course it’s impossible to do anything other than this.

    • Yeah it’s funny because it’s impossible not to live by this quote!
      But for me it’s a hefty reminder to:

      Start by taking initiative, even if it’s scary.
      Use our brains to solve problems and complain less.
      Do it every day and do it with others.

      Thanks for all your help buddy. Get ready to be in my story a lot.x

hello (at) kollektivgallery.com
© Kollektiv Gallery™