Anand Bhatt of dance company Aakash Odedra, sums up the idea of a workspace rather nicely: “If you bring some ingredients and your colleagues bring some too, you have all you need to make a meal. If you are making the sauce while they are chopping and someone else is putting things in the oven, it’s a collaboration. The workspace is the kitchen.” His metaphor is more about the idea of collaboration than merely a physical workspace. You can create so much more in a kitchen – richer, more creative and diverse dishes – when you work together.
“A trusted collaborator creates a safe, creative environment where ideas can be gestated, developed or discarded” – filmmaker Rhys Davies
With the best will in the world, we can’t always work with a cluster of likeminded folk who have endless time to brainstorm and share the workload. That’s when finding a close collaborator can enable the work to evolve. Filmmaker Rhys Davies puts it perfectly when he says:
“A trusted collaborator creates a safe, creative environment where ideas can be gestated, developed or discarded”,
adding “I am lucky to work with novelist Rod Duncan on our screenplays. We complement each other and create work which constantly surprises us.” The old adage ‘two heads are better than one’ is simplifying it a little but the principle is the same: having true perspective often means having another human being or two with whom you can be brutally honest and critically evaluate the work.
That also goes for mentors. Many artists feel grateful to a handful of people under whose wings they emerge early in their careers. Take Anand Bhatt. “When I was developing as a dancer, I was fortunate to have met Theresa Beattie,” he explains.
“She was generous with her time and skills. You never forget people like that. People prepared to give you time. Don’t take advantage of that time either… nothing quite like burning out a good link too early.”
A mentor can give you priceless perspective at any stage in your career. But heed Anand’s advice – being remembered as a pain in the backside who took advantage of someone’s time and personal investment is a big bridge to burn. Especially when you need to cross that bridge further down the line, as invariably happens in an industry criss-crossed with bridges leading to the same people time and time again. Good artists often remain at the heart of creative communities for decades.
With mentoring being so invaluable, it’s a blessing some organisations exist solely to nurture and grow creative start-ups. One such organisation is The Studio, a graduate development hub which supports a small number of graduates from Loughborough University to develop their business ideas and take them to commercialisation. The Studio is now in its fifth year. “We are aiming to become self-sufficient with all of the businesses paying a royalty back into the pot to support future generations of entrepreneurs,” explains Megan Powel Vreeswijk.
“It really is a ‘give back community’. The Studio members support each other and share ideas, contacts and opportunities. Without this attitude, I do not think it would survive.”
Mentoring and support hubs such as The Studio are grounded on the idea of sharing the experience: mutual support, the pooling of resources and the freedom to brainstorm and share those all-important opportunities. It’s about not being precious or paranoid about your contacts and ideas.
The Studio has worked so well that is “has encouraged me to look further and see who else could be supported, because what happens to my guys when they leave: where do they move on to?” adds Megan. She and a likeminded team have now created a CIC (Community Interest Company) which is putting together a creative building in Loughborough to help local businesses get support and development in the town. Network support is as important to the established business as it is to the start-up: the day you think you no longer need the perspective and support a network provides is – I think – the day you stop evolving.