Zealous Meetup

Photo by Chris Pheonix.

Another month, another amazing Zealous Meetup – and (sadly) our last in Waterstones! The evening revolved around fantastic speakers (Crafty Fox, Border Crossings, Craft Potters Association, and Mill Co. Project), frankness, and – as always – French Fancies. We learned a lot about the way people think artists think. We learned that makers spend only 20% of their time making things. We learned how to band together and ensure that London stays creative. If you missed out – and even if you didn’t – read on! Get the down-low on the three key questions we’re asking after the last Zealous Meetup. We’ll see you in September for an even-better, evolved, and fresh Zealous Meetup (location TBA).

Zealous Meetup
What is the meaning (and value) of space?

What is the value of space to the public, the government, to creators? Who needs it most and how will it be managed? Who has a right to space – to occupy, reside in, shape, and fill it? How much does it cost, how much is there to go around, and who controls it?

As a former full-time worker and maker (now full-time mum of two and founder of an entire market), Sinead’s mind is always on space. Crafty Fox Market hosts a dozen unique events each year in addition to its emerging maker scheme, meetups, and brand-new shopping directory. Sinead sought markets that provided proper support for makers and artists – when she found none, Crafty Fox filled the void, starting as a one-off and “just a bit of fun.” It has since grown into much more – something much bigger. Since then, Sinead has worked and advocated for affordable workspace and protected working areas for artists.

Although our Zealous Meetup panel come from entirely different backgrounds, every maker needs space, one way or another. Nick’s roots are more enterprise vs. arts, but he founded the Mill Co Project out of his own need for an affordable, accessible workspace. In the old days, he let out space in a warehouse – these days, he runs a dozen sites across London. In his panel discussion, Nick recommended a change to the transport system – being sensitive to gentrification, but opening up areas of the city that are currently isolated from the rest of it. As Nick well knows, big cities are expensive places – fortunately, this challenge brings the opportunity to evolve, solve and thrive. Although London’s property situation has its pitfalls and often feels out of control, in Nick’s opinion, London has changed for the better; we just need to regenerate areas rather than displacing the people who’re already living there. He imagined a scenario in which funding and support are blended from the top and bottom.

Michael pointed out that claiming and creating space can be difficult. As the founder and director of intercultural multi-media theatre company Border Crossings, his mind is often on space and occupation; how much can we take up, how much do we need, who’s responsible for it? As space becomes more and more privatised and controlled, it’s creatives’ responsibility to reclaim and reoccupy it, as Michael says, whether Palestine or Wall Street or Grenfell Tower. The arts and culture must reclaim public space to make an impact.

How do politics and culture impact creativity?

Culture cannot disconnect from itself – just because the arts aren’t always politically motivated doesn’t mean they aren’t political. Michael has a “pretty catholic view” of what that means. When Border Crossings struggled to acquire visas for performers from Fiji, but not for individuals from other commonwealth countries, he suspected a top-down prejudice against the actors, likely rooted in long-gone days of colonisation and not-so-long-done days of immigration fears. When he cast a production of Romeo and Juliet in a racially tense area of the US, the race-based houses of Capulets and Montagues did not sit well with the local public. Michael received death threats – but he wasn’t afraid. In his words, “this place,” and London especially, “is like a planet.” We cannot waste time developing or ignoring the processes of separating, dividing, and ruling people – this division, made evident by incidents like Brexit, leaves many feeling like foreigners in their own country. Michael is determined to overcome it and pursue freedom of movement for artists. “This makes what we do even more important.”

Toby manages the Craft Potters Association (CPA), including London’s only ceramics gallery, Ceramic Review magazine, and one of the country’s largest ceramic art fairs (hosting over 5,000 ceramicists). The CPA is owned by its members and not allowed to make a profit – which creates a unique challenge as the association strives to involve and support more makers in a challenging discipline. Ceramics is in vogue at the moment, but it is not, in Toby’s words, “the new yoga.” It takes 10,000+ hours to become proficient in this discipline (although, admittedly, it likely takes just as long to become a yogi). Patience and time are precious resources, and when ceramics proves to be too hard or too time-consuming, people drop out in droves. CPT are trying to prevent that from happening. Shaping this culture of trendy impatience, promoting an enduring art form, and keeping curious, potential makers engaged over the next 50 years will be their biggest challenge.

What is most needed to support UK arts and culture and push it even farther?

With a never-ending stream of makers, Sinead knows that Crafty Fox will have plenty going for it despite the uncertain future of some small-scale craft. She, however, faces a unique personal challenge of raising children alongside the business. Parents naturally make choices according to what’s best for their family – but how do you go on maternity leave from your own business? Continuing to expand safe, affordable, and accessible spaces for makers will sure up her at-home and at-market concerns. Not only that, but sharing insights and connections across industries will improve both the creative and enterprise communities.

Toby and Nick echoed that final point – good things can come from structure, from the top down, whether financial support or industry insights. There must be a balance of ownership and anonymity – why? Because the skills required to be an independent maker is hard. There is a lot to navigate, from pricing marketing, pushing which product or market – in Toby’s words, “it’s arts to ads and back again.” As for the performing arts, Michael noted a need for very serious conversations about arts and culture. He challenged us to consider that multicultural thinking may be superior to single-minded living, and that placing arts and culture at the centre of our society (rather than as a source of entertainment or hobby) would push our culture from a singular to a global one. We can choose the world we want to live in. We must work together. We can start today.

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Lauren Aguilera Brown

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Storyteller | Writer | Singsong Weirdo | Food Whisperer | Jane of All Trades Founder @monologues_the | Upcoming Album @weheartarts