Sunday, 6 December 2009

Creating Studios, Hubs and Creative Incubators

'Yes, feel free to call me - I've worked with lots of creative hubs before and would be happy to help'. 'I can give you an afternoon to informally advise you'. 'Yes, please call'. 'Try this'. 'Read about this model'.

This week some of the UK's most successful creative spaces, studios and individuals experienced in setting up hubs have been offering their time and expertise to me. I met Vanessa Swan, CEO of Cockpit Arts, whose success story is an inspiration to designer-makers everywhere. We Are Sustain's director, kindly showed me their club, photography studio and exhibition space - and talked me through the pitfalls of managing a warehouse space in Shoreditch. I spoke to countless other spaces, including Wysing Arts, St John's Innovation Centre, and the JUDGE business school, and started to look at other projects similar to Positiveworld Studios elsewhere in the UK. Chichester's Unity Arts Trust, and a warehouse project led by a CIC up in Leeds, and UK Business Incubtaors.

I'm amazed at how willing people are to lend their ideas to help me with trying to create better creative platforms, workspace and and studios in Cambridge. I feel a bit obsessed with studios at the moment, and have renamed my job title Ruthie Studio Geek Collins.

Friday, 27 November 2009

Creative and Social Business Planning

My mentor has sensibly suggested I write a 3 year plan forthe studios. Three years may seem like a long time, but we all know how quickly time slips away. The end of the year is a fabulous time to go review progress and plan direction, so as part of my List of Small Things, I'm making this plan a top priority.

I've just been sent this very helpful resource from my tutor at the School for Social Entrepreneurs http://www.blueprintsforenterprise.com, which cleverly outlines everything you need to do to grow a charity or social enterprise. There's a lot of waffle in it. Lots of jargon. But it's helpful in clarifying the importance of objectives and goals and creating a tangible plan. Positiveworld Studios has a very broad aim 'to inspire positive change in the world through creative culture - providing a hub, network, workspace, support and platform for peoples creative expression'. But what does this actually mean? In real life?

When I promoted clubnights up in Sheffield, our objectives were totally clear - everything we did led up to a huge fundraising party. All roads led to a celebration of underground electronica and art, raising vital funds and awareness for Free Tibet and The Tibet Foundation. To help us get there, we wrote a 6 month plan with felt tips and a massive bit of paper. We didn't fully stick to it, but it helped. That covered the little parties in between, the decor, the fliering, the artist-booking, the meetings, the creation of a student Free Tibet Society, even writing about electronica parties for my student newspaper and interviewing artists and DJs. Everything led to one objective.

Whittling down creative ideals to objectives can be tough. But if you want to get anything done - it's essential. To help us do this I'm talking with all our artists to gain feedback on the project, and to help decide where we should go next. It's the artists, after all, that make the project. I'm talking with people who have done similar things, who run successful art spaces and studios, and am inspired by how willing they are to give their time. It's a really rewarding thing to do.

For resources to help you as creative entrepreneurs write a business plan check The Creative Entrepreneur by Lisa Sonora Beam, and also The Right Brain Business Plan (my fave) http://www.rightbrainbusinessplan.com/category/art-visioning by Jennifer Lee.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Fairy Godmothers and Helping Hands

While studying at the London School for Social Entrepreneurs I've been given a mentor to help me grow Positiveworld Studios. My mentor is lovely. She is a fan of contemporary art, a whizz at tax, and organisational change. She's humorous. Nice. Just talking things through with her has helped enormously. She's helping me on the structural side of things, and the slightly more business-focused side of the studios through simply talking with me once or twice a month on the issues my project is facing.

Then I have another mentor, coaching me on leadership - an uncle, who (lucky for me) works as a coach and trainer with clients such as Google, and used to be a Chief Exec at Ghetty Images. Apart from being my uncle, he's warm-hearted, insightful and empathetic. And really supportive.

I am looking for more - to help with the different areas of the project. I know from my own experiences coaching people what spending just a few hours a month can do for people. Having a mentor can shine a light on tricky situations, provide business acumen, technical expertise and knowledge that would otherwise cost thousands.

I'll never forget the mentoring I received from Lynne Franks' SEED network - the first ever female entrepreneur to give me one to one support for my work. Or the award winning entrepreneur from the Princes Trust, who told me (aged 25, living on a boat with erratic running water, no fridge and a dribbling shower) that my business plan was the best he had ever seen.

Not all mentors have to be illustrious celebrity-types - when choosing a mentor think about the people in your community you already know, who could help you. These are often the people who could know your project best, by already working with the people you want to reach out to, or help.

Fairy godmothering is always magical. As good as it is to receive help, it's also good to help in return. How can you support those in your community? Are their people you know you could help? Are you an expert in something that you could share?

Check http://www.inc.com/guides/growth/24509.html for more resources on mentoring.

The Joy of Small Things

2009 has been a truly busy year for me. I decided to focus energy on Positiveworld Studios while studying at the School for Social Entrepreneurs in London - the reason I became an 'entrepreneur' in the first place, so have spent less time working on my Hip Girl's Guide to Being an Entrepreneur. This means have taken part in, or organised nearly 15 art exhibitions and creative events this year. That's a lot. A hell of a lot. But it's been worth it.

Balancing private creative practice with more social, shared work - like putting on shows, teaching or serving your community is a juggling act most creative entrepreneurs, writers and artists face. But I cannot stress more, just how gratifying it has been seeing our Positiveworld Studios grow from what was simply an idea, a couple of artists, a few empty rooms in a building, and a clutch of ideas for shows - to what is now a working creative hub with members as far away as Peuorto Rico.

What is exciting and rewarding is seeing the creatives we nurture flourish. We as artists or creatives often work in isolation - but as one of our artists commented to me: 'what is art without the people? It's the people that bring it to life'.

I interviewed Yoko Ono for a show we did for Peace One Day in Septemeber this year. Can art really change the world? I asked her. Yes! Yoko replied. Yes. Art can change the world - in sometimes small ways. Personal transformations, moments and private inspirations are the stuff that much larger 'art revolutions' are built upon. Our first major group show - Transforming Space, helped us create another creative space for the community in Cambridge. Our artists also sold around £1500 worth of work to the public. But it would never have happened without all the small things people did to help.

It's important to share in each others' successes. It's also important to stop and work on the small things that lead to bigger things. Dreaming of big things and doing small things every day is a discipline. Keeping your head down and paying attention to detail is an art. I'm spending the rest of this year doing exactly that - enjoying the small things that make projects work. Thinking of the future.

On the wall in Positiveworld Studios are two lists: A List of Small Things, which spans 3 sides of A4, and A List of Even Smaller Things. It has two things on it. One of those things is organising a Christmas get together at Positiveworld Studios. There will be a Christmas tree. That's one small thing I am sure of. And mince pies: small bundles of joy ...

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Interview - Agent Lynch


Like Clark Kent, Kate Lynch leads a double life that sees her as an advertising pro by day, but a rising burlesque star by night. Her 1960s stage act - Agent Lynch - has taken the burlesque circuit by storm, with more to come. She also runs regular Burlesque classes that are sponsored by the US Lingerie Company Secrets in Lace (who make Dita Von Teese’s line of stockings). Agent Lynch is inspiring for any gal who wants to go for her dreams. Check website www.myspace.com/agentlynch, and contact Agent Lynch on missions@agentlynch.com.

What was the inspiration behind your character?

While I appreciate the 40s and 50s, glamour of traditional burlesque shows it’s the 60s continue to inspire me. I love the music and aesthetics of the era so when I became a burlesque performer 3 years ago I drew on this passion and I wanted to create a character that embodied the era. Agent Lynch my burlesque character is a Cold War-esque pouting super spy, every one of my shows is just her in a different disguise. Films such as Barbarella, Blow Up, Danger Diabolik and TV shows like The Avengers are a goldmine of ideas. After dreaming of being a Bond Girl as a child sometimes I can't believe I have actually made a career out of running round in a catsuit pointing a gun!


What gave you the guts to get on stage?

Vodka. No just joking, it was vodka and gin! I'm not from a performing background at all, so it was terrified before my first show. I kept on thinking ‘No one can stop me if I decide to run out the door now!’ I actually studied Law at Bristol and I was an advertising Account Executive when I first started so I had very little experience of being in the spotlight. It's strange while most people ask me 'Isn't it scary taking your clothes off on stage?' that is not the partial nudity that worries me. I guess I have always been fairly comfortable with my body so my fear came not from bashfulness but rather from my desire not to fall flat on my face or get my bra hook caught on my fishnets. However the good news is that the more experienced you are the easier it gets, a bit of fear is good although maybe not so much that your hands are shaking and you can't unfasten anything.

What advice do you have for other women interested in becoming burlesque performers?

When I first started performing burlesque it was popular but there certainly were far fewer burlesque dancers. My advice to anyone starting out is the old adage 'You gotta get a gimmick', you have to make something about yourself stand out from the crowd of dreary corsets and fascinators. Some people did not want to book me at first as I did not fit in with their more vintage burlesque shows, however I feel like taking a slightly different angle has benefited me in the long run. I'm now 'that 60s girl'! Take something you feel passionate about and turn it into a show - be it your favourite film or passion for motorbikes. Dare to break the mould and think big!

How do you balance your two roles as performer and advertising exec?

I worked full time until last year as it takes a long time to build up a reputation as mostly you get booked by people recommending you. It was really hard to balance burlesque and a full time job, as burlesque is incredibly time consuming not just in terms of costume making and rehearsal but also in promotion and arranging shows. I made a choice fairly early on that I wanted to do burlesque as my career so I swapped my demanding job as an Account Exec to be a 9-6pm PA. Now I work 3 days a week advising people (perhaps ironically) how to get into advertising. I can move my days around according to what I have got on which is great as when I travel abroad for shows I don't have to take holiday. It can still be tough to manage especially having to switch to Agent Lynch mode after spending a day in the office. I sometimes feel like Clark Kent. Hopefully I won't have to work two jobs for much longer as I'm becoming more established as a performer but I'm not Dita von Teese yet!

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Changing Spaces @ 82 Regent St, Cambridge


Our first show with Changing Spaces is up! On 82 Regent St, Cambridge, this is the first of four shows in a disused shopfront over the next two months. Showing paintings by Alice Hill, whose gorgeous work is inspired by the female form, the body, and flowers - all with a modern feel. Come and see the art! If you would like to get involved email positiveworldstudios@yahoo.co.uk

Clara Gomez @ Paper Dress Vintage


Fashion illustrator Clara Gomez currently has a solo show at Paper Dress Vintage on Curtain Rd, Shoreditch, London. Both Paper Dress Vintage - a female-run boutique selling hand sourced clothing for both men and women from 1930s-1980s - and the illustrations are gorgeous, and well worth checking out. Choose from an array of sassy 1960s underwear, to button magnets, to exotic gowns and flirty dresses. Clara's illustration is fun, glamorous and very feminine work that makes your shopping experience just that little bit more special. Prints are available at £15 upwards, while you can pick up vintage delights from the boutique from £5. Check www.paperdress.co.uk or www.claragomez.com

Saturday, 18 July 2009

London School for Social Entrepreneurs


In April this year I started a year long programme as a student at the London School fo Social Entrepreneurs. It's been a very challenging and inspiring time, and I can honestly say they are providing some of the best entrepreneurial support I have ever received. I'm really honoured to have a place on the programme and am studying with some truly inspiring people. You can read about the school, its alumni and students at http://www.sse.org.uk

I'm part of a 20-strong group of like-minded 'social entrepreneurs', in itself is a powerful mechanism for boosting support networks. These are brilliant, inspiring projects that really make things happen at a grassroots level. While my project is all about inspiring creativity and positive change in the global community, others are growing projects that serve their communities, or change the the world - from working with street gangs in London, to pioneering herbalism and natural health. It really is a joy to see and be around so many positive people.

I'm intrigued as to what the next year holds for me, described by one course facilitator as 'a gift to yourself'.

I'm going to use this blog to chart my progress, and flag up useful moments that really helped or challenged me as am sure other creative women out there on an entrepreneurial path could benefit. And I'll be interviewing other hip girl entrepreneurs and creative women on key issues, to continue working on my book.

PLEASE NOTE - guys are also welcome to read this blog - I'll do a book someday called 'The Hipster's Guide to Being an Entrepreneur' for both boys and girls.

Social Center Occupants - Evicted


Sadly, the night before its public launch, occupiers of the new Social Centre were evicted by a troupe of 20 police clad in riot gear. It's amazing how anarchic community spirit inspires such heavy police attendence, which must cost the tax payer enormously - when the police are proposing levvying a charge to man community events, complaining of a lack of resources, threatening the continuation of events at the heart of Cambridge culture, such as Strawberry Fair. Clearly so short of resources, that they can afford to evict a bunch of community-minded, resourceful, creative activists within days of occupation.

Occupants say: 'We expect that this building in the centre of our city will remain empty for an indefinite amount of time, as has the previous social centre site on Mill Road, owned by Tesco, and an increasing number of properties in the area. At the same time, artists, musicians, community groups and local people struggle to find spaces to meet, socialise and put on events.'

Our community is desperate for creative space in one of the most esteemed cultural cities in the world. And as long as there are empty buildings going to waste and there are groups needing somewhere to rehearse, make art, have meetings, and see performances, this kind of occupation will continue to be seen as an attractive, and logical solution to a very real problem. Access to creative culture repressed in any society is immoral.

Is Cambridge facing a creative revolution?

Friday, 17 July 2009

Creating Spaces: Social Anarchism vs Social Enterprise



Changing Spaces is a council-led project that wants to see more and more of the disused shops on our streets used by charities and community groups. Positiveworld Studios are opening our first show with the project in a gorgeous, but empty, shop in a very upmarket part of Cambridge showing the work of one of our resident artists, Alice Hill (see above). The excellent initiative is encouraging community groups to get in touch to make use the spaces but - of course - is riddled with legal complications, making some of the empty shops unaccessible, despite there being a huge backlog of groups desperate to use the space. This show is the first of four happening over the next two months in our little disused shopfront, showing exciting work from artists involved in Positiveworld Studios. There are others happening throughout central Cambridge. I love being able to give people the chance to show their work - and that's partly why I founded the studios. The artworld doesn't have to be exclusive, and inclusivity doesn't have to mean low-quality work -it just means more people are able to pursue their passions, and the world is a more creative place.

Interestingly, in the last week here in Cambridge, a group of community-minded people have occupied an abandoned old bingo hall, formerly a cinema - squatted it - for the community. Inspired by the success of the Mill Rd Social Centre that occupied a Tesco site in Cambridge last year, and provided a much-needed space for people to come together and listen to music, poetry, see art exhibitions, and have talks, workshops, classes - all for free, the new centre is also a brilliant idea. Long may it prosper. As shops close down, and more and more community resources are limited, this kind of project ignites new life into dead space - and really energizes community spirit.

These are two very different approaches to the same problem - and I feel really honoured to be able to support both. However, being both a social anarchist (it's in my blood) and a social entrepreneur, I strongly feel that capitalism doesn't all have to be evil and that anarchism is not the destructive stereotype the media would often have us believe it is.

Capitalism has a very dirty name, in some quarters. Yet even the Beatles made money -and were arguably social entrepreneurs. Money does not always have to be bad. Sorry! The truth is that even reggae artists and promoters that handle cash, carehomes for the elderly that handle a turnover, festival organisers, poetry publishers, theatres, schools, and independent shops selling gorgeous, organic food - are all part of the capitalist system accused of abandoning communities. Capitalism alone hasn't abandoned communities: it's exploitation, beaurocracy, and unchecked greed, touted and justified in the name of economic fact that has sent economies spiralling into the chaos we face today. Yet we all know that good old JM Keynes would have a different view on the matter. Though disturbingly, his leftfield strata of ecomomics is being stamped out of business and economics curriculi all over the world (not without a fight) - presenting us with one, very right-wing free market model as the only side of the coin. And breeds a narrowly educated type of business model barely criticised within academia which surely cannot be healthy.

Mutual suspicion breeds antagonism. Just like modern day, terribly hardworking and terribly decent, right-wing capitalists regard socialism as a form of neo-fascism, trying to cream off their hard-earned cash for the state, social anarchists regard capitalists as unchecked monsters wreaking havock on the community - closing community centres in the name of profit. There is truth in both perceptions, but neither are the whole story. God only knows what socialists and anarchists think of each other these days. If in Cambridge yesterday, you could have visited the Social Centre and found out. There was a talk on exactly that subject, and are many more fascinating talks to come. Check http://cambridgefreespaces.wordpress.com/.

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Background


This blog was originally intended to be a network, a newsletter, a book, a space for women to come together to work on exciting, entrepreneurial projects. Digital artists, festival promoters, record producers, and women from other areas of the business world - innovative, creative entrepreneurial women - who were barely perceived as entrepreneurs by themselves, let alone the community.

If I hadn't started work on this book, I might never have become a Women's Enterprise Ambassador, or travelled to New York last Summer to interview some of the city's most entrepreneurial, creative women. More on that later.

But if I hadn't wanted to set up a social enterprise, I would never have started working on this idea for a book. So since that trip last August I've spent less time working on 'the book' and more time on the reason I became an entrepreneur in the first place. Which I'll be talking more about later, too.

The main point is: I'm so glad to be writing this again! And want to hear stories from other girls and their exciting, dynamic projects! Email me on ruthiecolbird@yahoo.co.uk

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Inspiration

In truth, the inspiration for this blog was originally an idea for a newsletter that could be a canny way for me to connect with likeminded women who I just wasn't meeting on the 'normal' entreprenerial networking scene. I might have been better off going to art school, but then I would never have had the idea for my book. With this fabulous title. Which is what this blog is, really, in disguise. A book.

This blog is for girls like me who simply do not fit that entrepreneurial 'norm'. Whatever that 'norm' is.

You can read my old blog at www.hipgirlentrepreneurs.blogspot.com which has plenty of very interesting features on entrepreneurial women.