Jan Burgess is the founder of SOL Design Collective, an organisation that helps artists to grow their creative practices. Their mission is simple: to educate, empower and enable artists, makers and creatives to make a sustainable living from their art. In just three years, they’ve evolved their network rapidly over Brighton & Hove; however, like lots of other businesses in the city, they’ve had to adapt to the Covid-19 crisis.
Please tell me a little bit about yourself and your organisation.
My name is Jan Burgess, and I am the founder of SOL Design Collective.
Our work is within the creative arts sector, helping artists, makers, and creators across any modality develop and grow their practice, and we are supported by Arts Council England. We celebrate the importance of creativity within the individual, their lives, their work, and the community and by helping build resilience within creative practice we strengthen the link between creativity, balance, and wellbeing.
Problem-solving, solution finding, lateral thinking are all core skills needed to run a successful practice. All are highly creative traits. Curiosity is creative. Yet, sometimes wonderfully creative people, producing beautiful unique pieces of work struggle to make a living from their art or do not even consider this a possibility. Let us be clear, this is not a lack in capability, more a lack in confidence or understanding, but both impacts the ability to run a resilient creative practice.
SOL Design Collective was setup to provide solutions to this issue and provide support services for those in the creative sector that feel ready to move their practice onto a more secure foundation. Over the past months, we have grown to a community of more than a thousand artists, makers, photographers, illustrators, designers, and creators. Its pretty special and I am immensely proud to be a part of such a wonderful and supportive community and witness so many amazing positive changes in progress.
What types of creatives would benefit from joining SOL Design Collective?
Everyone is welcome, whether they are a fine artist, maker, crafter, skin artist, photographer designer. As long as you work in the creative arts or crafts sector, then you are invited to be part of the Collective. All you need to do is sign up to our email list, and we will keep you informed of events and workshops, (many free), opportunities and news. Our online gallery enables you to showcase your work for a low monthly plan or discounted annual fee.
We have artists who are hobbyists, and those that exhibit and sell internationally. It is a diverse and inclusive community. I would hope there is some benefit for everyone; emerging or established. With any creative practice there will be times during which you will experience difficulties and doubts. That is life! Finding support through the difficult times, having others who have experienced similar challenges on hand, and finding guidance and information to aid decision making can make the challenges feel less profound, and the process less lonely!
SOL Design Collective provides opportunities to gather with like-minded people both online and face to face (when allowed) and explore some of the fundamentals needed to maintain a resilient creative practice. Our community provides a supported environment that cultivates, collaborates, and sources opportunity for creativity in all forms, and we celebrate the development and growth of the creative arts.
How do you merge creativity with business in your workshops and sessions?
Business is a creative process and creative practice is a business. There is no such thing as mutual exclusivity in anything. When the business aspects of a creative practice are ignored, there may be a limitation on potential or opportunity. When creativity is ignored within business, it might manifest as stagnation, inability to change, poor communication and even a culture of blame. Our workshops and sessions provide an opportunity to reflect on core aspects that form the basis of any successful practice, (or business for that matter). We present information in a way that relates back to life experiences; understanding cause and effect can assist with the decision-making process, and this, in turn, helps to identify areas of priority and focus and an understanding of the reasons why! With a few changes, it is not unusual to see a shift in momentum which is part of the creative process, and the one from which growth germinates.
How did the UK’s lockdown measures immediately affect the way SOL Design Collective operates? Has it been problematic or eye-opening?
We had a full timetable of events scheduled for March, April and May with venues arranged and expert speakers booked. As soon as lockdown was announced, we cancelled everything, refunded all tickets sales, stopped, and took a massive breath!!
Like so many, we spent a week or so adjusting to the change. I have used Zoom for some time and feel very comfortable with the online and digital arena, but I was mindful that online meetings would be a new experience for many of our artists, and wasn’t sure how they would be received. At the same time, I was keen to retain connection with our community.
We set up a series of Free Creative’s Coffee Mornings to test the water and invited our community to join us for 45 minutes on a Wednesday morning to connect and share how they were feeling. The first one was a hit, so we continued. Now, each week we theme these around a core area of resilience; describing product, purpose, storytelling in marketing, pricing etc… we have been delighted with the response with more than 200 artists attending, and we intend to keep this going as long as there is an audience to tune in and listen. Check out our website for details.
We recognise the problem, find a solution, test it out, review, revise and repeat …. this is our way to pave the path to success!
We have re-launched our online gallery, upgrading it to a self-service portal so that artists and makers can upload images of their work and create links within our website back to their own social media, website and e-commerce sites, (algorithm loving connectivity!!). We are mindful that festivals fairs, shops and galleries have suddenly closed, and for many artists, these are vital lifelines for selling work and retaining contact with their customers. Our online gallery provides another window through which they can showcase their work, and we are working hard to market this to designers, independent shops, stylists, and magazines, that can really amplify the profile presence of the artist.
We recognise the benefits of having multiple “windows” through which work can be presented and viewed, as each will attract a different set of audience eyes. This helps to optimise reach, improves exposure, and increases the chance of being found amongst the plethora of talent. Marketing art, crafts and handmade products are about confidence, consistency and cultivating all contacts so that work is represented and reflected correctly. This way it will be remembered. For creatives, now is the time to invest in themselves; their learning; and the processes within their creative practice. We hope they will recognise the opportunity, take action, and step forward to meet the challenge, and celebrate their art with joy.
How have you personally maintained a creative mindset during the pandemic?
For me, creativity comes from stillness within. The pause for breath, the inspirational dream or conversation, sets off a process of thought and when this flow happens, I feel as if I can literally “see” the future. I am quite a visual person, so I often say I think, and dream in colour!
I do find drama a massive distraction and drain on creative energy. I practice mindfulness and sound bathing to relax and stay grounded. These have been invaluable during this time. I chose to avoid the news and media from quite early on, only listening to official updates a few times a week. I wanted to hear enough to form my own opinion based on the information presented, but not so much that it became noise and hearsay. As I manage risk for other people’s creativity, I am used to trusting change. It has been a privilege to be able to help friends and family with practical tasks whilst they are in isolation or are deemed at higher risk. We are blessed to live in a part of the city that has easy access to both the coast and countryside, and as we have a slightly crazy dog, walking by the sea or on the Downs, immersing myself in nature, bearing witness to the seasonal change has been a gift. All of this has helped me to maintain a calm and creative mindset during this time.
What are your plans for the future of the collective when society starts to recover from the virus?
We will be driven by the needs of the creative community. We are looking forward to returning to Platf9rm, our co-working space, and to the times when we can have a hug!! We are big huggers and have missed the physical contact of meeting with our community. We intend to continue with the coffee mornings as they have been a great opportunity to connect with people and extend our community outside of the immediate vicinity and timelines. We will continue to offer workshops and courses, as needed, and our 1 to 1 mentoring and growth sessions can return to being face to face rather than online. We are proud that our work has been recognised and support by Arts Council England. This is a huge validation for us and enables us to further develop our offerings and amplify our work! For us, this time provides greater opportunity to connect and reach out to artists and launch the Online Gallery. We respect and recognise the impact of change, but within the community we are ready to support and celebrate the creative arts.
Watch this space.
Anything else you would like to add?
It is free to be part of SOL Design Collective. Join our community simply by signing up to our newsletter. We provide updates on opportunities and news of interest to the artist, maker and creator community, together with information-packed “core cultivation” sessions during which we will share expert advice and top tips on key areas which support and build resilience within your creative practice. Areas such as social media, marketing, on-line selling, website development, Pinterest… If you are unsure why any of these are important then pop along to our free Creative Coffee Morning session online each Wednesday, meet the team and find out more.
Connect with us in the following ways:
Email: enquiries@SOLDesignCollective.com Telephone: 01273 565412