We speak to London based freelance Integrated Designer, Art Director Kara Atwell-Bennett and Founder and Creative Director of BetterShared.co an online platform showcasing emerging and established creatives of the African diaspora.
dillion s. phiri for Creative Nestlings: Please introduce yourself to the world.
Kara Atwell-Bennett: My name is Kara Atwell-Bennett, I'm the founder of BetterShared.co; a platform sharing stories of both emerging and established creatives of the African and Caribbean diaspora, through video interviews, collaborative content and events.
CN: Tell me about your journey to establishing Bettershared.
KA-B: The real drive to start BetterShared came from my personal need for something similar. Prior to starting BetterShared, I was working full-time as a graphic designer and had been doing so since I graduated. Within the British creative industry; especially when it comes to 'Graphic Design' the profession is white-male dominated. And although I was at an agency I loved, I couldn't help but notice the lack of diversity. As a 'black female designer' I am part of a very small percentage more especially within the UK. A lot of my friends started in the industry at the same time and I remember having a conversation asking 'Can you name a famous black graphic designer – furthermore a British one?'. We both came up blank and at that point I started to research everyday in search of creatives and found a few platforms promoting creatives of colour but they were mainly US based and so I decided rather than complaining to existing platforms or magazines I would start something, something that I would have been excited to see or to have been a part of. This was back in 2014, I didn't launch BetterShared until 2015.
CN: It's a really cool platform. Thats why we started Creative Nestlings in 2011. According to you, how can we create a more diverse industry?
KA-B: Thank you, so is Creative Nestlings. It's hard to pinpoint one solution, I don't think I have the only answer but supporting one another is key and a massive shift will be when more people ensure they hold doors open for one another. Most of the positions within the industry are taken by someone who 'knows so and so' or their family friend or family member gave them a role or an internship. For me; that's a major factor rather than relying on schemes or quotas which often seem to hire a few people of color so they hit their 'diversity quota' but don't really care about diversifying the industry. It really has to start from us or from people who already have their foot in the door to bring more people in.
CN: Very true. We need new networks and our own tables. How do you curate the stories and people in Bettershared?
KA-B: It's a question I get asked a lot. With creativity everything is subjective. First and foremost, it's about talent; we don't care how many followers you have or whether you’re 'known'. It's about what you produce and also how unique your ideas are. Another big part is your story or how we think your journey and experiences will relate to our audience, and the final part is how you are as a person. We don't just interview people and wave bye - we build relationships and do so with genuine people.
CN: That’s amazing. Do collaborations ever get sparked through the relationships?
KA-B: Yeah, we've worked with YouthWorldwide another platform that centres on showcasing young creatives globally. As a media partner we produced a series of short branded content for their launch event. We also worked with Dorcas Magbadelo a brilliant illustrator on a special edition set of Tote bags, notebooks, prints and badges for our B Talks - International Women's Day series. Dorcas developed 4 female characters that represented key areas of the creative industries Fashion, Art & Design, Music and Film. That's something we are looking to expand on this year. We're open to more collabs.
CN: Talk to me about your B-Talks, as we have something similar with CN called #ConversationsOnCreativity.
KA-B: B-Talks is a roundtable style discussion that covers topics relevant to our network. Our first was a special for International Women's Day, when we asked the question; what challenges do you face as a female in the creative industry?
CN: What were some of the insights you got from the B-Talks?
KA-B: It was interesting to hear the mixture across the different sectors. The overall consensus was that women are still not seen as equals to men. It's still a surprise when two women own a business commonly referencing male businessmen when it comes to measuring 'success'. For example Suzette of SSpace said '[the goal is] to be the Bill Gates or Steve Jobs of the world. I'm sure there are female equivalents'. One very interesting point made was that there needs to be an understanding that the Black British experience is very different to, say, our US counterparts and the media especially needs to realise this. It would be interesting to do a global B-Talks and hear if and how opinions vary.
CN: Really interesting how the diaspora is not the same but similar to the creatives here in Africa. We all aspire to be the Steve Jobs of & the Bill Gates of our field… How do we cultivate heroes who are like us?
KA-B: This was just one opinion, there certainly are people who aspire to be Bill Gates and Steve Jobs but in this context she meant that there are never any female references when it comes to talking about that level of success. I don't think that she meant that she doesn't aspire to that success it was just about the given references. I think it's about making sure we are letting the next generation know we exist and doing what we can for them. We now have the power of social media so we don't even have to be in the same continent to learn about each other so we need to harness that to a greater good. Again,it comes back to supporting each other plus making sure we archive and keep sharing the success stories of today.
KA-B: How do you think we can?
CN: It's about sharing our journeys and successes. Hence we have conversations both online & through events. They are our way of showcasing the creators. We also have awards to celebrate young African creatives; on the continent and from the diaspora.We are launching a conference, hopefully next month, called Young African Creatives Conference as a way to bring African youth on the continent and the diaspora to share ideas and successes and opportunities. Enough about us, talk to me about your work under Swakara.
KA-B: Aside from BetterShared, I still freelance as a Designer and Art Director under Swakara Ltd. I have been doing so for almost two years. I work across digital (User Interface), branding, print, and occasionally broadcast.
CN: What are some of the most interesting projects you have worked on?
KA-B: It's great flexibility but a lot of hard work, you have to be constantly on it so that the work keeps flowing, keep track of your accounts and making sure you have work lined up. I worked on a channel called London Live here in the UK and it was the first time I had seen my work on UK TV. I led the branding and on-screen design. The concept involved working with an illustrator called Yoni Alter to produce these vibrant illustrations of London then they were brought to life by motion graphic designers. It's always nice to see everything come together from the channel brand, to advertising to the launch campaign.
CN: What are some of the lessons you have learnt as a freelance designer?
KA-B: Always have your own contracts, even if you are freelancing at an agency make sure you give them your own contract to sign so you know what you have agreed to and they can't trick you into, for example, no-overtime pay - speaking from experience. I have learnt that it’s important to make sure I stay in contact with people I met whilst working full-time. A lot of my jobs came from people or clients I had previously worked with. Also don't burn any bridges, even if someone you worked with was an arse don't start bitching about them on social or being rude, your reputation is high priority. Just simply don't work for them again. Again from experience; don't take on too much! I once took on two really big jobs at the same time and it was a nightmare, luckily the results were good but it wasn't worth the stress and ridiculous working hours. Most people take on too much for the fear of turning down a job.
CN: How do you balance freelancing & running BetterShared?
KA-B: I freelance four days a week and work on BetterShared one day a week, and most evenings. If we have an event or project coming up within BetterShared I spend less time freelancing or in some cases I focus on BetterShared 100%. By the end of this year the balance will be shifted towards BetterShared and the goal is to be working on it full-time by or before 2018.
CN: Balance is important. How has travel influenced your work?
A-B: I love travelling, the only part I can't deal with is packing. I'm always looking at things and absorbing different aspects for inspiration. I think my mind has broadened in that sense. Plus it's great to see how other cultures make things work in terms of work/life balance. The next step for me is to work and live in a different country. I'm yet to experience that on a long-term basis.
CN: What's the creative community like in London?
KA-B: Within our community, most people are supportive of each other. You tend to see similar faces at events or at least recognise a lot of people from social networks.
CN: What is creativity to you?
KA-B: To me it's a way of thinking. I can't imagine having zero creative thoughts. Even if I wasn't working in the creative industry I would be creative in other aspects i.e my home, the way I solve problems etc. I think it's an ability that grows within you.
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