“How to collaborate without selling out” was the title of the final event that took place during UAL’s Creative Enterprise Week (13-17 November 2017) which is run by Careers & Employability. The talk was chaired by Bindi Vora and the panellists were Rosalind Davis, Gaby Sahhar and Kingsley Davis, who shared their experiences of “working on commercial projects and how they navigated their way through” as artists working in their respective industries.
We, the audience, were seated in Chelsea College of Art’s Billiards Room when Gaby Sahhar began to speak about the importance of ambition. “You have to be willing to dive into the deep end and set up your own platform/s to represent your work” he told us. Sahhar spoke of a scenario when a major publication had written about his work and he felt he had been misrepresented.
Commercial projects often means bigger budgets, which is great until the money starts to compromise one’s artistic integrity or ability to create with authenticity. For example, as an independent artistworking within a major institution or collaborating with a big brand, it is important to master the skill of negotiation so that you aren’t given the short hand of the stick. Brands, organisations and institutions will often have their own agendas or targets to meet and as we know, money talks.
Artist and Curator, Rosalind Davis spoke about “how easy it is to be swayed when interest is taken in your work” from a personal experience of creating work that she wasn’t proud of because it was what the collaborator has asked for. “If they liked and understood my work, they wouldn’t be asking me to do that.”
Adding to the above, photographer and illustrator, Kingsley Davis said that it was important to ask “who’s getting the most out of the collaboration, the artist or the corporation?” When discussing a potential collaboration, it is essential to ask all necessary questions before agreeing to go ahead with it. Unpack the terms of the collaboration, understand the pros, understand the cons and be prepared to question anything that doesn’t seem or feel right.
Kingsley Davis adds that ownership is a combination of money and control. Sometimes you may forgo a large financial increment in order to maintain ownership of your work. Sometimes you may choose to work for free because the job will greatly benefit your future endeavours, but also try to avoid getting caught in the trap of working for free. There are many institutions out there who may take advantage of you as much as they are able to, in the name of “a good look” or exposure.”
Gaby Sahhar mentioned that when they first started out, fresh out of university, they did several jobs that were paid in exposure, product or promise of paid work in the future. It was essential for them at that time because they needed to establish themselves in industry and build their network outside of university. An example of why it is extremely beneficial to build your network before you graduate.
The keywords I took from the event were integrity, self-awareness, self-worth, balance and ownership. The aim of the event was to advise the audience on how “to make informed decisions about who [they] choose to work with and why, [as well as] top tips on staying empowered when negotiating partnerships.” Was it helpful? For many, yes!
Words by Charisse Chikwiri.
Check out the work of the panelists below!
Photographer /Author /Publisher/ Creative
Artist/ Model/ LGBTQi+ Activist
Artist/ Curator/ Lecturer
Photographic Artist/ Curator/ Lecturer