Nurturing creativity

I have felt the call to create for as long as I can remember.

It’s hard to describe where it comes from or what it feels like, but I think that anyone who calls themselves creative will understand what I mean. The process of creation challenges and develops a person in ways that nothing else really can. You give of yourself, and an idea or artefact is born from nothing, which indelibly bears the signature of your mind and hand. The sense of utter self-realization granted by creating something subtly expressive, or which demonstrates some insightful perspective, or which acts as a monument to decades of honing a craft until through your tools, a small window to your soul is opened and the light is allowed to spill out… to me, this is the pinnacle of human endeavour.

I must confess that I have done a great deal less creating than I suspect is good for me. Creative initiative is an incredibly fragile beast, and I seem to be extremely good at putting off the creative urge in favour of busywork, or social dues, or gainful employment, and so on. I will even find myself with large pockets of free time doing nothing in particular or consuming low-effort media because it is what I am used to, and it is easy, and creation is, after all, difficult and lonely. Aspirations to long nights spent in creative labour are fairly frequent, but they mostly get filed away as pleasant daydreams.

The deck is, in many ways, stacked against the aspirant creative. Real life often asks that we put creation on hold to do things which pay the bills. Creative endeavour as leisure remains a niche pastime, and you are far more likely to find that your social circle is keen on seeing a movie or visiting a bar than writing a song or storyboarding an animation together. We are often forced to battle ourselves when dealing with the narcotic of low-effort entertainment. The reward of creation, while qualitatively immense, is generally less immediate than other options, and so choosing it is often a challenge.

Better seeks to change these parameters by creating the ideal environment for creative initiative to thrive in. A seat in a house full of like-minded people who are all actively creating. A wide range of expressive tools at your fingertips. Solace of the mind, and a relaxation of the frenetic demands of daily life. Ideas and engagement if that’s what fuels you, or a quiet corner if that’s your thing. Above all, a community which continuously validates your passion.

It’s not going to change the world overnight, but we think Better has the potential to make creative work in Jo’burg a lot more awesome.

Sources and resources for artists

We’ve had many great ideas from those of you who have completed our survey and from conversations over the past few days.

book shelf small

For artists, it seems that Better could provide access to the kinds of sources and resources that they might not be able to own individually. Some of the things on the wish list include anatomical models, reference books, a light table, studio lights and backdrops.

There was also a request for live models so we are adding life drawing sessions to our list of events.

The idea of things being used communally fits well with our Better ethic, so we love these suggestions. We may not be able to start up with everything, but we’d like to provide a space that you will find well worth visiting.

Look out for more news as we analyse the survey results this week.

A place for writers to retreat to

I (Judy) work a lot with writers, mostly in the academic space. I’ve facilitated a lot of writing retreats where we get together and write. At the most recent retreat a colleague was pondering why it is that he can be so much more productive when surrounded by other writers, than when he works by himself at home. This sparked quite a discussion.

Even though the uninterrupted space at home seems like a good place to work, it is easy to get distracted, to go and put the laundry on, then to hang it up, then to decide that the dishwasher must be stacked, the path must be swept. It is easier to procrastinate.

Being in a room with other writers, all working together, makes it easier. The fact that everyone else is writing inspires you to do the same. There is a cameraderie, and some social pressure, that keeps you working. There are also fewer distractions to support your procrastination.

When you get stuck, you can discuss whatever is tripping you up over coffee with the next writer. There are shared suggestions as to how to get unstuck. I’ve seen people share resources, contacts and simply empathy. Writing together is better and Better hopes to be a space to facilitate this and other creative activities.

Take the survey

NOTE: This survey is now closed. Thanks to everyone who responded. See our post on the results here.

Better is going to be an actual, physical space, in Johannesburg. If you do creative work, that is often solitary, and you are based in Johannesburg, please take our survey.

It’s only ten questions. It’s your chance to tell us what you would like from Better – a place for you to work, hang out, meet others, share ideas and have fun.

Picture this…

Picture a place, perhaps in an old house, not posh but loved, homely. There are flowers, places to sit. You walk in to a reception area and you are greeted by a host. If you are new here the host will ask you about your work and show you around the facilities. The first room is peaceful, with small tables and chairs set somewhat apart, paintings on the walls, a bookshelf or two. Four people work quietly, writing, with notes and papers strewn about. In the next room there are sofas and comfortable chairs set in groups, carpets, board games, standing lamps. A man sits reading, while nearby three people are gathered around a projector viewing a newly-edited video. Doors lead outside where there are more tables and chairs. People are drinking hot chocolate and laughing together. The host introduces you to other members.

There are noticeboards advertising events: a book launch for one of the members, a games evening, a workshop on how to sell online. People have pinned up poems, notes on current projects, requests for collaboration, and photos. A small café offers tea and cake. There are menus from takeaways and a list of nearby restaurants. Behind the reception is a small supplies shop selling the kind of beautiful stationery that makes you want to sit down and write.

This is the Better space. It’s a space where things are made, where dreams become real. It’s a space where people chill, are inspired, and share ideas, hopes and hacks for living better lives and being better people. This space replaces the office as well as the bar. As a member, you can drop in any time, confident that there will be someone around to talk to when you need company, stimulating conversations when it’s inspiration you are after, and a quiet place to work when it’s just a change of scenery or a faster internet connection that you want.

Help us to design the Better space

Are you doing solitary creative work? Are you a writer, artist, programmer, data wrangler, crafter, freelancer or other type of free agent?

Your idea of a good job is one that works for you. You have escaped the corporate shackles to create a better life for yourself and to create a better world through your art, music, writing or craft. You believe it is better to produce than to consume. Creating brings you joy, and you are loving the freedom, but it would be better if your ideas could rub up against other ideas and if there were people to share with.

You could go to a bar, or a lecture, or join the local woman’s institute, but isn’t there something better? A friendly, comfortable place with space for working and relaxing, where you can drop in for company or just a change of scenery to wake up the snoozing muses? A place where other creative people get together to share ideas about their work, making it, making life work and making the world a better place.

Good ideas get better when they come into contact with other good ideas. Independent work is better when you can share the process with other good people. We want to create a better place where great people, who are redefining work, can drop in to chat, to share ideas and to work.

Help us design a better space.