Dire situations tend to bring out the best or worst, and for many of us, these moments are the molds that will cast us out in the movie of our lives moving forward. The novel Coronavirus outbreak in many ways than one is already changing the landscape of our existence, future interactions and our perceptions of what it means to be human. Eventually, when it does blow over it will be cataloged extensively in the annals of our history by all, but mostly in artistic form. Our medical practitioners will be the heroes but the stay home/lockdown measures will heighten the contribution of creatives that made this period bearable.
“Nothing in the world is more common than unsuccessful people with talent”.
These words attributed to legendary-anonymous graffiti artist, Banksy fell through my twitter timeline recently. The words rang poignantly like an alarm outing snooze.
Anyone who immerses in Sierra Leone’s creative scene in one way or the other will be awakened to the reality of its ebb and flow, and the dreams of many who were once on the journey of leaving a mark. Indeed, some do leave paths but like the trails of a dusty road, they’re wiped or written over by the sands of time. The host of issues, limitations in pursuing and marketing any art discipline has left many creatives scratching their heads with the recurring question of how to navigate through the industry.
The age-old narrative of the stereotypes faced by many creatives with regards to art as a sole profession in Africa has extensively been delved into by many writers who have done justice to it. This realization has created an opening in the mindset of people that art is more than just a hobby but a sector that can be explored. This has seen a surge in the number of creatives who have left the shadows of doubt and try to make a way into the world with their talents. In this climate of opportunity, one must navigate wisely so as not to fall into a quagmire of missteps.
Vision must be an integral feature in the mindset of every creative and complacency a bane that must be kept at bay. Working towards a goal goes hand in glove with the mental discipline to see it through thick and thin whilst putting in the hard work. As with every other profession, growth comes with the realization that having the potential is good but the work ethic is what divides the greats from the ordinary. Resting on existing laurels and allowing the flame of creativity to play second fiddle is suicidal to one’s craft more so when the bigger picture becomes distorted before the goal is achieved.
Learn how to process reviews, honest feedbacks, and constructive criticism. They’re the signposts to growth. Always remember the art brought you the recognition, allowing the spotlight to blind you and take you off course from creating easily makes you anonymous pretty soon.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach, but knowing your niche and audience is something every creative must aspire to learn.
• Does your art form require you to always be in the spotlight?
• Is absence your friend?
• Should you separate your art from yourself or should it be intertwined?
Creatives have been known to tackle social issues, racial injustices, political parlays and climate change awareness with their works or their voices separate from it. Knowing which to use to make a statement is a skill that must be harnessed and trained over time. Coming to terms with the fact that you will be placed on a higher pedestal and your every action/words will be scrubbed with scrutiny is something that must be borne in mind.
Legendary Sierra Leone musician, Emmerson Bockarie wields this with a masterful stroke.
In this age of digital media, it’s vital for all platforms to be utilized in exhibiting and marketing your craft, the sphere of influence must not be limited to only your immediate circle i.e. family, friends, a friend of friends, etc. One must explore the boundless possibilities that exist outside of your comfort zone and what you know. Your talent will not always speak for itself, sometimes you have to use the appropriate outlet to amplify things.
You are your best cheerleader.
Get corporate and set up that LinkedIn account, with directing links to your work on other platforms. Upload that song to a streaming platform, submit your writings for that book grant or publishing deal. Watermark your images and send them in for the photography contest. The list goes on but leaves no stone unturned, cover all bases.
What have you got to lose anyway?
It’s amazing how much you can learn about a person from their online profiles and portfolios, and what better way than LinkedIn. The beauty of the internet and social media is the plug it gives you into the various hashtags, niche communities online that your art falls under, use it to relentlessly market your craft. This boosts and increases your visibility online thereby directing traffic to your site and SM handles. Keeping this in mind, knowing when and how to roll out your work and the timing it comes with is a discipline that must be etched in one’s character.
Visible hype does not always translate into correct timing, some days you have to ride the surf and pinpoint the tidal wave that will have a long-lasting impact. Go for the Tsunami, the effects last longer and with that, you need strategy and planning and not merely relying on the hype. Separate the signal from the noise.
Rapper and business mogul, Shawn Carter aka Jay Z is a marked example of an artist who always sees the bigger picture when making decisions.
Your work is your brand, and the packaging you ascribe to it should not only shift when you hit the big time. It’s far easier when the discipline starts from the onset. The Krio adage, “Aw yu mek yu bed na so dƐm de lidom de” comes to mind in the way you showcase your art as it has an impact on the value it commands. As a creative, if you cannot manage the trajectory of your affairs, get a manager, preferably someone trustworthy that can adequately handle the business and marketing end. Choosing a manager for many has been a tricky subject that has led to many falling out due to the fact some select friends or family member to run their affairs. There is definitely nothing wrong with selecting a familiar face but always bear in mind that the individual must have what it takes to pull it off and be conversant or in tune with the knowledge of how the business moves. Keep business running and detach it from the personal relationship when it calls for it.
The bubbling growth of the arts industry has also made it ripe for the picking. Countless stories abound of artists who have been the victims of exploitation of their works by so-called “angel investors” who lure them in with fine-tuned words and promises of getting them deals or bigger exposure only to come up short. The economic condition of the nation plays well to the advantage of these con men & women who walk around in certain “elite “social circles which accords them with an aura of integrity.
Many creatives have been victims of raw deals, thus eroding their trust to seek the much-needed investment they need to expand their careers. The need for written legal agreements between the creative and the other party/parties with a solid understanding of every term of the contract is vital and will serve to curtail the breach. Make sure to always demand the documentation and keep receipt of payments. Thinking smart and being aware of one’s worth goes a long way.
Networking amongst creatives is on the rise in Sierra Leone, thanks largely to the explosion of social media which has led to few collaborations with artists in the same genre however a massive crossover between fields has yet to occur. The nature of disrupting the norms dictates that creatives should continuously push past the “stay in your lane” mentality and create webs of connection to each other.
Last December, a convergence of sorts was put together by Mario Mackay as the stepping stone that can be explored upon when he hosted a Creative Linkup, in many ways than one, it was an eye-opener. The aftermath of this was that it led to joint projects springing up and being recommended to gigs suited to your skillset by another creative. Collaborating also dictates that being on the same page with an end game in sight with everyone pulling their own weight. Nothing defeats a joint project than someone failing to do their own bit and acting as an anchor holding back things from sailing. If all reasoning with the said party/parties has proved futile, sever ties with them from the project off or risk losing everything. Work ethic and discipline must be paramount when pulling off major projects.
No matter how blasé or un-motivated any creative is by commercial success, deep within them they are aware that creating is both a personal and sharing experience. The objective is giving flight to ideas, concepts, and feeling in any form whether painting, music, writing, and other art forms. In a speedy world of clicks, connections, and bytes it’s vital to capitalize on the now rather than have regrets.
Always push, sow the seeds to smell the roses when they blossom, a nod now is worth more than a thousand posthumous homages.