AOH Sponsor Jan Burgess, at SOL Design Collective, tells us how lockdown has influenced her business practices.

Hi Jan  – We’ve all been in lockdown for nearly two months now. We’d love to know a little about your lockdown experiences. Can you tell us how it has affected Sol Design Collective and the way it works?

Lockdown has provided us an opportunity to change the way in which we provide support to the wider artist and maker community. Normally, the timetable for our face to face events for artist and makers is arranged about three months in advance. We had workshops and experts arranged to speak on Web Design, Pricing, Pinterest, Marketing, and Etsy to name a few!  As soon as it became clear that lockdown was imminent, we cancelled everything. Our community was incredibly supportive and understanding of that decision. Our speakers were happy to agree to rearranging for future dates, and our landlords at @Platf9rm were brilliant. We let things settle for a week or two, to take stock and decide how we could best continue to support our community and then, like so many others, went digital. We introduced our Free online Creative’s Coffee Mornings via Zoom at the beginning of April. We are thrilled at how popular these have been received with more than 250 attendees to date! Not only have they been a great way of maintaining connection with those artists who already know and find value in what we do,  it has proved an easy way for new artists to come online and see what we are about. Virtual events have transformed how and to whom we can deliver our support, and our audience has broadened from those who can attend to a much wider geography with artists in Bristol and Italy attending recent sessions too!  We have adapted some of our workshop content into smaller excerpts and these have proved extremely popular with between 20-30 artists attending each week.  This week we will have completed 10 sessions, primarily around different aspects of marketing and pricing unique work, as these are areas that are needed right now. We provide practical proven advice on how artists can optimize their visibility especially during these times. They have been so popular that we have just scheduled 10 more session and plan to continue to share some wisdom which we hope is both of use and value. We will retain these even if we come out of lockdown – details can be found at www.SOLDesignCollective.com/events

Has it made you think about working in different ways? 

As someone who supports organisations through change and growth, I am constantly looking at ways of optimising those aspects that work and tweaking those aspects that do not. The speed and degree with which lockdown was implemented was unprecedented. Here at SOL, other than cancelling our workshops and refunding everyone for the tickets sold, we chose to take stock and watch for two weeks before taking any definite action, that was partly as we needed a little time to adjust, but also we were mindful of the shock and fear felt within the community whilst everyone assessed their personal risk position. Supporting the artist and maker communities is one of our founding principles, and so introducing the Creative Coffee Mornings seemed a useful provision. I am a bit of a fan of technology so Zoom was our preferred choice as it is so easy and accessible, as most of the world has discovered it seems.  I hope that giving greater virtual meeting access to a community that perhaps wouldn’t have embraced it quite so easily under other circumstances, is one of the more positive aspects that we will continue to work with moving forwards.

Have you found the artists you support are working in different ways, creatively, due to the effect of lockdown?  

As always, we celebrate the ingenuity and creative thinking from this exceptional community. Initiatives such as @OpenWindows2020 and @artistsupportpledge were set up really quickly and have been embraced nationwide which has been amazing to see.  More latterly we have enjoyed the Keyworker portrait project that celebrate the roles of frontline workers.  Within our community, we have been supporting artists and makers with practical tasks of improving their marketing or revisiting their social media or redeveloping their website. These foundations are key, and yet often overlooked or not maintained to reflect current projects. More time has been one of the unexpected gifts that lockdown has provided for some, and how curiosity to learn something new, creatively, or practically has been a benefit that many are exploring during lockdown.

Do you think there are some positives coming from this experience that will feed into how SOL Design Collective works in future? 

As well as extending our reach through our virtual events, we have also launched our Online Gallery. This had been in the final stages of development for some weeks, and we launched this on 1st May, which is incredibly exciting. We have plans to further develop this to provide a window to the world for artists and makers who are both established and emerging but are looking for other “outlets” through which to showcase their work. This cannot come at a more critical time when festivals have been postponed and galleries and lifestyle stores are closed.  The gallery works on a low-cost showcase plan which can be paid monthly or annually, and as all enquiries are directed back to the artist, no commission is taken, just the monthly plan fee, which optimises revenues for the artist.

We were delighted when this project was recently awarded a grant from Arts Council England which will enable us to increase the marketing and development activities over the next few months, and really bring benefit to those who showcase their work within this platform. The Arts Council England released funding packages to support to those arts’ organisation impacted by Covid-19 and, we are grateful for the recognition and through this the ability to provide benefit to the creative community. Find out more at www.soldesigncollective.com/gallery

Is there anything else you would like to tell us? 

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, online 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.

Website:              www.SOLDesignCollective.com

Facebook:           SOL Design Collective

Instagram:          @SOLDesign_col

Twitter:                SOLDesign_col

Pinterest:            SOL Design Collective