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For most of my life, I’ve lived on a wealthy, oil producing island. As of last year, Trinidad and Tobago is officially experiencing an economic recession. Good jobs are being lost in droves and many people are finding themselves unemployed.
I have been ‘unemployed’ for over a year, but I’ve been working the whole time. Like many other college graduates, I couldn’t find a suitable full-time gig. Writing has always been a small field in T&T and the recession did not help. So I was forced to get creative. Luckily, this is my forte. I made it my business to meet with people who could offer advice. I started contributing to popular US websites. I mingled on social media.
I realized I didn’t need to network my butt off. I just needed to meet a few key people who I could work with, even if they couldn’t offer me a full time job. Jeff Goins says success in the creative sector is about aligning yourself with the right people, which is precisely where collaboration comes in.
A great avenue to meeting the right people is by participating in the right workshop. I was lucky to attend a workshop hosted by the Culture Division in T&T and Visiting Arts in the UK. Since then, I have managed to catapult a few days of insight into several months’ worth of work. I helped conceptualize a local Soca music video for a Welsh filmmaker. I wrote web copy for the first sustainable festival in T&T. I contributed to a powerful USanthology on step-kid experiences.
In one year, I’ve managed to challenge myself and acquire new skills simply by working extensively with other people, both locally and internationally.Collaboration is a #MajorKey to navigating tough times and will likely be the way we work in the future. That being said, there are some things all creatives should know about collaboration…
Collaboration is not freelancingFreelance work is the ultimate hustle. It involves desperately scrounging for work and then spending months chasing payment. With collaboration you don’t have clients, you have colleagues. You can’t depend on long-term business from one source, but you can work on long-term projects for mutual benefit.
Rather than operate as an individual artist moseying along looking for work, collaborations require that you operate as a business entity. You’ll need to manage aspects of your work that may not be an issue when freelancing. It can be a challenge, but in what world is legitimizing your work and learning more about business a bad thing?
Best of all, collaborations are meant to be done on a project by project basis, giving you a good idea of who you work well with and who you may not want to work with again. You share credit and payment, which admittedly can be difficult to work out. But again, it’s all about managing the business side of things. In today’s landscape, having the freedom to decide who you’d want to work with and what kind of work you’d like to do is a creative’s dream.
All in all, there are incredible perks which truly makes collaboration the work of the future…
You can collaborate with anyone from anywhere in the world…I’ve worked with people from the UK, US and Caribbean. Many creative ventures are fairly easy to manage online, so there’s literally nothing stopping you from working with someone in New Zealand or Jamaica. There are several sites you can visit to collaborate with new, interesting folks who share your interests.
Personally, I’m on World Cultures Connect which encourages cross-border collaboration; connecting creatives in the developing world with those in the developed world. They’re all about exchanging skills, perspectives and potential left, right and center. Artists, dancers, writers, what have you’s, can upload a profile and reach out to other artists in any country listed.
You can set your own terms…It’s always been difficult to combat the idea that creative work is less valuable than ‘regular’ office work. But with the rise of websites like, creative work has been further devalued to literal pocket change. This is especially true for writers…
Submitting an article you’ve researched, drafted and re-drafted, edited and formatted just right to suit the publisher and audience might get you nothing but ‘exposure.’ Which is great, except that I can’t buy groceries with ‘exposure’. By banding together on particular projects with set funding or with clear profit potential, creatives can reclaim their value by setting their own prices and re-positioning the industry standards for quality work.
In an international collaborative community, it is also easier to get a better idea of the value of your work. When you speak to professionals in your field from other parts of the world, it can help you expand your market and your earning potential. International collaboration can open a world of opportunities in an industry that may seem limited and poorly paid locally.
So how do you undertake an international collab?
Pay attention to Twitter…My first international collaboration started on Twitter. It may seem shady to do business with strangers you meet on social media. But if you post links to your work there, chances are that like-minded people will notice. Make it easier for potential colleagues to find you by using your bio and avatar strategically.
When someone you’ve never heard of before reaches out, be sure to do your research. At the very least, Google them. Once they’re legit, take a risk and send a timely response. Give out your email address, agree to a Skype meeting or at the very least, thank them for their interest. You never know where it may lead.
Enter a collaboration with an open mind…If you are unsure about a collaboration idea, don’t write it off immediately. Listen carefully for the opportunity rather than the disadvantage. It’s easy to get wrapped up in our own agendas when collaborating with others.
Remember that a collaboration is an opportunity to work with someone else, which may require some compromise on your part. So you will need to keep an open mind. Allow yourself to try a new way of doing things or to work in a new direction or context from what you’re used to. The experience will help you grow, one way or another.
If you’re going to collaborate, collaborate well...Each collaborative opportunity is a call to step up your game. See it as a chance to impress someone new, because you never know where this one project, article or logo design may lead.
While failure often comes with the territory, be sure to use it as a stepping stone. Ask for feedback. Make notes of what works for some people in some places and what doesn’t for others. Use it as a map to better plan your next move and to keep improving your flexibility. One day you might just come up with the winning concoction which will not only get you a lucrative collab, but might launch your business in a whole new and unexpected direction.
Like anything else, successful collaborations don’t happen overnight. It takes hard work, patience and great timing. But if you learn how to navigate this path it will really pay off. Personally I plan to stick with it and see what happens. And so far, so good. Not only have I managed to stay busy, but I’m also more versatile than I was a year ago. I’ve learned a lot and made some great connections. Whatever your circumstances, collaboration is a great strategy to try. You might as well get used to it now, because I’m pretty sure it’s the work of our future.