The narrative of creating in tough times - like Shakespeare scripting some of his best poems and plays during the plague, is privileged, overused and not for everyone. Although creativity does help; it allows us to express ourselves and is something to do when you've reorganised all your cupboards and the boredom of binge-watching Netflix one too many times kicks in! But for creatives whose passion is their income as well as their escapism, the question is how they even go about securing work in such uncertain times?
One Notts creative and freelance Cultural Producer who's already made something unifying for the creative community during this covid-19 crisis is Saziso Phiri, who set-up Bless Our Hustle. Bless Our Hustle, is a free online directory listing the services of creative self-employed/ freelancers and small creative businesses, who've recently lost work because of the Covid-19 pandemic. We spoke to her to find out a bit more about the new website.
Where did the idea for Bless Our Hustle come from and what urged you to create the site?
I am a freelance/self-employed worker in the creative sector and projects were being postponed one after the other. Eventually, all the work that I had scheduled up until the summer was either postponed or cancelled. For me, this meant hardly any income. I also started to see news of others having work postponed/cancelled. Some of which mentioned thousands of pounds worth of income lost within such a small space of time. All due to the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic. Testing times were approaching, and I wanted to make something happen - not just for myself, but to support others who were going through similar.
How did you make it a reality?
I put out a post on Facebook about the idea and received a few emails on the same night. The few responses I received gave me enough reason and urgency to start the website as soon as possible. I decided to name it Bless Our Hustle, based on the phrase, 'Bless My Hustle' from the Paper Planes song by rapper M.I.A. I changed the 'my' to 'our' which represents the collectiveness of the situation; people helping each other out in this great time of need. To support someone with work during this time will be like a blessing for many.
What kind of work do you do and how has the covid-19 situation affected this?
I work as a Cultural Producer and mainly work on events, which range from conferences to film screenings, festivals, workshops, exhibitions and public speaking engagements. I also run a small organisation called The Anti Gallery, which aims to create and engage with art outside of traditional art gallery environments. I had planned to visit the States in May to attend art fairs and do studio visits with artists for potential projects as well as Senegal at the end of May for DAK'ART, a contemporary art biennial. These international events have been postponed - some until next year. Right now I'm a free agent!
It has made me think about whether being self-employed is worth it. I am self-employed by choice. I left a comfortable job as an employee with a reputable arts organisation a year ago to focus on freelance work. This whole situation has made me think about whether I would have taken that step if I knew something like this would happen. Probably not. But I also wouldn't have experienced the things I've worked on since or making new connections, developing new ideas and skills, travelling more and learning more about myself in the process.
Everything seems to be developing in a way never seen before online, so lockdown or no lockdown - what are your future plans for the site?
There's the directory for services, and I will be adding a section for businesses that sell. This will include independent record shops, independent suppliers of art and craft materials and independent clothing companies. Supporting them is so important right now, as we need these businesses to keep going for the livelihood of the staff.
I have created an Instagram page for Bless Our Hustle, which will act as an extension of the site. Look out for visual storytelling, and possibly live stream classes and workshops!
Apart from inspiring us to make positive initiatives happen at the worst times, what top three tips can you leave self-employed creatives and others with to get them through the pandemic?
1. Check-in with yourself and to make sure you're looking after your physical and mental health. Get some exercise and fresh air every day if you can. For a lot of us, this situation of mass isolation is new and will have an impact on the wellbeing of some people. Talk with family and friends. Self-isolation and social distancing doesn't mean that we have to stop communicating with others. Support from family and friends isn't possible for some, so I provide *a list of organisations who are ready and willing to help people during this challenging period. Some of you may not be ready to dive straight back into work, and that's ok. I understand this is not an option for everyone, but if it is, don't feel guilty about taking advantage of it.
2. Work on how you can promote what you do. Now could be a good opportunity to work on your online presence if you're able to do so. Revamp your website/social media or create new ones if you're not already on. Everyone seems to be using Instagram Live and Zoom for classes, workshops and talks - take advantage of this to build your brand.
3.Start a new hobby that isn't related to your work. It doesn't need to be too big or complicated. From personal experience doing this has actually helped with my creative output, whether that's generating new ideas or having more confidence and energy for my work. They also take your mind off work for a bit - something we all need to do from time to time.
Samaritans or call 116 113 (free from any phone)
UCKG Helpcentre - / 020 7686 6000 (24 hour helpline)
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