Written by Ian Cooke-Tapia
I fell down a hole, and in that hole was an endless loop. And like a washing machine trapped in perpetual dry cycle, I broke down.
After months of working on Ffangaí the creative hub and artist workshop, I couldn’t escape this feedback loop of needing a building to inhabit, and I couldn’t get the building without setting up the company, and I can’t set up the company if I didn’t have people backing me, and I couldn’t get those people without having the building… ad infinitum. Soon enough I had the inkling that I wasn’t walking anywhere but trapped in this magical hole with the washing machine and that the rattling sound wasn’t me running really fast but my whole world falling apart. I had lost track of Ffangaí, the evolving art company and community of artists; through the box of my own hubris I couldn’t see the goals I had set out with, for which Ffangaí is a medium, not a destination.
Steve Aicheler (business advisor and all around wonderman from Cardiff Met’s Centre for Entrepreneurship) sat down with me and voiced the concerns that were but thoughts at the time. Was I getting anywhere? No. Did I really need this wonderfully big and expensive building? Could I even afford it? No and no. I had become too emotionally attached to this wonder property, and forgot that I cannot gain people’s trust without something to show for it. So I stopped focusing on Ffangaí as a creative hub and began to focus on these satellite thoughts that I had been having as of late, and it all relates back to my recently neglected freelance practice.
Focusing on Ffangaí has actually been, in one hand, extremely informative and wonderful, but, on the other, it has left my artistic practice (one of my goals) on very shaky ground; both in my perception of my worth as a professional, and in how I haven’t gained any dependable clients in the last couple of months. Since January I’ve been wondering how I can make my freelance practice financially viable while making sure Ffangaí becomes a reality; only now do I realise that going into this with Ffangaí as a medium for financial stability that would allow me to freelance to my heart’s content was a flawed and upside down way of approaching this. Ffangaí won’t get me clients; getting clients will help me build the relationships and expertise that will make Ffangaí work. Sometimes thoughts just need some time to digest, and it is while moving in a forest that you realise how to best build a sand castle you can stand on. Recently I was working on a video commission – something I hadn’t done in a while but was confident I could get back into with some work – but half-way through the project I realise that the time I would put into relearning things didn’t provide me a good exchange rate for what I was being paid to do, and of course the quality of my work would suffer. In that situation, I reached out to my immediate network and asked someone I trust and I know has the skills to help me out. We ended up having a process in which I made the images and prepared them for animation, she did the animation, and then I would edit them. It was while in the midst of editing the life she imbued my still images, that these thoughts that had been mulling in the back of my mind came together coherently: I personally know so many people each possessing of a very varied palette of skills and expertise; each person working on their own can only do what they can do… but what if we all work together?
Considering the frame of mind I had at the time, this realisation kept being visualised as a physical, hypothetical space. And while all along the plan was for Ffangaí to have an online branch dedicated to collating and representing the network’s collective skill and expertise, I never wondered if this could become a planet rather than a satellite. What if we build up this network of people who work together? What if we help them become financially able? What if we help them liaison with businesses? What if, eventually, this network of professionals that eventually might be able to afford to inhabit studio spaces…
After some thinking, I believe Steve’s advice came at a crucial point, mentally at least. It was crushing, I’ll be honest, and simply turned the mirror towards my own face and made me see just how obsessed I had become with something that I just haven’t got the know-how, money or time to make work. If anything, I was mostly disappointed in myself. Stop! I told myself, rethink, recoup. Can’t say I am recouped, but I am in what I feel is a more productive stage. Put Ffangaí’s dream of a creative hub to the side, and focus on what you already know how to do, Ian — that is talking to people, making connections, going to events, being friendly and, most importantly, listen. Steve put it like this: if I do this for Ffangaí, I’ll be finding people to work with for my own freelance business. But it works the other way around; if I am going as a freelancer and simply gather information and just talk to people, then Ffangaí can work. It isn’t one or the other, really, just different degrees of both. It all clicked when he said that. I was so focused on helping future me reach a future goal that I forgot that I, here, right now, need to eat and reach my more immediate goals.
So I spent a day researching events in Cardiff – everything from creative industries gatherings to business networking, to shows, and expos – anything that would get me out of the make-shift studio and talk to people with real businesses and with completely different experiences than my own. This research let me see the cheer number of events and groups throughout the South Wales region. There are so many, and so many are free! My Panamenian-born mind still has issues with accepting that, on average, people do want to get together, talk, share and help each other out with their problems. And to help others, I am trying to combine a calendar list of some events in the South Wales area. I’ve put them into this file, until I figure out how to make it better.
So far, the only event I’ve been to as of the writing of this article is a Zokit Networking Breakfast at The Village Hotel in Whitchurch, Cardiff. It was a small gathering of photographers, cleaners, marketers, life coaches, business advisors, and more that wasn’t focused on selling our products but more about sitting down and talking to one another. I had some of the most refreshing conversations of the past couple of months in that space, and through those conversations I was given solid advice and many a word of encouragement. My LinkdIn profile gained some new connections, and I received some promises for work, got a follow-up meeting, and simply learned a lot not just about other people but how those people perceive my work. It gave me focus on what to work on so I can reach my goals. Just be mindful that with as any external new information, it will make the road you’re on shift and warp a little.
I went to this event as a freelance illustrator and writer, with a secret agenda of having Ffangaí come into the conversation whenever possible, but I left with a stronger base for my freelancing. Having access to free swimming pool and sauna did help me put things into a semblance of order in my head. If you ever go to a networking event, I recommend some physical exercise afterwards – when the body moves, the brain is left to work properly. And now that I feel like I can finally think clearly, and the metaphorical washing machine has exploded, I can look at the pieces of the delusion I had constructed for myself and start building again.