A Seat at my table: Striving to build a vision from the ground up

  • Gabriella Nkom
  • Makeda Carayol

The “new normal” that we are living in has pushed those in the creative industry, both new and old to come up with innovative ways to continue making content.

“We’ve always had a seat at the table”

This is what Solange Knowles said in an interview with NPR Music in response to her 2016 album “A Seat at the Table”. The idea of a metaphorical ‘table’ of opportunity and being able to have a named place-card, is a system of thinking that often dominates many creative sectors. Whether it’s the music, art or writing: the premise is built on finally getting the recognition in one’s respected field. But what is the point of having a seat at the table when you’re only given the scraps?

Most of us are taught from an early age, that having an idea of "what you want to be" is essential. It’s drilled in through a plethora of career days, with the traditional jobs at the forefront and little to no emphasis on the arts. Once leaving university, I quickly realised that school did not equip me nor many of my peers with the tools we needed to truly “adult”. There was no handbook, no manual for many of the creative spaces I found myself wanting to enter. The terms ‘freelancer’, ‘rates’ and ‘self-employment’ were foreign to me. I became obsessed with researching, finding out ways to weave into the field I desired to be a part of.
In the age of Covid-19 (also dubbed by many on Twitter as “Ms Rona”, which I prefer), people have moved to using online resources to connect. Gen-Z has seen its own baby boom in the form of Tik Tok, with the app birthing one dance challenge after the other. The social sphere has grown, with many creatives including celebrities jumping to YouTube and Instagram to fuel their livelihoods. And not to mention the growth of podcasts and other audio listening formats (I’m 90% sure that Audible is stalking me at this point). With more creators jumping online, it highlighted something to me: it is possible to create your own platform as long as you have an audience that you can cater to.
During this past August, Dazed held 4 days of workshops as part of their #Dazed100Academy. I attended a session hosted by DJ “Lil C” and joined by singer Joy Crookes, make-up artist Mata Marielle and, Pedro Powell who works in the Fashion and Partnerships department at Sony. The topic of self-sufficiency came up, and Joy Crookes pointed out that “Self-sufficiency is really important. Because you can really direct. I'm not saying that you have to do everything yourself - you learn how to direct. And you are meant to be the one that is steering your ship". I began to recognise that being able to understand the creative process, and having a direct hand in overseeing it is crucial; it is important to be in the driver’s seat.
Being a backseat driver is usually viewed as irritating. But having a team of likeminded people – a ‘tribe’ – was something that was highlighted during the discussion as a necessity. This is not necessarily the same as taking on Drake’s mindset of “no new friends” for face value, but rather building a circle of accountability partners. Let’s be real: it’s easier for people to be honest about your behaviour or ‘keep you in check’ if they know you personally. And what’s even better? Being able to bring those people and others into those spaces.

In a conversation with my friend and fellow creative Makeda Carayol, we discussed the difficulties in trying to enter the industry, and the attempt to gain success and recognition in the space. She said the following:

“I'm made well aware of just how much my presence is tolerated (as opposed to being sought after) by those around me at the table. Constructing my own table and peppering it with *full-sized* chairs seems like the next logical option, and in fact, the only one. Sitting so low begs the following question; why am I clown-smiling and seal-clapping for savaged scraps and not even *half* the recognition I deserve?”

Making space for other creatives, and people in general who want to create content is possible. Forget having to accept the bare minimum – working together to build the metaphorical table and chairs so that everyone can sit comfortably, is where the focus should remain. As said by Lil C "You feel like you've got somewhere once you realise that you can help someone else". It’s possible to ‘eat together’ – and have plenty left over to share.