"One thing is certain, there is a growing interest in art, creativity and the work of artisans from all disciplines; online art sales are growing; and this is just the beginning."
Our interview with the founders of the online creative colony, Baby Forest: Tom McCarthy and Sue Crellin-McCarthy. Could you talk about both your backgrounds? What made you start Baby Forest, is it something you have always wanted to do?
The two of us and our co-partner Shane all have backgrounds in creative business and are also artists ourselves. Tom’s a composer who’s been making and producing music under many different monikers for over 20 years, he’s set up and founded indie record labels, music for media production companies, and more recently as an artist has been using sound as a narrative vehicle and for installation … Sue’s original background is visual communications and brand imagery in fashion, lifestyle and the arts … having worked with and art directed many international creators in the course of her work, she found the creative element the most exciting so went back to art school and became a visual artist herself. Shane designs events, sets and stages for the worlds biggest rock stars (and the Pope!), and, from a Harbour in Cornwall, also collaborates on technical logistics with filmmakers needing to shoot at sea. We are all active creator members of Baby Forest.
Baby Forest came out of an ongoing dialogue we were having with artists and creators that we were working and collaborating with. We have both a recording and art studios here at BF HQ (which is actually in the middle of a Baby Forest - hence the name!), and everyone coming here to work on projects seemed to be saying similar things: whether from Berlin, London or New York they were feeling the same way about online spaces. We were all looking for something more refined, yet open - some where online from which to showcase, promote and sell our work, whilst providing a practical facility at the same time. But more than that, we wanted the space to also work as a collaborative space, and one from which we could create our own opportunity, broaden and extend our own audiences, create our own opportunity, have direct access to others to share skills, collaborate and cross pollinate with an international base of highly skilled members across discipline. Somewhere that facilitates the exploration of new, effective and interesting ways of supporting ourselves and our work - be that a studio swap, a skill or equipment swap or anything else you may think of! A place that covers the 360 - where you can choose to use it how it best suits you.
On your site you give artists the freedom to create their own space/gallery, how do you feel this adds to the overall experience of Baby Forest?
Yes - it’s template free, a blank canvas for each creator to work with in any way they want. We envisaged creators coming into the colony and using their spaces, and the facilities, in any way they see fit, that’s a really big part of what BF is trying to achieve. If you want to show a curator how conceptual you can be - you want to be able to do that in the layout and be conceptual about the way you are presenting your work - you don’t want the confines of templates! It makes it far more interesting for our audiences - no homogeny - each space reflects the work of the creator they are looking at. Each new space a discovery of something new.
We wanted BF members to have the ability to experiment with how they present their creative work, ideas, inspirations, back story, and to be able connect and network in direct, new and exciting ways - both with other creators, and their audience/collectors - in a completely autonomous, dynamic, ‘use it how you want to’ online space, with drag and drop easy to use tools. No data limits, no format limits, no templates, no need for coding, and, above all, easy to manage.
Those facilities are now built, and the reaction, feedback and support has been truly amazing. The foundations are there and we are embarking on the great journey ahead. Let’s see what happens with the template constraints removed, how will artists use it? how will we evolve? which way will we grow? what will the members request we build next? …it will be very exciting to see where this is going to take us..
How do you feel the art world is changing? Do you think online spaces like yours are becoming more important in this day and age?
The art world, just like everything else, is constantly evolving. There is so much dialogue about how technology is democratising art and many people out there working on different ways of doing it. Each model has it’s focus which works for some and not for others. One thing is certain, there is a growing interest in art, creativity and the work of artisans from all disciplines; online art sales are growing; and this is just the beginning. The market is opening up to new and wider audiences too; it is multi-layered, with buyers at every level of the market. Each online art entity essentially opens up the market for others, and the identity, philosophy and very DNA of each of these spaces will become more and more important. What we, as artists have to do is to identify what we want to achieve as individual creators in order to work out which ones are right for us, and then learn how to utilise them properly and make them work for us. It is up to us, the creators, to look at what is out there both on, and offline, and to work out what best suits and reflects our practices, spirit, approach and identity - and get the mix right.
What has been your biggest obstacle and greatest achievement as the Baby Forest Founders?
It takes tremendous energy to get anything like this off the ground, endless amounts of brain power, creative thinking, passion and obsession - so we feel great achievement in the progress we make on a daily basis!
We are most proud of the calibre of BF Creators. There are some immense talents involved and we are honoured to have their support. From museum collected artists, and several award winners or short listers of significant art prizes, an Oscar nominated filmmaker, and BAFTA winning documentary maker, the talented creators that are part of Baby Forest are inspirational and something for us to be proud of. Their corroboration and enthusiasm for the whole project and its future potential is what we thrive on, they have been our greatest ‘boost’ and have helped us to set the bar high.
This is about like minds, it is about symbiosis, we welcome suggestion, connections and ideas. People pick up the phone and talk to us, ask advice, we put them in touch with others, they put us in touch with others - this is not a ‘bot driven’ online platform - there are real people involved - this is human. We have creators who have never met, dropping in to each others studios, hooking up with each other, in New York, London, Australia - we had two amazing artists from the US here with us for a few days last week - its very social, very natural - this we are proud of!
We try not to see anything as an obstacle - just things to work through and learn from. Yes, there are things that slow you down, unforeseen issues that throw curve balls, but patience, a steady nerve and creative thinking provide great pole vaults for hurdles!
How do you differentiate yourself from other online collectives?
We try not to make statements about differentiation or comparison preferring to invite in the fresh and new - which makes life both harder and easier depending! Baby Forest is built by creators for creators, we are trying to grow and nurture the colony from the fundamental needs of the creator; we aim to explore and tackle our problems as creators and meet our needs in a co-operative, collective environment - any member is invited to be a part of that process. Shaping that whilst keeping a firm hand on attracting and building a growing audience for what we do. Ultimately, Baby Forest should be a place that creators are proud to be a part of, and also a place that is worth the visit for our audiences. We are working on building a global identity of importance - that is a key point.
We are a discerning colony, a place where creators can feel they are in good company, and that can become a spot where an audience knows that they will always find great work - that has been through a quality control process - curated and filtered.
We work on a nomination/application model, creators get a say in who joins and are a part of the shaping of the colony.
We encourage our audience to engage with the artist, become a part of their world, they can sign up and have their own curation/collection space, start curating and supporting their own BF favourites by following, promoting, and buying their work - knowing that the creator gets the lions share of each sale, and so, in turn, understand they are supporting creators with their purchase.
BF also provides a private ‘back-end’ environment where creators can cross-pollinate, share resources, skills (whatever they may be), and a hub where all social media/broadcasting activity can be handled in one ‘time saving’ spot. They can work to build up their own private colony, a personal ’skills kit bag’ of collaborators from within the Forest - which work to cross boundaries and open dialogues cross-discipline to explore fresh outcome, new avenues, new audiences.
What advice can you give to artists who wish to apply?
Take a look at the site, read the About page and our manifesto - babyforest.co/manifesto, it tells you a lot about our approach. Sign up as a non creator member, and take a look at the The Hub - wander around and get a feel for everything. There will still be areas that you won't see, that only creators have access to, but it will give you a bigger picture. We take all applicants on a tour of the back end of the site before they sign up so they can see everything and get a good idea of how things work.
Know what you want to use Baby Forest for, and work towards that goal - make it work for you. And we are here to help facilitate that in anyway we can - just Skype us - we are always around to take a call! Very importantly, BF is a friendly and approachable place - we are all in it together!
On a practical level ensure that you submit applications in a user-friendly manner - and think carefully about the way you are presenting yourself - anything that is too difficult or ‘bitty’ for people to follow will immediately turn them off! It is a professional application - so it makes sense to treat it that way!
What do you look for in an artist?
BF is not just for artists, but the same criteria applies to a poet as to a painter, or a composer to a film maker, a great designer or sculptor.
We look for authentic creative enquiry, a strong narrative voice, a high quality rendering and execution of work, a great attitude and willingness to communicate, engage and support the colony spirit. It’s all about the collective voice, the noise that we can make together. One strong, global identity that is synonymous with high quality work.
We like to chat with every incoming member to get to know that person, so that we can see where we can help and support each members practice - to help them get the most out of BF - it’s all about working together.
What's the future for Baby Forest? Any exciting new projects lined up?
This is just the beginning for Baby Forest - so the future is both challenging and exciting - full stop! Aside from the further development and broadening of the online experience, and some great exhibitions, the future will take Baby Forest into the physical realm - 2017 will see us developing physical representations of how the colony presents itself online - all with the BF twist!
Interview published: 30/09/16