We launched The Collective Foundation to support aspiring entrepreneurs and artists struggling to get their business off the ground because of a lack of physical space from which to work or showcase/sell their product. In London, where a lack of supply versus an increasing demand is pushing prices through the roof, this is a problem that’s all too familiar to many. At The Collective one of our key values is that of empowerment; empowering others to live their lives to the fullest and helping them on their journey.
A startup ourselves, we’ve experienced these struggles first hand, and Reza still remembers the late nights spent in a dark corner at the library in the LSE trying to concentrate on drafting his first business plan. It’s frustrating to think that there's so much talent out there going unnoticed simply because there isn’t the right infrastructure around them to help them grow and achieve their full potential – everyone deserves a chance at success. The Collective Foundation All-Stars programme offers free space to talented young adult to give them a shot at turning their dreams into reality.
In March 2016, we took over one of the containers at Pop Brixton. Having partnered with Carl-Turner architects to help deliver the innovative community campus in the heart of Brixton, which itself aims to provide a platform for aspiring entrepreneurs to grow their businesses, we felt the setting was perfect to launch our All Stars campaign. And so with the space secured, we kicked off the search for our first All Star.It was through a series of unexpected, but very fortunate, events (which makes me think there is something to be said for the idea of ‘fate’) that we met artist Joanna and discovered Cubesville, and it was within a matter of minutes that it became apparent we had found our first All Star!
When/how did you first become interested in art?
I had access to it since birth, both of my parents are architects and had an interest. I started drawing when I was 2 years old and when I was about 8, I decided to do this for the rest of my life. What I’ve learned is that art is not really about a single piece that you do at some point, but the whole body of work you leave behind for future generations and your message. So there’s a lot ahead to explore, it’s a never ending journey!
Where did the inspiration for Cubesville come from?
It all started as play. I had some coloured paper, fairy lights and some time. The cubes were small, funny and colourful so I started experimenting with different types of paper, lights, sizes or colours. I was living with my friends in North London at the time so everybody started joking about how my work space looked like the land of cubes. After a few drinks and a long line of geometric related puns we came up with Cubesville.
And initially it was just that, a place for origami colourful boxes but that wasn’t enough for me, it had no essence. You see, the colourful cubes are just a trick to grab your attention so I have long enough to remind you of a change of perspective. From space, Earth is just a simple, pale, blue dot, sitting in nothing and complete silence, covered in a thin layer of atmosphere. From there you can’t see discontent, hate, boundaries between countries, wars or bombs - just life sitting on a fragile ball. From space the need to protect it becomes obvious and imperative. All the cubes and geometric wall blankets, everything in Cubesville, is based on the same simple origami unit, all the units work together without glue to support each other and create bigger structures, you need six to create cube. Just like the single unit in Cubesville, people need to work together to protect life and the only planet that can host us. So you can say I made a cube in the hopes of protecting a ball.
Stepping into the unit at Pop Brixton must have been a really immersive experience! How do you think people felt/how did they interact with the Cubes?
One of the best things about this residency was the interaction with people and seeing first hand how people react to the story. Curiosity had a big part in it: you had to be curious to walk in the container and get the story. But I was lucky, many had the patience to listen to what I had to say. I could see on their faces that the story was definitely striking a cord and I guess that was the biggest reward. For more than a few, the small pit stop would transform into a long conversation about life, community and earth. I genuinely made some great likeminded friends after this and it was great to see I made so many people think about something bigger.
What has been the biggest lesson learnt during your Pop Brixton residency? What's the main thing you feel you got out of it?
This will sound a bit naive but I guess the biggest lesson would be that if I want to inspire change I need a lot of patience (a classic right?!). I thought everybody would agree with me once they hear the story but it wasn’t like that. I had to learn really fast to step down and let it go if that was the case. After you argue with a few people about it, you definitely learn.
It was great to get the chance to perfect the story and find the best way to present it but I think the main feelgood factor about the Pop Brixton residency would be giving people something to think about and change their perspective about the world we live in.
How did you first cross paths with The Collective? What made you pursue an opportunity with them?
I read an article about co-living and The Collective in Financial Times. The article told the story of the new flagship building Old Oak and how the community managers will interact with the tenants to create a great place to live. I thought that sounded great, so I googled the company. Coincidentally the website was under maintenance at that point so I just forgot about it and left it at that.
A month later I was attending the Student Property Week Conference for work and ran into James Scott [Our COO] there by chance. He was due to attend a panel of questions, so I changed the session I was attending to get the chance to talk with him. Just before he went on, I went up, introduced myself and told him I have a lot of experience working with a community and would like to help. I thought nothing would come out of it but a week later a got an e-mail from Nick Edwards [Our Head of Operations] inviting me down to HQ for a chat! And the rest is history...
Any funny anecdotes to share?
Yes!! A crazy coincidence! Stephanie Wong, who wrote the very same article in Financial Times that led me to The Collective, actually happened to walk into my Pop Brixton container! What would have been there if she would have written a different article?!
What does co-living mean to you?
Togetherness. Is that a word?! I believe that the way things are usually done now, people get fewer and fewer chances to get together and cooperate as they get older. If only, time provides experience and knowledge worth sharing so why cut out on that? For me, co-living means sharing, knowing your neighbour and working as a team, having a back sort to say, knowing that at any point in the day or night you can get the support and help you need, you’re not isolated by cold staircases and locked doors. For me, I know that whatever I decide to do, my work will always be much more valuable when shared with other people. So why not add that value to the way I live as well?
How would your best friend describe you in three words?
‘Very very talented’: direct quote, he’s not much of a talker.
What's number one on your bucket list?
Inspire a positive change in the world.
What's your guilty pleasure?
The weekly New Scientist Magazine!
We're sad to see Joanna leave her All Stars Residency at Pop Brixton, but very excited for our newest tenant, Busi Buchan of Ekhaya, who has taken over for the next two weeks!
What would you do with 2 weeks at Pop Brixton? If you're interested in The Collective Foundation All Stars Residency, apply here.