Member Spotlight: Ozlem Yikici on virtual collaboration and the future of arts experiences

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March 2, 2021

Words by Angelica Bomford

In our latest Community Member Spotlight, we steal some time with Ozlem Yikici – or Oz, as we’ll fondly refer to her throughout – at a pivotal moment in her professional career. The various consequences of COVID have taught most of us a lot of things and for Oz, it was that she had the courage inside her to take the leap into becoming a freelance artist.
We get to know more about her journey so far, get her advice on balancing volunteer work with paid commitments, and tap into her thoughts on the future of the arts in light of recent digital acceleration. We also find out more about her instrumental role in fascinating collaborative art project, the Golden Thread Sketchbook.

Fed: Tell us more about your journey to becoming a freelance artist – was it something you always wanted to do?

Oz: Yes and no. Since graduating from university, I had this inner knowing of being an artist; I wanted to earn a living from it but I didn’t know how. Having said that, I did have opportunities come my way but the fear and insecurities of failing instilled in me due to my upbringing stopped me from taking those steps. It wasn’t until COVID – combined with me being made redundant from my work as a Volunteers Coordinator for a small charity – that I truly started to brave the fear and become a freelance artist.

Fed: You’ve done a lot of volunteering – can you share some advice on how to balance paid work and volunteer work?

Oz: There’s a fine line, but often I get carried away and I am guilty of losing that balance between my business (yikici) and working on the Golden Thread Sketchbook project. The Golden Thread Sketchbook has wings and has caught me and with it I’m taking flight. It’s easy to get carried away with a project that has its own energy and flow. I had never imagined I’d be this involved in the project, when I volunteered to put a website together; I had no idea how it would shape me. I have learned – and am still learning – a lot through this process and because of this, the balance of the scales have tipped.  However, the collaboration and communication with my fellow artists has given me confidence to rise, which has given me fuel to work on my business. The balancing act I have not yet mastered – but I feel like I’m getting there!

I suppose my advice would be to reflect on how beneficial the volunteering is for you. Ask the questions ‘what am I learning?’, ‘am I growing through this experience?’, ‘is this giving me the tools I need to use for my own business?’, ‘does it add value to my business?’. Be honest and weigh up the pros and cons. Listen to your gut.

Fed: Tell us more about The Golden Thread Sketchbook…

Oz: The Golden Thread Sketchbook is a project which came to life when Deb Jones – travelling artist enthusiast – decided that art could travel when we, as a nation, went into lockdown and couldn’t. The idea was to create a 2D artwork on the theme of ‘Journey Through Lockdown’. We’d then post our artwork to Deb, who then sent all the artworks (35 pieces) to Jenny Stevenson – bookmaker extraordinaire – who bound the artworks into a beautifully crafted sketchbook.

During the time of lockdown and isolation for most, the theme of unity and connection was particularly important, and so the idea of this golden thread weaving through each artwork, to symbolise connection was key. This has been – and still is – a wonderful global community engagement project. Starting out as an open call for art, this has unexpectedly given each artist involved a sense of belonging and has built so much confidence. Currently we are working on creating artwork for chapter two of the sketchbook, this chapter is all about Identity.

This sketchbook will go on tour around the country, online and in physical form, then will be sold at auction. The monies raised will go to charities to promote wellbeing. We’d love to connect with more galleries and museum and ensure the tour of the sketchbook has a wide reach before it’s sold at auction. We will be unveiling the beautifully bound sketchbook on our website and social media soon; it has been well worth the wait to see!

Fed: What was your involvement in the project?

Oz: I started out as a contributor. I created my artwork and thought that was it. Then when the idea emerged that it will be physical sketchbook and we’d have an Instagram account, I started to think about the sketchbook needing a website too. That’s when my previous experience of building a WordPress site came in handy. I built the website, chose the theme and templates we were going to use and thought about the layout of the pages in the first instant. From that point onwards it was a case of coordinating everyone involved to get all the content we need onto the website. My main focus now is ensuring that all our artists details are up on the website and that we have regular blog content for the foreseeable future. I’m also the behind-the-scenes organiser and coordinator of things as well as being part of the main admin team which includes Deb, Jenny, Charley Hellier – gifted animator and logo creator – and a group of fabulous content writers.

Fed: How do you think digital platforms will now influence how art is created and experienced in 2021 and beyond?

Oz: That’s a tough question. With the age of technology at its current rate, the world is our oyster. I do worry about the over-saturation of information and that this has the potential to be the killjoy of a possible remarkable era in the arts. Access to instant marketing and opportunities to share across multiple platforms simultaneously is a valuable tool though. Having an online presence allows us to encourage call to action on a wider scale than before and brings together unlikely collaborations due to its wide reach. Borders no longer exist in this digital realm.

Through lockdown, we’ve seen technology enable us to share our art on virtual galleries and connect with other artists via Zoom and Facebook rooms. We use this room feature on Facebook to create a safe space where we can make art together via the private group. In these sessions we have the opportunity to share tips and have a chat – essentially find that connection we all need.

This virtual presence has also created opportunities to build on accessibility and promotes equality and diversity. The ability to promote our work and message through free marketing tools like Canva and Instagram Reels etc are invaluable. However, in an age of so many possibilities, gems in the art world could easily be overlooked or lost in the sea of digital platforms. Will these platforms become the next disposable consumable products? Will they clutter our minds with demanding notifications? Sometimes a good thing can be too much – overused and not appreciated for its full worth. I feel there’s great possibilities and opportunities in digital platforms, however too much choice and too much information may dilute the quality. I have found author Elif Shafak explains this concept eloquently in her book How to Stay Sane in an Age of Division.

Fed: What are your top tips on maintaining collaboration and creativity when you’re feeling isolated?

Oz: My top tip is to keep the conversation alive and not be afraid to delve in and engage with everyone you’re collaborating with. As part of the Golden Thread Sketchbook project, I never imagined I would be so involved as I am. This was Deb Jones’s brainchild and for some reason I felt a pull to be part of that. Taking that initial leap into just producing the artwork for chapter one led to unimaginable, collaborative teamwork. I found myself looking beyond the now and seeing the next steps laid out clearly in my mind.

I have gotten to where I am, because I kept the conversation going. I forced myself in parts, on days when I was finding all the doom and gloom of COVID too much, and in those moments, I have achieved so much. It made me realise that keeping the connection alive and being in the flow is what matters most.

Fed: What value do you think communities such as ours bring to creatives like yourself?

Oz: It brings connection. I think that’s the key ingredient. The ability to connect, to share ideas and the possibility to collaborate. Still new to the creative scene, I have observed how creatives bounce off each other’s ideas with so much support; it’s all part of the community spirit. As a collective we can share ideas openly and these moments can lead to greater ‘a-ha’ moments. I feel this community gives this value, intangible yet very tangible.

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