Creative entrepreneur launches new business Blank Space

Developing the Creative Ecosystem


Sunday, February 10, 2019

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Jamaica is rich in cultural and creative talent, but this has not resulted in a major boost to the economy or widespread financial success within the creative community.

One way to address this is to strengthen the creative ecosystem, so that more creative people can make the transition from raw talent to commercial success.

“The creative ecosystem is defined as the entire system from which creative activity emerges, including three basic elements: the creative person, the creative project, and the creative environment, as well as the functional relationships which connect them.” (Harrington 1990)

If creatives do not have access to capital, training, performance or co-working space, this can prevent them from reaching their full potential. When the ecosystem is not well-developed, the creative products (music, fashion, literature, dance) may travel abroad and be consumed, but the benefits are not generally realised within Jamaica.

One person taking concrete steps to build the creative ecosystem is Stephan Smith, a young entrepreneur whose previous ventures include CAN, Working Enigma and NextGen Creators. Smith, a serial entrepreneur at just 23 years old, has launched his fourth venture, Blank Space.

Smith started his first business in high school, while enrolled in the Junior Achievement programme, CAN, turning recycled cans into jewellery and through the programme he learned valuable business skills. At 19 years old while he was at UTech studying Computing with a major in Information Technology and a minor in Enterprise Systems, Smith launched Working Enigma, a gaming, software and mobile app development company.

The next venture was NextGen Creators, a non-profit organisation developed with partners Jadan Johnson and Nicholas Kee. NextGen promoted youth entrepreneurship and technology and helped entrepreneurs to build websites and apps for their businesses.

Blank Space is the latest venture — a pop-up space for creatives launched with business partner Lori-Ann Nevers.

“If you need a gallery or an escape room, an art show or a live music venue, you can come to Blank Space. It is a pop-up space that promotes creative entrepreneurs and gives them an affordable space that people can transform for different creative purposes. There is a natural correlation between NextGen Creators and Blank Space,” says Smith. “Once creatives are trained and have their business plans, they can go to Blank Space and actually test out their business ideas.”

For creatives in Jamaica, having space is absolutely critical to monetising their talent. There is a need for affordable studios, co-working space, venues for performances, galleries for exhibitions, low-risk retail space and maker space for experimentation and innovation. The cost of the spaces, the quantity available and even the size of the venues are all important factors that must be balanced to achieve the desired results.

Smith explains what motivates him to operate within the creative industries:

“I have a love for the arts ..and I do this because there are a lot of young creatives that people aren't aware of — there are just not enough avenues for them. Adding tech to your creative product can really make artists stand out. One example is CeeJ Arts who added augmented reality to his art pieces and increased his sales. Another artist, Monique Kidding, rented Blank Space and hosted her own art show, without waiting on a gallery to come to her and provide a platform.”

Smith believes that there is definitely growth potential in the creative industries and he is looking to expand Blank Space and help local artists gain access to overseas markets.

“Through the eras, art is what remains, art is what tells the story, art is something that cannot die. Now, with globalisation, there is even more access to our market and we have ready access to other markets. Creatives don't have to physically leave Jamaica; their art can leave Jamaica.”

A healthy creative ecosystem can mean the difference between Jamaica exporting raw creative talent and being able to transform that human capital into economic growth that benefits the country. Kudos to the creative entrepreneurs developing the infrastructure needed for success.

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