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Tell us a little bit about yourself...

Hello! I’m Calum and I’m the Founder of Creative Debuts and Forbes 30 under 30.

To give you a little bit of background on me, outside of Creative Debuts, I grew up in a working-class single parent household in the North-East of England, having been born in Edinburgh. Throughout my life I have had a wide variety of jobs, including a pot washer, handy man, glasses repairer, charity collector, focus grouper and even a Musketeer (unfortunately not the type with the sword, but it was my job title at Red Bull). However throughout I have always had a fascination and love of putting on events/ parties. This started during my school days and continued throughout Uni and stands as the true heartbeat and DNA of Creative Debuts. Ultimately, when it’s all said and done, there isn’t a better feeling than bringing people together for a great time!

I am an avid documentary lover, and I am always wanting to learn new things about the weird, wonderful and the what the f*ck. My main topics of interest are the animal kingdom, social justice, history, combat sports, Newcastle United and state of modern-day politics. I believe that to be an impactful creator and curator it is important to be dialled into a variety of issues and have these different ingredients come together to help influence and impact my vision for life and everything that makes me, me. It’s no surprise that I mentioned ingredients when thinking about my life, as food plays such an important role in the mix of things. I am forever thinking about places to travel to and what culinary delights lie in wait. My fascination with both food and travel has dictated a lot of my life. With Paris just a couple of hours away it’s certainly one of my happy places, and somewhere that I never need a lot of temptation to head back to in a heartbeat. I recently undertook a true passion project with my friend and fellow curator Tina Ziegler in the form of a documentary series entitled Arts Unknown. Arts Unknown seeks to spotlight and celebrate talented local artists in different locations around the world. We created a pilot that saw us explore the upper-end art market at Art Basel in Miami, as well as interviewing and exploring life as an emerging artist in London and Cape Town. Arts Unknown is the perfect intersection of the Venn diagram of my personal and professional life and certainly a project I would love to build on further.

Creative Debuts is a platform for emerging artists focussed on the disruption and democratisation of the art world. We are a bridge between emerging artists and opportunities with brands, businesses, landlords and art lovers. Creative Debuts is over 10 years old, and, in that time, we have partnered with a wide range of some of the worlds most recognisable brands, including adidas, Apple, Disney and Spotify. Our collaborations come in the form of an artwork subscription service, creating one-of-a-kind commissioned artworks, curation support as well as events and space activation. All of which put the artist at centre stage and cements Creative Debuts as a pioneering platform within the creative industries.

What made you choose this career?

The seed for Creative Debuts was definitely planted between GCSE and A Levels whilst I was growing up in Northumberland in North-East England. I was making typical rebellious teenage boy art, some may think was good, most would think it was fairly rubbish, however there were people in my class that were unmistakably talented. None of us knew how to progress in the “art world” and put it down to a general lack of opportunities in the area, but little did we all realise that the challenges of accessibility, knowledge and support was being felt by most emerging artists…worldwide. I have always been interested in art and creativity mainly thanks to my Mum who is a fantastic knitter and seamstress. There was always bits and pieces up on the walls either created by her or proud charity shop finds. I’m a firm believer that having any form of artwork on the walls does so much for encouraging creative thinking and positive wellbeing. This combined with a love of street art, hip-hop and skateboarding (which I was appalling at,) I was absorbing creativity in its purest form; to express, disrupt and democratise. As I have gotten older and hopefully wiser, I have become increasingly aware of my privilege as a straight white male and how it is so important that people in positions of privilege use their platforms and their voice to champion others and help in levelling the playing field. My love for art, my deep-rooted need to fight injustices and to stand up for causes that matter to me are the main driving force for myself and Creative Debuts. It has been a combination of all these things that have steered me on this mission/ my career.

Did you go through formal education? If so, what did you study and where? If not please explain your journey.

I studied art at GCSE and A-Level in Northumberland. However, I decided not to pursue art at Uni and opted for Politics. In hindsight I was impacted by the boring and damaging narratives of “you’ll never make money in art” and “get a proper job” etc but what this did was recalibrate my mind as to the true DNA of Creative Debuts. Being in South-East London, meeting so many amazing people and being let loose in the capital city helped forge and confirm that Creative Debuts was a living and breathing creative community created by artists, for artists. Now I make money in art, for myself and others. So I would often say, ignore the noise.

The artists/ creators are at the heart of everything we do. The role of Creative Debuts is to be a bridge between the emerging art world and opportunities, focussing primarily on artists from marginalised communities. I have always wanted to prioritise people, not the product. The talent that is going under the radar is mind blowing and art lovers are missing out! The art world, like the world, has a major problem with accessibility, democratisation, systematic failings, and knowledge sharing. While my attendance and overall commitment to my university course wasn’t that of a star student (sorry Goldsmiths), it was my time as a Red Bull Student Brand Manager that really helped give Creative Debuts wings and enabled me to engross myself in events and activations, as well as providing me with the platform to explore Creative Debuts in its embryonic form.

Did this have a positive or negative impact on your chosen career?

I am a firm believer that the best education comes in the form of interactions with other people and experiences outside of the classroom. Don’t get me wrong I loved my time in education, but it was through other influences that I feel have truly impacted my career and I in a positive way. Whether that’s life growing up in a single parent household, underage drinking in the park (sorry Mum), documentaries, running through Newcastle to catch the last train after gigs, seeing a Banksy in the flesh as a teen in London for the first time, not to mention friendships, relationships and absorbing culture through foreign traveling and a love for food. There are so many factors that mould people, and it is this variety that needs to be encouraged as much as valuing education.

I saw this quote that I feel sums this up perfectly and certainly doesn’t just apply only to designers but encourages people to look up and be curious.

“If you want to be a better designer, don’t study design books. Study sculpture. Study paintings. Study Cars, watches, philosophers, movies, fiction, music, people. Study the world”

My advice for anyone in life is to lead with love, awareness and respect and whatever career drives you most; a focus on these things will provide a more enriched life.

Who inspires you?

I’m most inspired by people who are authentically themselves and are working towards creating a better world. My number one inspiration is my Mum, while I know that tends to be a typical answer to these questions, I am infinitely more interested in spending time with her than someone like Elon Musk. My Mum taught me about love, loyalty and that what really matters is having a good heart and being there for people. In this hustle culture that we all find ourselves in it is so easy to lose track of what matters in life. I’m also really inspired by those closest to me, my partner Kimhia and her sister Indira are running an incredible business called Twossaints that is focussed on the preservation of Kwèyól and the championing of Caribbean culture and community. Tina Ziegler has been easily one of my biggest inspirations within the “art world” she is an incredible curator and always on the cutting edge of what’s happening regarding the Web3 / digital wearable space – definitely keep an eye on what she’s up to! Another big shout out has to go to the amazing Leyya Sattar who is forever inspiring me with the incredible work she is doing in educating people about unconscious bias and workplace inclusion. I would say other noticeable inspirations of people I haven’t met certainly include Anthony Bourdain and David Attenborough. Attenborough has been a catalyst in my love of nature and the animal kingdom, but who doesn’t love David!

What’s the scariest thing about your job and how have you overcome it?

To be honest I wouldn’t describe any of it as scary, as perspective is important. I’m not from a business or financially secure background so exploring that world and becoming self-efficient was daunting but the challenge was and remains exciting. I am someone who steps into the unknown with bold intensions and with trying to navigate this art + business game I don’t think being scared is the right approach. The key is harnessing and becoming friends with all the different emotions involved, both the positives, the anxieties and all the other emotions in between; that way one is best prepared for different eventualities.

What do you want to change about your industry?

Where to start! The democratisation of the art world is the mission Creative Debuts, and I are on. This means drastically improved accessibility for artists and art lovers through opportunities, knowledge sharing, institutional support, and societal celebration. Unfortunately, we currently live in a society that doesn’t appreciate the power and impact of creativity and its many benefits. Being surrounded by art and existing in a society that has art, design, and creative people as more of a focus would drastically improve people’s wellbeing and the overall quality of life. Unfortunately, under the current Rishi Sunak government arts funding is being drastically cut, arts courses are being pushed to the brink, and the UK arts industry is being left of life support relying on grants to keep the machine beeping. Instead of focusing on humanities and arts this Conservative government is more interested with equipping kids with calculators instead of crayons.

Being surrounded by art, whether at home or in the workplace increases productivity creativity, improves health, reducing stress and encouraging community and creative expression, so imagine if this was on a far bigger scale and across everyday life! A government that invests in art and artists is investing in a better society for its people.

90% of workers believe that featuring art in the living and workplace can often boost overall productivity’ - British Council for Offices

78% agree that art in the workplace helps businesses address key challenges such as reducing stress and encouraging expression of opinions’ - Forbes

82% of workers felt that artwork had a positive impact and was important for enhanced morale’ - British Council for Offices

What advice would you give someone who is starting out in your field?

Have a mission. Art is such an incredible vehicle for sparking conversation, bringing communities together and transforming walls and spaces. With Creative Debuts being very purpose and mission led, it has helped me navigate business and art life with a lot more focus and certainly helps with challenging times, as it anchors you and helps with decision making. Collaborations in all forms are key to success as well, but importantly they must be aligned with your mission; Creative Debuts has partnered with Over 1,500 artists, tens of collectives/ platforms/ curators all of which provide unique learning opportunities and exciting community cross pollination. This is also super important as Creative Debuts is a living entity based off its community, so a lot of our shows and projects are through working in tandem with talented people who are relevant thought leaders within relevant communities. Immersing yourself in the scene is important too, this doesn’t mean going to go to awkward networking events (even though with the right energy they can be worthwhile too) but the wider creative culture, explore and discover life, enrich yourself culturally through community. Your creativity, curation and projects will all benefit from it. As a curator, especially a straight white male one, nothing is more important than awareness. This means vulnerability, empathy, willingness to learn and to represent and fight for those that need it most.


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