Maker culture is all about innovation and collaboration – its very roots stem from doing things unconventionally in order to learn and innovate as you make something, or make something better. If there is one artist group in Calgary that would best represent the spirit of collaboration and innovation in a growing city it is the Bee Kingdom. Since meeting in the glass program at the Alberta College of Art and Design Tim Belliveau, Phillip Bandura, Ryan Marsh Fairweather and Kai Georg Scholefield have made a huge impact on the city of Calgary, the international glass art community, and the art and design community as a whole. Each artist brings a specialized skill set and style to the group; While they are all active in their individual pursuits, the biggest successes they have experienced come from their collaborative efforts.
Bee Kingdom opens their doors to the public and media alike to encourage and incubate creativity and the exchange of knowledge; everything the maker culture is all about. They have placed themselves beyond the confines of an artist studio and gallery which would cater to a small audience and group of patrons. The concept of open learning and the sharing of ideas is not only good for business, it is good for the community – It is a cross-pollination of inspiration and ideas that builds and strengthens our culture.
A quick review website www.beekingdom.ca will give critics no doubts about how Bee Kingdom have put their outside-of-the box thinking to good use, and are effective in engaging the general public with open studio glass blowing sessions, custom glass art, and media appearances – not to mention the gift of yellow Converse Chucks regularly sported by Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi, a regular attendee of Bee Kingdom events.
What makes you work so well as a group?
Tim – We have over the years learned the hard way that you do need to take the time to enjoy yourselves outside of your standard working day or you will go crazy. We actually decided to go crazy for years at a time before. It’s the little things to just make yourself time for.
Phillip – I think one of the things that made it work out too is that we’re all pretty naïve, and we are all really non-confrontational.
Ryan – We are almost too non-confrontational.
Phillip – Yes, that’s why we’ve learned that you need space not to go crazy – because we will let each other go crazy. That has been good in some respects; to get to the point where we’ve realized that we need to do other things than just art. It also creates a space where we try to separate ourselves. We create a job out of our artwork; knowing that we still have room for it to come up, because it’s going to come up. Creating some sort of division is important. I think the reason you have to come up with that division is so you know that it is professional. With trying to make a living out of art there is all this stuff that comes up.
Kai – Everyone has to be aligned to the goal of the company. When you’re so small and you’re artists, you buy in on a spiritual and personal level. You buy in body, mind and soul into what it stands for. That keeps you moving as well. I’m the newest member of the bee kingdom but we’ve been working independently together helping each other out for ten years. You have a personal investment, it becomes your baby. Also your only way of generating income and in the arts you generally need to have a new idea every single time in order to generate income. That might be a trade secret; the next best thing, that’s what you’re constantly striving for.
In terms of networking and collaborating, how do you reach out to people to share ideas and inspiration?
Ryan – It’s funny because we’ve had lots of press coverage and all that stuff but it is rare that we actually get anything directly from that. It’s all about who we know. Whenever we’ve looked at trying to get a project done we look at our own network group. We work strategically – look at Mayor Nenshi for example. Calgary is so small it’s like 2 degrees of separation.
Phillip – The really great thing about us being mentioned in the Calgary Sun Newspaper is about Nenshi wearing our shoes, even though it was a little bit derogatory – they referred to us as some artist collective, they didn’t even say glass. It got noticed though.
Tim – We met with Calgary Arts Development Association (CADA) a few years ago. We said ‘I don’t know how to get money. We were really stuck. They said that “if you need sponsors you need to look to the people that you know. And network from them.” At the time I just drew a question mark. How was I supposed to use that? The time scale to figure that out is so much longer than you think. There are so many attempts to take action that it doesn’t always work.
How Does the Bee Kingdom approach business and art, and make them work together?
Phillip – A lot of what we do is marketing. One of things we really went after is trying to get into the media. Now our artwork is starting to get to a point where we are all a little bit happier with it. The dynamic that we could sell was weird, people found it interesting that we were all living in the same house. We have all these furnaces in the back yard, and fires, so that’s what got the media. So we slowly realized that that was how we could get the hook.
Tim – We would show them a technique that took eight years to learn but they would be interested in how we were living.
Kai – There’s so much you can say but in terms of governing and administering, you first have to know what you’re going to do. We use the K.I.S.S. method – keep it simple stupid, and that’s really effective. Having your objective you end up planning for a year, then two years, then three years, four years and five years, simply because you have to assess what your long term goals are. I think it changes. A five year plan is common among all industries and professionals – a five year plan is key, because then you can set dates and goals and work towards it. That’s basically it. If you want to be a successful artist you research what a successful artist is to you and find some examples and put a case together where you say “they were successful in ten years and I want to be successful in ten years.” I want to be showing in New York – so you have to plan to go to New York and save money to do that and talk to people who have done that. It’s actually quite simple. The follow through is most difficult.
To the members of The Bee Kingdom the nectars they gather are the ideas and inspiration that flow freely among them. Each member is motivated in their own way and they bring these ideas and inspiration to the group to be integrated and worked on as a whole, where the group openly discusses and decides every aspect of their activities.
As a group they have engaged people world-wide and increased awareness and interest in not only glass blowing, but the maker ethos of sharing information in order to build and strengthen their knowledge network. From Korea to Berlin, the Bee Kingdom have taken their practice beyond the confines of a hot glass shop and utilized the media and other conventional means to bring their work to new audiences.