Building a creative community with BAJ Tutor Bekkie Ora

At BAJ, we believe in fostering a creative fellowship which enables our community to grow and uplift each other. Many of our students, tutors, and alumni organise and take part in creative community projects to share inspiration, knowledge, and experiences. We talk with BAJ tutor and accomplished jeweller Bekkie Ora about the importance of community in the jewellery industry. 

What does community mean to you and why do you think it’s important to build a community in the creative industries?

Community means support, family, trust. I think it’s really important that we build that support at BAJ, because I have still have friends now that I learnt with in my first year at college, and I’ve been making jewellery now for 20 years. So over the years, we’ve developed together and we’ve always supported each other, with things we’ve had problems with, with making things, or with ideas that we want to develop. So you’ve always got someone to fall back on.

Bekkie Ora

And that’s what’s really nice about the jewellery community as a whole. They’re very, very supportive. And I’ve found that, through all of the projects that I’ve done, people want to support each other, and that’s what’s really beautiful about the jewellery community. They might be competing for money or to sell in the outside world, but within the community, they’re very supportive.

With this project that I’m doing, for example, I’ve found that people want to join in, they want to support it, and they don’t want to necessarily gain anything from it, they just know that if they’re going to give something, then maybe you can give something back another time. I think, that in the jewellery industry, it’s very like that.

You can go to a stone dealer, and they’ll lend you stones, if you’re not quite sure what you want to use. They’ll lend you them knowing that you’re going to give them back, but they’ll also support you when you’re a student and they know that you’ve got no money. They understand that you may be a student now, but in 10 years’ time, you might be buying diamonds off them. So they know that they need to look after you now, so that later on, you’re going to go to them to get your diamonds.

I think that the whole jewellery industry has this really good understanding of looking after each other and helping people to grow. People don’t tend to be selfish in their knowledge. They want to share. And for me, that’s what’s really lovely about the jewellery industry.

How does BAJ foster a creative community?

In lots of ways! we try to involve students as much as we can, with things like job advertisements, for example. Employers come to us looking for students, as well, and quite a lot of the time, they’re asking who we think would be a good person for that job, so we put our students forward to those people.

We’ve got good links with the industry. So someone will contact one of us about an opening for a job or an internship, and we always relay that to the students. And we’ve got our alumni as well, so we’re always involving our students in helping, even if they’ve left. People like Susannah King will come in and talk and we’ve had a lot of former students who have done videos for other students talking about their development and how they’ve done their businesses.

When you leave college, it’s like you’re leaving home again, because you’ve got all this comfort and support around you and then suddenly you’re on your own. But if you help students grow a community from the beginning, then they always carry that with them. So I think that BAJ does contribute quite a lot in that way.

What do you think is the most important thing when you’re working on a creative community project?

On my project, I’m thinking about “what can people relate to?”, “how can I make it easy for them to relate to it?” and “how can I make them want to be involved?”. Those are the kind of things that are going through my head when I’m thinking about a project and trying to get people involved. How can I get the project across to people in a way so that they’re not scared by it, but they also don’t think that it’s rubbish? It’s a very fine line.

I want as many people as can be involved. I don’t want it to be a situation where people think, “oh, that’s just for students,” or “that’s just for professionals”, because I like things to be fluid and for people to want to get involved. I think if you limit things, then you’re going to engage with fewer people.

How have you worked to bring community together in jewellery through your project?

With Unity in Isolation, I came up with the idea at the very beginning of lockdown last year, because when we closed down, I was thinking, “what do we do? At BAJ, we kept our students going and I think that was really important for them mentally, because what’s nice about doing something creative is that it sets your mind free. So even though you’re locked up in a house, you’re still working on something that inspires you.

I think that a lot of the time during lockdown, people didn’t have anything to work on. And I was seeing all of that going on around me, with people saying “I’m bored,” and that’s why I came up with the idea. I thought “these people haven’t got anything to do, they need some inspiration, let’s give them some!” And that’s why I started the Unity in Isolation project last year.

Really, I didn’t realise it was going to be so good, but we had 45 jewellers and it was great! And it would have been if it was an actual physical exhibition as well, but I think it was great as it was! And I got so much really nice feedback from people who enjoyed it, that I thought I just had to do it again this year.

As well as a tutor at the British Academy of Jewellery, Bekkie Ora is a talented kilnformed glass jeweller with 20 years of experience and the author of the book “Colour and Textures in Jewellery.” Last year, as the UK entered into an extended lockdown, she launched the #UnityInIsolation project, which encouraged jewellers to use unexpected materials from around the house to make original jewellery creations and post pictures of them on their Instagram accounts. The project was a roaring success, prompting Bekkie to bring it back again this year.

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