Soaring to new creative heights

Yesterday I got to fly around the Spark Gallery in Orchards with a flock of the most beautiful birds.

flying with the flock
Flying with the flock


The evening began in the gallery where we browsed some wonderful bird creations.


There was a short speech.

But then things took an interesting turn as a flock of birds appeared and flew among us, eventually leading us out into the garden on what turned out to be a wild adventure. The birds were fabulous with crazy costumes dreamed up from scraps. Blinds, plastic bags and blankets became wings. Beaks were fashioned out of bottles. Just as birds in their profusion of colour and shape, are a great indicator of the wild creative imagination of the universe, so these birds showed off the imaginations of the artists who dreamed them up.

cool bird dude

Like all good adventures there was some confusion. The narrative was somewhat hard to follow. There were two men, one in search of “his” crow. They tried to get to the kingdom of the birds, but were blocked by a very scary wall.

the wall
The very scary wall

Our protagonists got through the wall, apparently with the help of graffiti artists. It turns out that painted walls are less effective as barriers! But they found themselves captives of the king of the birds. After some debate, they (and all of us) were admitted to the kingdom of the birds.

Walking in to the kingdom of the birds, just as the sun set, really was magical!

into the kingdom
Into the bird kingdom

It’s a land of well-feathered nests.

pansi pigeons

Here the king grants the two men the right to live as birds. We attend a meeting of the Ministry of Bird Affairs where a plot is hatched by the vultures, and the two men, to build more walls. But the king steps in to save the day and explain that love is all we need.

Well, love and the kind of creativity that this project has surfaced. I love that this is about everyday creativity, that it is not polished and refined, that it makes the point that creativity is for everyone with whatever materials you have to hand. What a refreshing way to spend a Friday evening. More of these kind of events will make a Better Joburg!

Birds of the Grove is a production by #ArtMyJozi and artists from Orange Grove as part of the Johannesburg Development Agency’s initiative to involve local artists in the development of the city. This particular initiative focuses on the development of Paterson Park which adjoins the gallery. A few weeks back I took a walk around the newly-refurbished Paterson Park. Some way to go still, but it’s looking good. If you haven’t visited yet, you should.



We answer your questions

Thanks so much for all your enthusiasm about Better. It’s really great to have positive comments and to know that there is a community out there that wants this space.

We are deeply embroiled in creating the physical space (think tilers and painters) and buying furniture, but at the same time we are working on the operational details.

So, in answer to all your questions, here is more detail about how Better will work, including…

  • Who is Better for?
  • How will Better work?
  • What will it cost?

Please get in touch with any further questions you have…

Who is Better for?

Does Better cater for my creative domain?

We’d like Better to cater for any and every creative domain. We are limited at the moment by the space and equipment we can afford, but we’ll grow and expand. We are writers, artists, and tech tinkerers, so we may have a bias towards those domains. We will update you on the specific equipment we are getting later this month.

Creative domains that are noisy (metalwork) and require large dedicated spaces (dance) or equipment (ceramics) will be hard to accommodate to start with. But please speak to us, come along and see how you can be part of Better. We welcome suggestions and are very willing to explore how to fit you in.

What type of people is Better designed for?

Everyone is welcome. We anticipate having members aged 18 to 80 and we welcome hipsters, the hip-replacement crowd, the fabulous and the frumpy! We think that a mix will be more interesting. Better people are likely to be tolerant and open-minded, with an urge to create. If you subscribe to our values, it might be easier to fit in.

So, what are the Better values?

We want to create a space that is kind, gentle, welcoming, inclusive, happy, light, open, sparkly, handmade, comfortable, cosy, warm, upbeat, stimulating, permissive and encouraging. If that sounds good to you, you are probably our kind of person.

Can I bring my children to Better?

Sorry, no. While we love children, Better is a place for being productive. In our experience, children are not conducive to productivity. It’s also more complex for us to provide an environment that is safe for children. So you must be 18 years or older to be a member of Better and to be at Better.

How will Better work?

How do memberships work?

Better operates on a membership basis. In order to use the spaces and equipment we offer you need to become a member. (For the curious, we also have a flat day fee so that you can get a feel for the place.) There are three tiers of membership with different costs and benefits. Full details of the membership tiers will be published on our web site soon, but the basics are:

  • Tier 1 (starving artist) gives you access to the premises 10 days a month, free tea and coffee and internet access, and some shared equipment and resources. This tier is designed for those who want to be part of Better, on a tight budget.
  • Tier 2 (regular maker) gives you access to the premises every day of the month, all the free stuff, your own locker and off-street parking. This tier is designed for people who will be regularly using Better for their own creative pursuits.
  • Tier 3 (creative agent) gives you access to everything that Tier 2 does but also offers the option to book rooms for exclusive use, secretarial services and tech support. This tier is designed for those who are making a living from their creative work and will use Better as a base to both create and sell products or services.

Can I rent space at Better?

Not really. We have a membership model, not a rental model. You become a member of Better and that gives you access to use shared spaces. Our premises are not big enough to give you exclusive use of areas (except for short periods of time), but we hope to grow.

Can I run a workshop / seminar / event at Better?

Yes, we’d really like members to help us make Better a lively, interesting place. We are super keen to encourage this, provided that the subject matter is related to creative endeavours. Please talk to us about your idea. The cost will depend on the format of the events and your tier of membership (see more below).

Do you have parking?

Yes, we have off-street, covered parking behind a big motorised gate, BUT it is limited. This means that this parking is only available to members on tier 2 and tier 3. Tier 1 members and day-visitors can park on Englewold Street, with a full-time security guard watching your cars. We encourage Better people to use public transport, bicycles and other, better forms of transport. All bicycles get to park inside.

What will it cost?

Membership rates

We want to keep membership affordable, but to offer a full range of services to those who want them, so our initial pricing is:

  • Tier 1 (starving artist): R550 per month
  • Tier 2 (regular maker): R1200 per month
  • Tier 3 (creative agent): R2600 per month

If you pay up-front for 3 months you get a 5% discount, and if you pay up-front for 6 months you get a 10% discount.

Walk-in rates

We prefer that people join as members and become part of the Better community, but if you want to spend a day just to check it out, or you are in town for a few days, you can get access to Better for R150 a day.

Workshop / seminar / event costs

The cost to attend an event at Better will depend on the individual event and who is facilitating it. Prices will be advertised for each event.

To run a workshop at Better will cost you (the facilitator) a minimum of R440 for administrative services (advertising, taking bookings and payments, room set-up) plus R100 per attendee per day (for access to the venue, tea and coffee, and Wi-fi). Additional administrative fees will apply if your workshop runs over more than one day, involves more than 10 delegates or runs in the evening. Optional charges apply for arranging lunch, materials etc. If you are a Tier 3 member, many of these charges will be included in your membership. Full details will be published on our website soon.

Embrace everyday creativity in 2017

“The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave it neither power nor time.”

– poet Mary Oliver, Of Power and Time

The New Year is a great time to re-evaluate priorities and make plans for how better to spend your precious life-time. If you are feeling the call to create, the urge to escape the corporate nine-to-five, or the need to balance your life with some more fulfilling pursuits, consider joining the Better community in 2017.

Better is a place where people doing creative things for fun or money can work, share and relax. Better is about promoting a culture of making and about celebrating creativity.

In Making is Connecting, David Gauntlett speaks of the “inherent pleasure in making; we might call this joie de faire (like joie de vivre) to indicate that there is something important, even urgent, to be said about the sheer enjoyment of making something that didn’t exist before”. He goes on to propose a definition of everyday creativity that takes into account the emotional aspects of creating, as opposed to the more traditional definition of creativity as that which results in unusual or celebrated outcomes. It’s a long definition, but worth repeating in full:

“Everyday creativity refers to a process which brings together at least one active human mind, and the material or digital world, in the activity of making something. The activity has not been done in this way by this person (or these people) before. The process may arouse various emotions, such as excitement and frustration, but most especially a feeling of joy. When witnessing and appreciating the output, people may sense the presence of the maker, and recognize those feelings.”

That’s the kind of creativity Better is about. We believe that all human beings are inherently creative, and we want to make a space where you can explore your creativity and experience the joy of making.

Better caters for artists, designers, writers, poets, programmers, photographers, and all kinds of crafters. We are open to accommodating other creative pursuits where at all possible. We’ll provide space and some equipment, as well as fast internet, tea and coffee, and a program of events. We need you to help us create a friendly and stimulating atmosphere. Come for coffee, stay to write, compare notes and helpful tips, join or host a workshop, and share your latest project with others who care about creative work.

Better is an emerging project; we are making it up as we go along! We welcome your input. What do you want at Better?

Better is based in Saxonwold, Johannesburg (more about that here) and will be opening in February 2017. Watch out for more information during January, including your invitation to visit. Leave us your e-mail address to be kept informed, follow us on Twitter (@betterjoburg) or find us on Facebook.


We found a place for Better!

Better is our vision for a physical space where creative makers can get together to work, share and play. Back in September we posted an update about our progress towards Better. There we told of our frustrations at trying to find a place for Better. Despite the frustrations, we persisted and…

We have found it!

Last week we signed a lease on a place in Saxonwold, nicely situated between Rosebank and Killarney at 91 Oxford Road. We will be sharing premises with the College of Digital Photography. We have rooms downstairs and up, a large balcony and a garden.

In just a week Andrew has rounded up contractors and had them demolishing drywalls, painting and cleaning, while we’ve both been out finding homely, well-loved furniture. We’ve got a way to go, but it’s looking good and we are having a lot of fun.

So, Better will open in February 2017.

Watch this space during January for…

  • pictures of the Better place,
  • the shared resources we are getting for Better,
  • the launch of our web site,
  • introductions to the Better people,
  • how you can be part of Better,
  • our events lineup for February and
  • our opening party!

Sign up to our mailing list to make sure you don’t miss anything.

Coral reefs and tangled banks

Steven Johnson argues that coral reefs and the tangled banks of rivers are the environments that best support innovation. These complex, messy environments that support a variety of intertwined life forms, have unique properties that lead to a rich, fertile and flourishing state. Rich, fertile and flourishing is what we are aiming for at Better. In his book Where Good Ideas Come From: The Seven Patterns of Innovation, (also subtitled The Natural History of Innovation in other editions) Steven Johnson delves into the history of innovation to identify seven themes which reflect on the conditions that support creativity. Some of these themes inform our vision for Better as a creative space.

Part of the vision for Better is that it is a place where people can share ideas, projects, knowledge and skills. We want it to be a place where you will be able to bump into people who share your interests and challenges. Andrew talks about it being like a bar for creative pursuits. You go there when you want to meet people and you can usually be sure that there will be someone there.

Johnson talks about a liquid network, one that is dense and viscous enough that ideas can move and collide. Solids prevent movement, while in gasses the particles are so far apart as to make collisions unlikely. We want to be sure that a range of people come to Better – not the same people all the time (which would be like a solid). We envisage having a member base large enough so that you meet different people on different days. We also envisage events that bring non-members into Better to provide fresh ideas. We want to make sure that there are enough people there on any one day for you to find someone interesting to share a coffee with, and we plan on using themed afternoons and evenings to make sure that you bump into the people who share your specific creative domain.

Another of Johnson’s themes is that of the slow hunch: ideas emerge slowly, they take time to mature and grow in response to information and impressions that are gradually added to. This idea reflects the growing concern to rediscover slow scholarship, allowing for deep ideas in academia to emerge. Slow scholarship, the movement’s slog (slow blog) explains, “is carefully prepared, with fresh ideas, local when possible, and is best enjoyed leisurely, on one’s own or as part of a dialogue around a table with friends, family and colleagues”. By being a physical space for actual warm humans, Better provides those local ingredients as well as the tables and the company. In particular Johnson notes that “pressures, distractions, accountability and supervision all work against ideas”. Better is a place where those pressures can be left behind, where you can contemplate quietly, and let your best ideas emerge, slowly.

Another theme in the history of innovation is that error plays an important role. “Innovative environments thrive on useful mistakes” says Johnson. So one of our concerns for Better is that it needs to be a messy space for trial and error, for experiment. One of the challenges of creative work is the ever-present fear that what you have made is not good enough. Particularly when it comes to the visual arts, so many people are paralysed by the fear of their stumbling efforts being seen and criticised. Better is a playful, permissive space, not only for the accomplished. We want people to try, to do things they have never done before, to produce misshapen mistakes in the process of learning and having fun. We welcome and celebrate things that go wrong or don’t work. We hope to see fabulous flops.

And finally, Johnson makes the point that innovation requires platforms, places where innovation can take place, where the habitat needed for innovation is built by what he calls ecosystem engineers. Better invites you to be an ecosystem engineer, and help to build a coral reef or a tangled river bank, to shape Better and make it into the kind of space that supports your creative process.


Looking for a Better job?

Update: Applications for this position are now closed. Thanks to all who responded.

We’re hiring! Please point anyone at this ad who you think would make a great first impression for Better.

Better Receptionist

Are you able to bring people together, put them at their ease and make them feel loved and cared for? Do you want to work in a relaxed happy space, for between 20 and 40 hours a week, surrounded by creative people?

Better is (soon to be) a shared space for artists, writers, crafters and other creative people. We are looking for a receptionist to greet people, make them happy, manage memberships, sell items from our kiosk, arrange events, and keep the place organised. Please explore this blog to learn more about Better.

What we want from you:

  • A sunny, outgoing disposition
  • An ability to work well with people
  • A good memory for names and faces
  • The ability to connect and introduce people
  • A good telephone manner
  • Great organisational skills
  • Computer skills – spreadsheets, word processor, e-mail

And optionally (nice, but not essential):

  • Any retail experience
  • Events organising experience

We can offer R50 per hour, with a bonus each month that the company exceeds monthly targets. Starting date will be 01 October 2016 (if all goes to plan).

To apply, send a CV and a cover letter saying why you would like to work for Better to: Please put “Better Receptionist” in the subject line and apply before 21 August 2016.

We will only contact short-listed candidates. If we don’t find the right person, we won’t appoint anyone.

Survey results

Thanks to everyone who answered our survey. Thought we’d share some of the results with you.


We now know that fast internet, safe parking and a quiet work space are really important for Better. Tea, coffee and cake also ranked highly! You are keen to attend exhibitions and discussions on doing things better, as well as book launches and readings.

The best part was reading your wish-lists of what you want to see at Better. You gave us comments about the space…

  • “A good working environment, not too hot or cold, not too harsh and light, or cosy and dark. Just balance.”
  • “Lots of tables and chairs/benches in a relaxing garden, with access to power points”
  • “Individual spaces with comfortable lounge chair and open space to view outside – I cannot be creative in a closed space – to be on top of building with no restrictions – rooftop sitting on lounge chair able to look at the sky in summer and in winter glass doors to look outside – summary comfy sofas, view and private space or semi-private space”

About equipment…

  • “Affordable for-hire equipment for photography and street art”
  • “Most craft implements”
  • “Pantone books”
  • “3D printer. Laser engraver/cutter. Milling machine. Lathe.”

And about services…

  • “Access to a curated database of other local creative suppliers e.g. laser cutters, bookbinders, printers, 3D printers, stationery stores, copywriters, open mic events, instrument stores, etc.”
  • “Healthy lunch options so I don’t need to worry about organising food when I’m super busy”
  • “A nice place to take clients to for meetings or the ability to easily book secluded space – without exorbitant costs”

Lots of people want to learn…

  • “Sharing and learning of different skills, not necessarily in my profession.”
  • “Workshops or short lessons to learn new skills, e.g.: typography, printing fundamentals”
  • “The feeling of learning. At varsity when you enter a library you automatically feel inspired as so many people are learning so many things. Where work places struggle is to replicate this feeling of inspiration.”

And you recognise the value of other people…

  • “People to talk to and get perspective from”
  • “People with experience in getting freelance work published”
  • “Angel investors and donors for my next creative project—every artist’s dream!”

Not sure that we can provide for all your wishes right up, but it convinces us that there are enough people out there who share our interest in having just the right environment for thinking, connecting and creating.

When and where?

Most people said they would visit two or three times a week between the hours of 9 am and noon, with a fair number also keen to attend in the evenings. Many of you are willing to drive up to 10 km or to the next suburb.

We had great fun plotting the suburbs you live and work in on a map of Johannesburg. There were large numbers in Melville and Greenside, but also many in Randburg. From our map we plotted out a circle of suburbs that would put most people within a suburb or two of our location.



What next?

We have done the sums and based on the interest you have shown, it looks like Better will be viable. So now we are out hunting for a suitable property. Watch this space, we will let you know our progress.

Thanks to all who connected with us. If you want to make sure you hear about the next steps, get on our mailing list here. Please continue to send your good ideas, feedback and thoughts. We love hearing from you.

Take the survey

NOTE: This survey is now closed. Thanks to everyone who responded. See our post on the results here.

Better is going to be an actual, physical space, in Johannesburg. If you do creative work, that is often solitary, and you are based in Johannesburg, please take our survey.

It’s only ten questions. It’s your chance to tell us what you would like from Better – a place for you to work, hang out, meet others, share ideas and have fun.

Picture this…

Picture a place, perhaps in an old house, not posh but loved, homely. There are flowers, places to sit. You walk in to a reception area and you are greeted by a host. If you are new here the host will ask you about your work and show you around the facilities. The first room is peaceful, with small tables and chairs set somewhat apart, paintings on the walls, a bookshelf or two. Four people work quietly, writing, with notes and papers strewn about. In the next room there are sofas and comfortable chairs set in groups, carpets, board games, standing lamps. A man sits reading, while nearby three people are gathered around a projector viewing a newly-edited video. Doors lead outside where there are more tables and chairs. People are drinking hot chocolate and laughing together. The host introduces you to other members.

There are noticeboards advertising events: a book launch for one of the members, a games evening, a workshop on how to sell online. People have pinned up poems, notes on current projects, requests for collaboration, and photos. A small café offers tea and cake. There are menus from takeaways and a list of nearby restaurants. Behind the reception is a small supplies shop selling the kind of beautiful stationery that makes you want to sit down and write.

This is the Better space. It’s a space where things are made, where dreams become real. It’s a space where people chill, are inspired, and share ideas, hopes and hacks for living better lives and being better people. This space replaces the office as well as the bar. As a member, you can drop in any time, confident that there will be someone around to talk to when you need company, stimulating conversations when it’s inspiration you are after, and a quiet place to work when it’s just a change of scenery or a faster internet connection that you want.

Help us to design the Better space

Are you doing solitary creative work? Are you a writer, artist, programmer, data wrangler, crafter, freelancer or other type of free agent?

Your idea of a good job is one that works for you. You have escaped the corporate shackles to create a better life for yourself and to create a better world through your art, music, writing or craft. You believe it is better to produce than to consume. Creating brings you joy, and you are loving the freedom, but it would be better if your ideas could rub up against other ideas and if there were people to share with.

You could go to a bar, or a lecture, or join the local woman’s institute, but isn’t there something better? A friendly, comfortable place with space for working and relaxing, where you can drop in for company or just a change of scenery to wake up the snoozing muses? A place where other creative people get together to share ideas about their work, making it, making life work and making the world a better place.

Good ideas get better when they come into contact with other good ideas. Independent work is better when you can share the process with other good people. We want to create a better place where great people, who are redefining work, can drop in to chat, to share ideas and to work.

Help us design a better space.