Despite uncovering a lack of representation for African and Caribbean artists around her, BetterShared founder, Swakara Atwell-Bennett did not let the gap defer her from curating her own artistic lane. Noticing the lack of diversity within art show line-ups and gallery exhibitions was just the beginning for Swakara. "My background is in graphic design, I studied graphics in University.. and my first job was working as a junior graphic designer in a TV branding studio which also had a gallery..", says Bennett, she has always been interested in art and is innately creative - even before her University studies. In 2016, she launched the BetterShared platform to provide a space for emerging artists of the African Diaspora.
“I wanted to fill a void in the arts by creating a platform that accurately represented black artists.”
Large media platforms and exhibitions have provided spaces for artists to be exposed to the masses, but Swakara found that most of them were one-time spotlights and didn't truly uncover the beauty that artists of the African diaspora have to offer. "I wanted to fill a void in the arts by creating a platform that accurately represented black artists."
She saw that progression was happening for similar artists, over and over again, with the art world remaining largely white and male. It is from that discovery that she decided there was no need to bombard larger organisations to ask that they diversify their rosters when it's not something that would make a difference in the long haul.
“I looked at the gallery's show history and in all of the of the shows that had been done in 20 years, there had only been a few artists of colour..”
When asked, Swakara recalls a time when she was researching the online platforms that did exist, but that most of them solely represented afro-artists in the US or from the Caribbean. "Most of the platforms just seemed to post every now and then, and I never had that "yes" feeling about what I saw", she says. The desire to be incredibly inspired and to have a place where emerging artists could be discovered was what created the space for BetterShared.
An obvious love for artists of the African Diaspora and their talents is why, 4 years later, Swakara is continuing to focus on the growth of BetterShared. "It grew from a blog to a curated marketplace for contemporary African Art"
Since recording her own Youtube series, long before the success of curating this platform, she made lots of connections with meaningful pieces to the puzzle such as art buyers, gallery owners, and over 200 artists around the world.
“BetterShared grew from a blog to a curated marketplace for contemporary African Art”
When asked, Swakara tells us that she believes that there is no longer a traditional route into the art world. To her, this signals that art is headed in a good direction and this is what she wants to offer artists: the tools and resources that they need and can get without schooling. Imagine feeling that everything that was once a "secret" being given to you, to help you have a level of understanding that will help you flourish as an independent artist. This drive comes at no surprise as her willingness to help was confirmed after doing a personality test, where she was happy to learn that she identifies as a "campaigner" which explains her push for fulfilling the need for artists to be represented. "People should get the recognition they deserve and with whatever I do, it is pretty much centred around the artist and what they need."
Swakara leaves us on a high note, by letting us into what comes to mind when asked what 3 passions she could not live without.
"For me, freedom. So, anything that allows me to feel free, whether that be swimming or anything creative...and not just art - this could be anything that sparks creativity, but obviously, I love art and I also really love animals — not many people know that about me."
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