First Hand — How to establish a creative career outside of the city
Can where you live impact how successful you are? This is the question trend forecaster and author Karen Rosenkranz set out to explore in her book, City Quitters. With the increasing cost of living more people are seeking to start up life and work outside of cities. But finances are just one facet of this: as Karen found, emerging creatives and entrepreneurs are ‘quitting the city’ in search of new ideas, fresh thinking and a renewed perspective on their practice. Here, Karen shares some of the insights she’s gleaned while putting the book together, along with some of the creatives featured who have forged their own careers outside of the city.
When a friend of mine, a photographer heavily inspired by London’s grittier side, decided to relocate from Hackney to rural Sweden in 2013, the thought of ‘quitting the city’ first popped into my head. Would it be possible for him to say goodbye to city life for good? Would he be able to continue building his creative career? The idea seemed crazy.
However, I noticed more urbanites started migrating to rural areas. But instead of just families looking for more space, creatives and entrepreneurs were moving out, too. Not in search of a quiet life, but to start new things and to protect their work. I was curious how a rural life might affect their creative output? Would it be possible to get enough work? Where would they find inspiration?
At the same time I was frustrated with the simplistic and clichéd portrayal of rural life. I wanted to offer a more balanced view, showing both the joys and the struggles that come with this radical lifestyle shift.
“More people are questioning whether the city really is the best environment to establish a sustainable creative practice.”
Although this is by no means a mainstream concept and the societal pressures for young creatives to work in urban centres still exist, more people are questioning whether the city really is the best environment to establish a sustainable creative practice. As they become denser, the pressures on cities and their inhabitants are growing. Competition is fierce and the cost of living is high. Especially for emerging creatives and entrepreneurs, ‘making it’ in the city is getting harder and harder. Add to this long working hours and constant distraction and one shouldn’t be surprised our mental and physical health is suffering.
Moving out of a metropolis could even be beneficial for coming up with new ideas. The rise of a global homogeneous aesthetic fuelled by social media is particularly prevalent in urban environments. What if fresh, original thinking is no longer the preserve of a thriving megacity?
Spreads featuring co-founders of Lil’ Debs Oasis Carla Perez-Gallardo and Hannah Black
Carla Perez-Gallardo and Hannah Black
Take Carla Perez-Gallardo and Hannah Black, for example. The two artists and chefs were struggling to keep afloat in New York City, but a move to the small town of Hudson enabled them to channel all their creative energy into opening a restaurant. While offering amazing tropical comfort food, their space called Lil’ Debs Oasis is so much more than about food – it is also their platform for events, art shows and other creative expressions.
“The cost of living is lower and people have more time to say ‘yes’ to things. You can say: ‘Hey, wouldn’t it be fun if we did this?’ And then do it. Of course there is that ethos in New York and many things are happening, but it just feels like there is more time and space to make it happen here” says Carla of the supportive community. “It’s still hard, and we still worry about money, but there’s a way more tangible quality to life here. It feels so much more collaborative.” And through social media they still feel part of the contemporary conversation about food and restaurant culture.
Spreads featuring artist and photographer Luke Evans (and his cat, Woody)
Another interesting example is the story of emerging photographer Luke Evans, the youngest ‘City Quitter’ featured in my book. Straight after university, and with high critical acclaim for the work he was producing, Luke left London for his hometown in rural Herefordshire. “I feel like I didn’t really have a choice. I could stay in London, get a job, and do my personal work on the side, or pack London in entirely and concentrate on my own work where I could afford to” says Luke. His drastic move proved to be a good one, both for his mental and physical health, and his creative output.
Keeping his ties with the capital has helped to secure a steady stream of commissions, but less financial pressure has allowed his personal work to flourish. In his studio on top of a hill he has the space to experiment and work on large-scale projects - something he just wouldn’t be able to do in London. Still, it’s a decision that requires courage and determination. “There are people that have a long career in London before they have the stability to leave, whereas I did that at the beginning. I don’t really think enough about how radical it is that I’ve managed to do that at such a young age.”
Spreads featuring artist and photographer Luke Evans
So what are the drawbacks of quitting the city? There’s no denying that there are more opportunities to make connections in the city. Nothing can totally replace meeting IRL. But there’s never been a time where living outside urban spaces has been easier. Today's working arrangements are so much more flexible, and together with our communication tools, there’s very little barriers to move out.
“In order to thrive away from the city, you need to be self-motivated to a certain extent.”
Choosing your location wisely is important though. While some people seek isolation, others might want a little more social life and community. Luckily, there are many creative hubs popping up in rural areas across the globe. Hudson in upstate New York and Frome in Somerset, for example, both have a vibrant creative and entrepreneurial scene.
Something else to be aware of is that it’s much easier to take your foot off the gas a bit when everything around you moves slower and there is less financial pressure. Depending on your personality this can be a very healthy step, but the external pressure of urban life sometimes helps to be productive. In order to thrive away from the city, you need to be self-motivated to a certain extent.
Spreads featuring designers Yoshiko Shimono and Eric Vivian
Yoshiko Shimono and Eric Vivian
Apart from the obvious benefits of being closer to nature and paying less rent, there’s often the opportunity to shape and create culture rather than consume it. After several years spent living and working in Portland and San Francisco, designers Yoshiko Shimono and Eric Vivian moved to the small island of Yakushima in Japan. They found working with local entrepreneurs much more fulfilling than dealing with large corporate structures. “You just have to create your own fun things to do. It’s not like in a big city where you can go out to a club or a bar. Here, if we want something like that we have to make it ourselves” says Eric. The couple now designs logos for the local craft brewery, visual identities for the most happening places in town, and Eric even does the occasional VJ-session at parties.
“It is no longer necessary to choose between a career and an environment that supports [your] ideal lifestyle.”
I hope my book illustrates that for many creative professionals it is no longer necessary to choose between a career and an environment that supports their ideal lifestyle – having both is entirely possible. Maybe, over time, rural areas can become important counterparts to urban centres, as they offer more time and space to experiment, allowing people to find their own voice, unhindered by constant distraction and comparison.
There is huge potential for transformation in the countryside, and with the demographic shift of Millennials increasingly moving out of big cities, we might also see a fresh aesthetic emerging and a sphere where the traditional and the innovative can coexist to shape an exciting future.
Spreads featuring designers Yoshiko Shimono and Eric Vivian
Three tips for establishing a career outside of the city
Cultivate a network
Wherever you are, connections are everything. Get involved with the local community, see what you can contribute, what skills you can bring to the table. But also maintain your ties with the city, whether that’s through regular visits or social media, so you don’t feel like you’re missing out.
If a job demands you to be more available for face-to-face meetings or work with a team in the city, try to accommodate it as much as possible. A flexible attitude to travel/commuting will make you more employable.
The best way to find out if this is for you is to give it a go! Approach it with a nomadic mindset, so it might be an easier step to take. The city is always there for you if you decide to come back.
Karen Rosenkranz is an independent trend forecaster and ethnographer based in London. She has travelled all over the world spotting shifts in behaviour, attitudes and aesthetics, and has helped creative agencies from Amsterdam to New York uncover important socio-cultural changes. Fascinated by things that haven’t found a place yet, and anything that might impact how we live in years to come, Karen continues to explore the origins of fresh and original ideas with City Quitters.
City Quitters is published by Frame, which you can purchase here.