Priyanka - Kohpi & Co - The Westies

Priyanka – Kohpi & Co

When I heard about Priyanka’s idea of creating a space where people could come to learn a new skill, connect with others and stretch their creativity, I was immediately in support of it. Learning from community has always been part of human behaviour, and it seems so strange that this is no longer the way we are discovering new skills. Kohpi & Co are bringing collaborative, community-based workshops to Western Sydney, creating a space where we can express the creative part of us that we ALL have. Priyanka and I had a great conversation about what taking and idea to an actual project and what creativity means to us, read on friends. 

The Westies – Where did the idea from Kohpi & Co come from? 

Priyanka –  Kohpi & Co is an idea that I have always had. I used to sit with my Grandfather after school and draw, he would make us very, very sweet cups of tea and we used to dunk white bread into it. It was delicious! We would have these cups of tea and we would draw or do our homework and I really liked learning from him, no-one was marking my work or telling me that what I was doing was wrong. It was just hanging out, learning and enjoying each others company without any pressure.

Thinking of my kids and the stuff that they do, we tell them how good it is and then somewhere along the line, possibly at school it gets squashed. There becomes a way that you must “do” art correctly. We get told, “this is how you make art, this is how you sing, this is how you dance” and everything is put in a box and suddenly you’re an adult saying “I can’t do this, I can’t draw”, because someone has told you that it’s not how you do that. 

I wanted to create a space like the one I remember with my Grandfather with no outcomes, no red pen, no rule of how it is done. Something struck me recently when my son went to an art class, he listened to the instructions and then decided to do his own thing, which I was quite proud about. I asked him about it and he said “I couldn’t do what the lady was telling me what to do and I didn’t really want to anyway so I just did my own thing” and I thought “yes! Hold onto that. 

he said “I couldn’t do what the lady was telling me what to do and I didn’t really want to anyway so I just did my own thing” and I thought “yes! Hold onto that. 

The Westies – You are currently on maternity leave but you studied teaching, is that right? 

Priyanka – Yes, I am an English teacher at Plumpton High and I love it, I love teaching but the admin and assessment side of things is a killer. Not so much the school assessments but the broader system requirements for a child to be successful. The standardised testing strips kids of their love for learning, I love making English interesting but I am also pressured to teach these other necessary items.   

The Westies – Does teaching the necessary stuff take up a lot of time? 

Priyanka –  I find more and more yes. I used to have a program that I ran called Slum Survivor, for two days I would have between 60-100 kids living as though they were in a Slum, it was within the confines of a school but it was uncomfortable and it was always something that the kids remembered. If you give them an experiential process, they love it and they will grow; and most importantly they develop empathy and creative thinking. I would love to keep doing something like that but there, just isn’t any time left after teaching the things they need to know just to pass.

The Westies – How did you go from the idea of the workshops to actually starting them? 

Priyanka –  I love learning and while I’ve been on mat leave I’ve been thinking about all the things I really enjoy doing. I love going to creative workshops and learning experiences but there isn’t anything consistent in the West, which I was quite indignant about and I thought “I wonder if I can do this”. I really had nothing to lose, apart from a bit of face if no one turns up. So I put the kids in the car and drove around to different cafes to check them out, bought myself a coffee, got the kids some banana bread and sussed it out. I did that for a couple of weeks before I found alt.cafe, whose owner Linda thought Kohpi & Co was a great idea and was happy for me to hold workshops in her cafe. We both have the same desire to build community in Western Sydney, mine was through creating a hub for people to come to to learn and get to know other people. 

The Westies – What do you think the dangers are of never expressing yourself creatively?     

Priyanka –  Without it, I think you just go through life as a robot. I tutor some very bright kids who go to a top school and it’s interesting to see how hard they find creative writing. I was really surprised by it. I asked one of the boys recently “haven’t you done creative writing before?” and he said “no”, and he was finding to really hard. 

I think there are lots of people who are so used to hearing “you’re good at this” and suddenly when they aren’t good at something, it’s seen as a failure and that affects their self esteem and confidence, that whole growth vs fixed mindset. 

Learning is not a destination, it’s a journey. That’s very cliche but it’s true. We are always trying hard to be good at something. I know I am never going to be the best at anything, I am just going to continue to try and be better at what I am doing. That whole risk thing, kids just give up now “oh, I am not very good at it, I can only draw stick figures”. 

I know I am never going to be the best at anything, I am just going to continue to try and be better at what I am doing. 

The Westies – What is that you think kids are struggling with? 

Priyanka –  Imagination; and I see that in the general population. People lack imagination and I think it has a lot to do with how tuned in we are to screens as opposed to the world around us. We are being fed the meaning of things instead of going and experiencing them for ourselves. 

There is also a fear which I think comes back to the commodification of creativity, thinking “If I’m not making money off this, then it means I’m not good at it”.  It’s also in the language that we use. The word “creative” as a label changes things, I had a conversation with a friend about what I am doing and said “You should come to the launch” and she said ‘I am not creative, so I probably won’t come”. I definitely think there is that fear that you have to already be something. I want to empower people and show them that actually, you can do this.

The Westies – My Mum taught me never to say the word hate, so I will say that I immensely dislike the label “Creative”. I don’t like being called it, I don’t like calling someone “A Creative” because I feel like it’s so exclusive. It becomes something that I am and you are not. I think creativity is in everything.  

Priyanka –  That’s what people forget – creativity is really just problem solving and critical thought but we box it to only be art or a performance on stage. We all have that creative part we just don’t get taught or practice how to use it. 

Want to start strengthening your creativity muscles? Sign yourself up to one of Kohpi & Co’s workshops, there’s loads to choose from including creative writing, essential oils blends, arm knitting, mindful mandalas, beeswax wraps and many more to come.  

Images: Hayley Rafton & Katrina James

Interview: Katrina James