I'm doing an Engage Residency at Dundee Contemporary Arts. This is a post in response to something that happened - a small everyday occurence. But sometimes it's the small everyday occurences that trip us up.
It’s a constant dilemma, but mostly i know where i stand. If someone asks me how i am then i tend to answer truthfully. Mostly i know people aren’t actually remotely interested in ‘how you are’ - it’s a social construct - they just want you to say fine, or good, so you can move on. People (mostly) don’t want to know where you are on your own anxiety scale, or how close to the edge you are, or how well you are coping - well enough to be out but not to fully integrate with the world - well enough to be out and only do the things in your safe zone - well enough to be out but don’t want to be ambushed by new things in an already unsteady and unstable world. I’m sure you get the picture.
Yesterday I was on the well enough to be out as long as i mediate my interactions in the world really, really tightly. I was introduced to someone whilst talking to someone else. I was the proverbial rabbit in the headlights. I know the social mores etc - say hello and shake hands - except i didn’t - couldn’t - face that personal contact - and such was my level of anxiety that i couldn’t really engage even on a superficial level.
Now my dilemma comes because when asked how i was by the ‘introducer’ i said ok - but that was because i didn’t want to expose myself in front of a complete stranger in a situation where it would be inappropriate to divulge your inner psychological fragilities. But then that lead to the further awkward exchange and me not shaking hands - which makes me appear just a bit rude - not vulnerable. So today i feel i have to go and do some apologising.
So should I have been emotionally honest and exposed myself emotionally in front of a stranger? Should i have explained myself? Should i have stayed at home? I don’t know. It’s fraught. And i guess it has a salience to the residency which is why i am blogging about it here. Maybe i should think of doing some contextualising rather than apologising and maybe engender a debate around this and similar issues.
As a freelance artist I always have one eye on current opportunities. I know we are living in austere times but that is no reason for arts organisations to compound the austerity of artists by offering ‘opportunities’ that pay so poorly that they are economically unviable to apply for. We’ve all heard the ‘it will be good exposure’, ‘it will look good on the CV’ lines that really amount to nought.
In the run up to Christmas I noticed several ‘opportunities’ that stood out as prime examples of the above. Seven Stories advertised for artist volunteers before changing it – after having had it brought to their attention the reality of the opportunity - to actual paid opportunities – although not saying what that pay was. However the opportunity I want to focus on here is the advertised ‘opportunity’ by Venture Arts. Their ‘Artist Callout’ included the following text
‘ OutsiderXchangeS came about to develop the talents and profile of learning-disabled artists and also to investigate the potential to make new, interesting, challenging work through visual artist ideas exchange and real collaboration.
Venture Arts are looking for 5 artists to work alongside 5 learning disabled artists to develop ideas, share practice and, through collaboration, develop contemporary art.
All successful artists will receive £1000 artist fee and given a free studio space for five months (February – July 2016) coming together for 1-2 day(s) per week to share their studio with a learning disabled artist involved in the project.’
So, £1000 for 1-2 days a week for 5 months. That equates to around £50 a day for 1 day a week or £25 for 2 days. Ok so there is a ‘free studio’ but which artist is going to move their studio for 5 months?
This poor fee was brought to the attention of Venture Arts and the advert was amended to
'All successful artists will receive £1000 artist bursary and given a free studio space for five months (February – July 2016) coming together for 1-2 day(s) per week to share their studio with a learning disabled artist involved in the project. The bursary is intended for artists to use in the production of their own work.'
So the fee became a bursary. Still, it just doesn’t add up. Let’s unpack this a bit more. The original advert on line has been amended with an ‘in the interest of better communication’ including
'For learning disabled artists this is an opportunity to work alongside other artists, one or two days per week when they will use the shared studio as a drop in studio. Learning disabled artists will not be based there at other times. For other artists, this will be an opportunity to interact with learning disabled artists. The open call is intended to attract artists who want to learn from learning disabled artists and the exciting field of learning disability visual art practice.
'the selected artists will have their own free studio space for 5 months, which will be adjacent to or adjoining the shared studio space. The studios will be at Baltic 39, Newcastle and project spaces run by Castlefield Gallery in Manchester. Artists will not be expected to lead or run workshops, or support learning disabled artists.'
To my mind this does not add clarity to the situation. It seems the call out falls between wanting an artist collaboration and a volunteer.
‘The idea is to create a platform for collaboration to take place between artists. We envisage that all artists involved in the project will be inspired by each others practice in creating work. The £1,000 bursary is to support artists in their own practice.’
At the end of the day Venture Arts, working with their partners in the project, want a collaboration that develops contemporary art which can be showcased in the venues. The partners – Baltic, Castlefield and CVAN – are all funded by Arts Council England and this is an Arts Council Funded project. However, it would seem that none of the organisations appreciate or value the time and work of artists within the funding structure of this project.
The partners, as NPO’s, need to engage with the Creative Case for diversity as a requirement of their funding. It is an ACE priority. This seems a cheap and cynical manner in which to achieve this. I wonder if the Lead Artist, Tanya Raabe-Webber, is being paid in the same manner – I hope not.
I work extensively within Arts Equality and Diversity, I have been the recipient of several Creative Case funding awards and I have an awareness of working with diverse artists. It is not as simple as putting two artists in a room and saying there you go – collaborate, make some art.
I am not going to unpack all the salient issues here but they need to be thought about. Presumably, and it is a presumption, the artist with ‘learning disabilities’ – and I really do not like the labelling inherent within this – will probably be classed as a ’vulnerable adult’ which then impacts on safe working practices, DBS, access needs etc. How will access requirements be met – around working practices – times, amount of concentration, does a carer need to be present, are there any other ‘complex needs’ to consider? There is no evidence that this has all been thought through or if it has, it is not clear.
If a new graduate is – and I use the term ‘selected’ rather than ‘employed’, will they have the requisite skills, or if an artist – experienced in practice and diversity – is selected why are they not being paid for this skill set?
I have raised issues around this callout with other artists. There has been much discussion on various social media platforms. I also raised it with Artists Union England who campaign, amongst other issues, on fair pay for artists. Together with them we will be taking this matter up further in the new year.
When you only have an hour and a half to run a workshop it can go either way – As a facilitator it can be the longest, loneliest 90 minutes you never want to experience - or - you ask your co-facilitator how we doing for time and synchronise an OMG! Where did that go so fast? Actually it was a WTF? But you need to at least try to be professional.
Really though. You can only ever scratch the surface of a topic like Social Media and Wellbeing as myself and Victoria Betton (@victoriabetton)discovered at the Round Foundry as part of Leeds Digital Festival on the 11th October 2012. The event, Facebook vs Reality tied in with Love Art Leeds, a month long foray into all that is Mental Health related, and coincided with photographer Anna Roberts exhibition
The audience were a diverse mix of those who live, eat and breathe social media to six formers and those who are trying to get to grips with it for work and everywhere in between. Surprisingly, and refreshingly, there were no professionals from the mental health services. Refreshing because I find it heartening that people are interested in wellbeing – their own and others – in the digital age without it being their job. It helps me kid myself that stigma is easing and boundaries being eroded.
A large cohort were freelancers where the distinction between virtual and real world entities are not so distinct. As one person said ‘We are our brand’ and that is reflected in the Twittersphere, on Facebook and shot through by Instagram. Perhaps too, for the freelancer, Social Media can stop or salve that feeling of isolation, that dissociation from the world of colleagues and teams.
We looked at different platforms and why we liked or loathed them, the advantages and pitfalls – the ‘Life Leakers’ and the ‘Sharers and Spillers’. But what was really great was that people felt safe enough in that short space of time to disclose about episodes of depression and cycles of disorders and how that is perceived by the author and the viewer of ‘updates’.
Yes, the more connected we become the less connected we might actually be, but if we have authentic digital relationships we can feel part of a supportive community. We do not have to compare ourselves with the extroverts with a thousand ‘friends’ and think how empty and dull our own life is. A few present, me included, had met people in real life – particularly through Twitter – and that had and does enrich our lives. At one stage everyone grouped together according to favoured platform – there was a definite air of smugness emanating from the corner where the Instagrammers had embedded themselves.
Ultimately, we drew no conclusions. We did not design the perfect platform for wellbeing. What we did do though was make real connections in the real world. We talked, shared, some swapped addresses or business cards –and we all took a sharp intake of breath when someone inadvertently said the word ‘Nutcase’. Oh, and we laughed – now that’s got to be good for your wellbeing.
What is clear though is that we could have continued all afternoon, people are genuinely interested in exploring the relationships between Social Media and Wellbeing. It is the beginning of a dialogue I hope to continue.
For Victoria’s view of the day check out her blog at digital mental health.
Last Sunday, a wet and miserable April day, about 70 people gathered at St Nicholas' Psychiatric Hospital in Newcastle to bear witness to Devising Psychosis - a newly devised piece of collaboraitive theatre.
Gathered in the Jubilee Theatre - a wonderful example of a Victorian proscenium arch theatre completed in 1899 and a grade II listed building - were academics, artists, medics, therapists, service users, service providers and philosophers to name but a few. We were wanting to start a dialogue and a process of cross-pollination of interest and activity.
For me, it had been a long journey. Last year i took an idead to Alisdair Cameron at Launchpad in Newcastle suggesting we should celebrate 100 years of schizophrenia as a diagnosis. Much dialogue ensued - not least - should we be celebrating it at all? I was of the opinion that we definitely should celebrate it - but perhaps not in the traditional way.
From that moment on it become a group project. It really is the most collaborative and egalitarian project i have ever worked on. For starters there was no leader. We took the responsibility we were best able to take. We learnt as we went along, we skill shared, encouraged, mentored, we stumbled and picked ourselves up. We didn't actually get anything together in time to celebrate the 100 years and thus Psychosis 101 was born. We all liked the multi levels of references within this title.
Eventually there were about a core of 10 of us - this lead to millions of e-mails and loads of meetings. This is the price of working in a manner none of us had worked before - we were in unchartered territory driving at night with no lights. But because we all pulled together in the same direction for the common good, no egos over-riding anyone else's we got there. We sourced the funding, got the early intervention in psychosis team on board, recruited an evaluator, found a venue, drew on a lot of good will and - take a deep breath - finally got to perform.
The devising psychosis artists- myself ( Aidan Moesby), Tess Denman Cleaver and Sean Burn and we worked with the staff and young people who access EIP. The process took 10 weekly workshops where we exchanged skills and showed different approaches to making theatre, writing, oral narratives etc working towards a devised, and improvised, piece of theatre. By the end of the process we were all leading, we were all participants, there was no us and them as is usually the case in 'community' based projects to some degree.
We have much to learn from this process but we believe it can work with similar groups in similar ways. We want the project to have sustainability and have a legacy. We do not subscribe to the parachute in - parachute out model of engagement. We hope to train some of the young people we worked with as peer leaders to pass on the skills again. Critical to the success was also the buy in from the managers and staff of the early intervention in psychosis teams in newcastle. In fact the staff would have liked the process as training for them.
The event can be seen with some photos here http://www.facebook.com/events/319741064751527/
A performance of new work from the Devising Psychosis group will be presented. Comprising of mental health service users and staff from Newcastle and Gateshead Early Intervention In Psychosis teams, the Devising Psychosis Group have been collaborating with artist Aidan Moesby, theatre company Tender Buttons, and playwright Sean Burn over the last 2 months to devise a new piece of theatre. Performed against a backdrop designed and created by artist from Newcastle and Gateshead and North Tyneside Arts Studios, the piece is reflective of individual experiences and those gained together during this unique collaborative process.
Also performing areSean Burn will read from tattooing lorca - a sequence about sectioning and post-sectioning recovery.
A talk given by Dr Mark Cresswell, lecturer in the School of Applied Social Sciences at Durham University.
Family therapists from Newcastle Early Intervention in Psychosis team Kevin Hawkes & Alex Reid will talk about their personal journey as mental health practitioners in working with families and psychosis.
The event will also feature two participatory art installations by Aidan Moesby based around personal and cultural notions of well-being, and visual art from North Tyneside Arts Studio and Newcastle and Gateshead Arts Studio.
Apples and Snakes posted a Facebook link to an article by Alex Hudson on BBC News entitled 'The Creative Process and Mental Illness'. The basic tenet is that mad equals creative.
I really don't like these catch all assumptions and wrote the following brief retort. Is this really balanced and considered?
Spare me from 'cheap journalism' that uses the link of madness and creativity/poetry These kind of articles peddle the usual stereotypical visions of the mad creative. Over diagnosing, reframing things like shyness into social anxiety disor...der - so it can be pathologised, medicalised and medicated increases the number with 'diagnosis' and the 'Big Pharma' profits.
In other words, poets are 20 times more likely to end up in an asylum than the general population.' what tosh. The so called asylums are not full of poets - stats can show anyone anything. If you look at a copy of Diagnostic & Statistical Manual DSM (iv) everyone could be diagnosed with a disorder.
These kind of articles do nothing at all for those with enduring mental health issues but perpetuate ridiculous myths and oh - what about those with mental health issues who aren't creative - Doubly Damned and unfortunate?What do you think?
As ever, I have left it to the last minute, I want to first post before the year is out. Whilst I like to think of time more in terms of a continuum I can’t help but be lulled into some re-appraising of the year and thinking of the coming months. Sometimes it’s good to draw a line under something and lay it to rest, though I am not sure about this stop-start of a New Year thing.
As Brecht said ‘However, they won’t say the times were dark. Rather, why were their poets silent?’ These are dark times and getting darker – particularly in the worlds of disability and arts. There is little meat, let alone fat, on the bones to trim and – let’s cut the metaphors - seemingly more applicants for fewer opportunities.
As I ‘emerge’ and move towards ‘mid-career’ (these amorphous distinctions bemuse me) I think about career development. This leads to me a host of things which I will no doubt discuss in future posts. For instance where does the disability arts movement of today fit into the same movement that started out as a much more socially engaged movement?
From where I am sat they appear to be totally separate agendas now. What is disability arts now? Where do I fit into it all? How do I develop a career as a professional artist? Is there room for any more disabled artists? Does disability arts have ‘ranks’ to come through? If so how do you come through them?
As a socially engaged artist I am committed to inclusion in my work and strive to work within an milieu of equality. Sometimes I don’t always feel an equal within social or professional hierarchies be that the mainstream or the disability arts world. I find this contradiction interesting, disappointing and annoying. Sadly, I know I am not alone in this.
Living in the North East of England disability arts has been poorly served recently, thankfully Arcadea has a new Director and some fire being breathed into its’ slumbering belly. I look around the country for opportunities and see the work that Shape, DaDa, Dash et al. are doing.
I lament at times geographical restrictions/limitations of applications. Should I be more creative with my living arrangements? Unfortunately it has gotten so that I barely work or exhibit in my home region and I am grateful to opportunities such as Outside In at Pallant House for showing me in the Biennial of Outsider Art or the curators of the 40th Anniversary of the Disability Act exhibition for inviting me to show at the Houses of Parliament.
2011 is looming. It is likely to bring many challenges – cutting DLA, New Horizons, Arts Council cuts, the southern drain of lottery money in the run up to 2012, keeping food on the table. Thankfully I have woken from my own slumber, I am awake, inquisitive, re-politicised and ready to explore, engage and create an uncertain future in these uncertain times.