The Autonomous Artist is a dedicated blog detailing activities, thoughts and reflections about my time as 2017/18 Visual Artist Fellow on the Clore Leadership Programme. I will be exploring the role of the artist in arts leaderships and reflecting on independent, self determining and self sufficient approaches to practice.

Briefer updates will be via twitter

A Q&A about being awarded the fellowship can be read here 

A press release containing details of the whole 2017/18 cohort can be read here 

My thanks to a-n for supporting the The Visual Artist Fellowship on the Clore Leadership programme.


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Balance is key when writing up a research study, deciding on what to include and what to leave out: how to communicate survey data, information from interviews and insights from existing literature and knowledge. It’s a complex and demanding job to write a research report that is useful, accessible and rigorous. The full research report Artists Practising Well is long, I’m not sure how long, but longer than I intended it to be. Writing a long form report turned out to be very useful – everything I wanted to cover is contained within it and I can then extract key information to inform other iterations. There are people who like nothing better than to read the long form report – they enjoy accessing information in that format. For others the much shorter synopsis will be the most accessible format and useful in their busy lives. The Slides version distills key information and presents text within various shapes to aid digestion. These text based works were significant pieces of work for me, but they are still only the start. It is essential for work like this to move into event spaces and training rooms where research meets the people who will explore, expand, discuss, contextualise and build upon what I have written.

As part of Creativity and Wellbeing Week (10th-16th June 2019), I was delighted to have the opportunity to share the Artists Practising Well findings through two public events in Norwich and London.

At the Norwich event I presented key aspects of the research and facilitated breakout group discussions, as part of two free days professional development organised and funded by Norfolk County Council. Following my session Alex Casey, Culture Health and Wellbeing Alliance regional champion, talked about the work of the Alliance; before Natalie Jode, Director of Creative Arts East talked about their project Our Day Out. Over the day’s programming we were collectively able to offer attendees a range of perspectives on working in, supporting and delivering arts for health and wellbeing.

In London I was joined by Theatre Practitioner, Producer and Lecturer Gail Babb, who offered an honest and heartfelt account of working as a creative practitioner in participatory arts. She skilfully explored the tension between knowing how to look after oneself and actually doing it. Jess Plant, Director of the National Criminal Justice Arts Alliance, shared information about mentoring and peer to peer reflection opportunities they provide as part of their commitment to developing good practice. Her role in influencing and informing policy was a reminder of the different levels of work required to effect change.

Presenting research to a room full of people is always a privilege. The opportunity to elucidate the written report with further thoughts, responses and examples is testament to the ongoing and developmental nature of this research area. The topics of self-care and resilience are currently very prevalent and so they should be. I use the word should advisedly – for surely it is time for collective efforts to facilitate a significant culture shift in valuing and supporting frontline creative practitioners. Discussions concerning self-care and resilience are welcomed, but there needs to be a clarity of understanding that these things are not the sole responsibility of practitioners. They can not and should not bear the brunt of needing to be resilient and taking responsibility for self care to counter poor management practices, working in under-resourced conditions or within inadequate contracts which are time and support poor. Self-care and resilience are collective endeavours.

The two event sessions brought a range of discussions in response to presented material and questions posed to breakout groups. Some of following thoughts are taken directly from the people who attended the events, some are my own reflections and mirror findings and recommendations from the Artists Practising Well report. Although they are grouped under a series of headings many of the ideas are interlinked. As time goes on and the research evolves it becomes more difficult to credit each source individually, so they are offered here as evidence of a growing collective exploration. They are also offered as a point from which to expand the conversation further, and your thoughts and feedback are welcome – please get in touch to share them:  [email protected]

Thoughts on establishing good practice foundations

  • Re-frame the exchange between practitioner and commissioner to a ‘with’ relationship: avoid practitioner as ‘deliverer’ and offer working methods which are collaborative, working with shared input and responsibility from the outset.
  • Work collaboratively earlier in project development processes, making sure support conversations are on the agenda for all parties.
  • Establish longer term working relationships between creative practitioners and commissioning organisations.
  • Make use of working in pairs to facilitate practical and affective support during sessions and debrief afterwards.
  • Know that good support for practitioners facilitates good work for / with participants.
  • Understand that good support can help to protect the practitioner workforce from occupational ill health and support best quality practice for participants.
  • Work with education providers to integrate good practitioner support, self-care and reflective theories and practices into qualifications and courses.

Thoughts for sector support organisations

  • Advocate for creative practitioner health and wellbeing.
  • Seek discussion with Unions representing creative practitioners to establish what work they are doing and if partnership working is possible.
  • Create a checklist or quality framework document to enable both practitioners and commissioners to be on the same page during project set up / contracting discussions.
  • Collate and disseminate existing research and advocate for further research about practitioner wellbeing which is longitudinal.
  • Author or collate briefing sheets focused on working with participant groups with specific medical conditions and/or needs.
  • Facilitate networking events which include significant time for open discussion.
  • Explore the provision of a good practice / support hub to which practitioners could subscribe.
  • Promote support as a strategic ambition across whole organisations, from practitioner to project manager to senior leader.

Thoughts for commissioners and funders

  • Build relationships with creative practitioners directly to ensure good understanding of creative practice and what’s needed for quality practice going forward.
  • Expect to see support costs in funding applications and be prepared to challenge when they are not included.
  • Match budgets to ambitions: do fewer projects but do them well.
  • Offer commitments to creative practitioners for creative work development that happens in-between working with participants.
  • Offer specific funds which focus on practitioner support, for example small grants to aid practitioners in their ambitions to explore and develop reflective ways of working; and then provide funds to pay for its provision.

Thoughts on advocacy

  • Demonstrate awareness that we each have an advocacy role in conversations promoting support for practitioners.
  • Identify who to influence, for example Arts Councils, Trusts and Foundations, Local Authorities, Arts Organisations / Charities and their Trustees, Social Prescribing Commissioners, Clinical Commissioning Groups, GP Practices, Leadership Development Programmes, Sector Support Organisations and CHWA Champions.
  • Advocate for effective research, case studies and testimonies from existing support programmes in order to establish a link between professional and talent development investment with practitioner wellbeing.

Thoughts on honesty 

  • Form an accurate picture of the reality of working in this sector: being honest about arts for health and wellbeing work – for example the economic and health cost to the practitioner – is key.
  • View asking for help and/or support as a sign of strength and professionalism.
  • Use wellbeing scales with practitioners (for example Warwick Edinburgh) to measure wellbeing at work.
  • Use a dedicated conversation to acknowledge what support is and isn’t available.
  • Discuss the work in balanced ways, both when the work is good, joyful and creative; and when it is hard, challenging and difficult.
  • Understand that it’s OK not to immediately know how to engage in reflective practice and self care.

Thoughts on self support

  • Motivation to come together to share best practice and support one another is strong.
  • Know that saying no to offers of work is possible and acceptable.
  • Consider restorative activities and unstructured free time as equally supportive.
  • Take time to understand your own limitations and boundaries to enable safe testing of ideas: helping with effectiveness, empathy and confidence.
  • Invest time in foundation activities such as food, sleep and physical exercise.
  • Access a non judgemental space in which to be heard.
  • View self-care as a project in the calendar and timetable STOP days.

My thanks to those who organised events in Norwich and London, and to all the attendees who brought insight and experience to the room. Thanks also to Daniel Regan who facilitated a breakout group during the London event.  The Norwich event was supported by Norfolk County Council. The London event was supported by Culture Health and Wellbeing Alliance and London Arts In Health Forum, and was part of the E17 Art Trail in Waltham Forest, London Borough of Culture 2019.

Follow up

Access & community programme artist presentations: InPractice 20 Sept 2019 – free – booking required.

Arts and Health Hub in London run by Daniel Regan

Checklist of Care by Sheila Ghelani

Point of Care:  supporting staff who deliver care and within that Schwartz Rounds

Warwick Edinburgh Wellbeing Scale

 

This blog was first published on my website www.nicolanaismith.co.uk on 20 June 2019.


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My Artists Practising Well research report, published on the the Robert Gordon University Open Air research repository, is now available to read and download. The research is focused on affective support for creative practitioners working in participatory arts for health and wellbeing.

The report is the result of a three month research project supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and Clore Leadership, and has a focus of contributing to the field of cultural leadership. Invited to apply for the funding towards the end of my fellowship as the visual artist fellow, the grant gave me a focused period of time and the support of an academic supervisor – Chris Fremantle. This is first time I have undertaken research which doesn’t include my own creative practice. This presented some challenges, as new ways of working sometimes do, but also gave me an opportunity to contribute to a growing area of discussion and concern in the arts – that of practitioner wellbeing.

The decision to focus on practitioners working in Health and Wellbeing was made for two main reasons. Firstly, working in health and wellbeing contexts is a growing area for practitioners across all creative disciplines, and I was hearing reports of little or no support, resulting in burn out in some cases. Secondly, as a three month funded project it needed to be focused in order to be effective and meaningful; but although the study uses the experience of practitioners working in health and wellbeing, much of the content of the report is applicable to working in other potentially challenging settings where needs and circumstances are complex. Practising in non arts contexts is becoming increasingly common, and as such needs to be specifically and thoroughly questioned; both in terms of the way it’s taught in formal and informal education, but also in the day to day practice of work. I see the report as laying some foundations on which to build multiple debates, discussions and future research about affective support for creative practitioners.

So why a focus on affective support? It was a conversation with Dr Chris Yuill (who has written thought provoking work on gig economy health) early in the research process which helped me to identify the kinds of support I was most interested in. Instrumental support is the practical organisation of work and resources – having a suitable room and materials, helping participants to get to sessions. This kind of support is essential in helping the work happen, and happen effectively; making the best use of resources, time and funding. Affective support relates to moods, feelings and attitudes, and can be supported by reflective practice activities. This kind of support is less spoken about, but is no less important, as it helps to protect the health and wellbeing of creative practitioners, which in turn helps them to deliver the best quality work. Given my interest and work within reflective practice activities including coaching, mentoring and action learning, it quickly became apparent affective support would be my focus.

The full report includes a literature review which explores and reflects on the arts, health and wellbeing territory (including the APPG report, Creative Health-The arts for health and wellbeing and Daisy Fancourt’s book Arts in Health designing and researching interventions), Work Management and practitioner wellbeing (covering working conditions for artists, emotional labour and reflective and reflexive practice) and lastly practising in non arts contexts / artist in public life (which details the work of the Artists Placement Group, the artist as leader report written by Anne Douglas and Chris Fremantle,  and François Matarasso’s new book A Restless Art).

The report draws upon data from the 164 respondents to the online survey, and interviews (both semi structured and informal) with cultural leaders, funders, policy makers and those working in arts therapy, supervision and organisational management. The discussion is grouped under 5 headings: The territory, Employment status, The vocabulary of support, Models of support and The support conversation. This section includes quotes from both survey respondents and interviews, giving platform and voice to individual experiences and ideas.

What the research shows is that the landscape of affective support is mixed, with some receiving good support, while others aren’t getting enough or any. There are many support activities on which to build a support menu, which when taken with co-production, joint responsibility and shared dialogue will strengthen practice.

The research led to 7 recommendations under the headings of Conversation, Co-production, Funding, Leadership, Peer to Peer learning, Recognition, Support Menu and Vocabulary: the next step is sharing the research in multiple forms and platforms. This process has already started, with a provocation given at the Culture Health and Wellbeing Alliance conference in Newcastle in March of this year. This is being followed with events in June in London and Norwich which are part presentation, part workshop/discussion. I’ll post details of dates and how to book on my twitter feed. I’m open to expanding the conversation, and so if you have an idea for an event or discussion, further research or would like to offer your thoughts and feedback on the report please do get in touch via the contact page on my website www.nicolanaismith.co.uk 

 

A synopsis of the research can be viewed here

Key information of the research can be viewed here


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In July last year the Creative Health: The Arts for Health and Wellbeing report was published detailing the evidence base for the benefits to health and wellbeing from participating in the arts. As this evidence base continues to grow a question arrises: What about the health and wellbeing of the creative practitioners delivering these activities?

Over my Clore Fellowship I explored through a series of blog posts issues facing visual artists including working with values, autonomy and working within the gig economy. This led to to consider the challenges some visual artists face in practising, and the additional challenges that may be present if artists work in participatory arts for health and wellbeing. In June I had the opportunity as part of my Clore Fellowship, to apply for an Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) grant to research a topic related to cultural leadership. My proposal focused on the levels of support artists receive when they work in the contexts of health and wellbeing. I am particularly interested in affective support which relates to moods, feelings and attitudes. It would be an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms, to ignore the health and wellbeing of artists given their role supporting the health and wellbeing of others. Supporting artists working in these contexts protects their own health which in turn will help them to deliver their best quality work.

The research uses a social sciences approaches to methodology:

  • an online survey to collect and collate experiences of creative practitioners (working across all disciplines) working in health and wellbeing:
  • a series of semi-structured interviews with commissioning organisations, cultural leaders, policy makers and funders:
  • a literature review to ascertain what is already known about the topic.

The online survey which closes at midnight on the 3rd December 2018 has been generously shared via specialist networks, advocacy and membership organisations in addition to supportive and encouraging individuals. The survey was designed to be completed in around 10 minutes and available online for ease of access and return. The responses have been great with lots of practitioners completing the survey and taking the time to use the optional text boxes to add more details and examples. This makes for an incredibly rich research source on which to build an understanding of what levels of support practitioners are currently receiving or providing for themselves and what they would like. The response from practitioners supports my claim that this is an area worthy of research investigation.

Earlier this month John McMahon, Senior Manager in Policy and Research published a blog which highlights the final piece of research conducted as part of their evidence review for the next 10 year strategy. The research details the role of arts and culture in health and wellbeing and in the criminal justice system. His blog post links through to transcript of a speech by Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock (who used to be Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) where he extols the benfits of social prescribing. There is no doubt Arts for Health and Wellbeing is a growing area of practice, its application is both well evidenced and well advocated for but it is not without its challenges. What I am aiming for with my research is to open up a dialogue about the current levels and models of affective support for artists working in this context and what good practice might look like.

My sincere thanks to all who have helped to disseminate the survey and to the creative practitioners who have taken time to share their experiences by complete the survey. It can be accessed here until midnight on the 3rd December 2018.

 

 

 


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Applications are open for the 2018/19 Visual Artist Fellow with the Clore Leadership Programme. It’s 3 months since completing my 2017/18 Fellowship and 3 weeks after our official graduation at Tate Britain where Maria Balshaw, director of Tate gave the opening address and encouraged us, in all the work we have ahead of us “to remember the art”. The art is what motivates me to develop as a cultural leader and knowing that engaging with the arts in all its forms can offer positive transformational experiences individual and collective, personal and social, domestic and political.

Many people have asked me how the fellowship had gone and its hard to communicate in a neat capsule statement. It’s unwieldy, challenging and complicated, it’s also supportive, dynamic and exciting. Even though I had written my own fellowship plan and timetable it was fast paced and at times felt relentless. There were the inevitable times when I was buffeted from a conference to a training event to a coaching session before heading off to my secondment. Within this I found Clore to be a combination of being both in the present: listening, learning, reflecting, and thinking about the future: planning, up-skilling, stretching. I used a coaching session with Fearghus Ó Conchúir to reflect on all the rushing around to explore how “I would like it to be” which turned into an idea of having a Slow Week. This consisted of reducing input from meetings, conversations, reading, social media and WhatsApp and increasing walking and reflective thinking time. As the fellowship progressed I thought how important that slow time was to me.

Each Clore Fellow has to write a Provocation Paper about a leadership topic of their choosing. This usually happens in the latter stages of the fellowship. I had a couple of options but it was Slow which really demanded attention. The cultural sector is under more pressure than ever, delivering more with less resources coupled with a culture of working extra hours to meet both our own and organisational standards, this was a good time to tackle this topic. Published in September, the paper introduces the ideas of “Slow” to recruitment, participation, partnership and leadership with suggestions for practical implementation.

“Slow can be considered to be lethargic, half-hearted, dull, perhaps unspectacular, the very opposite of what leadership is projected to be. I would like to reclaim slow as a positive term that facilitates greater inclusion, reflection and considered action in cultural leadership – in fact leadership in any sector. Slow means to be unhurried, measured and moderate. Working with slow could be more deliberate, steady and sedate. What is wrong with being slow-moving? What if slow, being slow, facilitating slow, accepting of slow, were considered a strong facet of leadership? What if slowing down was considered to be a leadership approach and a skill to be admired?”(1)

It was more than ironic that I wrote the paper mostly in a hurry. It was near the end of the fellowship and with my final report to write it kept slipping down my to-do list. When I did get to it, I felt hurried and rushed so I drew upon a quote from Carl Honore from his book In Praise of Slow:

“The slow movement is not about doing everything at a snail’s pace. Nor is it a luddite attempt to drag the planet back to some pre-industrial utopia. On the contrary the movement is made up of people like you and me, people who want to live better in a fast paced modern world. That is why the Slow philosophy can be summed up in a single word: balance. Be fast when it makes sense to be fast, and slow when slowness is called for.”(2)

It made sense to be writing the paper slowly but in reality it needed to be completed within a specific timetable. Waiting for the perfect environment, time, resources and support would have been unproductive. In a similar vein there will never be the right time to test out the slow way. So I issue an invitation to read the paper to think on slow, test some of the ideas or simply think about what slow could mean to you, your organisation and your wider life. The provocation is really a call to thinking, reflection and experimentation.

Writing the provocation paper has raised my awareness of slow and other slow advocates. Speaking at Pivotal Moments: Professional Development Models for Mid-Career Artists Donna Lynas, Director at Wysing Arts Centre said

“I feel like we’re reaching a bit of a crisis moment – who are we doing this all for? Why is everything so frenetic all the time? I personally feel that everything needs to slow right down.” (3)

Jo Moran considers slow reading in the digital age in a piece for the Guardian “Go Slow”.

“Reading is constantly promoted as a social good and source of personal fulfilment. But this advocacy often emphasises “avid”, “passionate” or “voracious” reading – none of which adjectives suggest slow, quiet absorption”.(4)

Post Clore Fellowship I am reminding myself that slow is an option and that pragmatism is the friend of productivity, especially when tasks can quickly expand and multiply. As I undertake my Arts and Humanities Research / The Clore Leadership Programme research project Affective support for creative practitioners working in participatory arts for health and wellbeing I am, having read guides to undertaking research projects, speed reading my way across the literature review territory and slowly working through the survey design and responses from contributors. As ever its the combination of approaches which can prove to be the most productive.

1.Nicola Naismith Slow: ideas for recruitment, participation, partnership and leadership Clore Leadership Website 2018

2.Carl Honore, In praise of Slow, Orion Books, London 2005 p.9

3.https://www.a-n.co.uk/news/pivotal-moments-mid-career-artists-reaching-bit-crisis-moment/?platform=hootsuite

4.https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/sep/14/joe-moran-pleasures-of-slow-reading


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