To celebrate is to commemorate, observe, honour, mark, salute, recognise, acknowledge. For some, celebrating is easy, as if shouting loud about achievements is ingrained. For others it is a quieter process, more understated, or may not happen at all. But celebrating is important, to mark successes, progress, attempts at change even if they haven’t worked out as expected.
It’s a year since I completed the Clore Leadership Programme and I’m taking this opportunity to reflect upon some of the work I have been focused on over the last 12 months, the progress I’ve made, how I have applied the learning, the questions I have, and yes do some celebrating.
Clore was an intense, fast paced programme of leadership development. I have a stack of notebooks from my fellowship, the everyday vessels containing records of process (a practice I continued over the last year). I have been meaning to go back and review these as I feel there may be some gems within the pages which could be transformational. On reviewing the first set of books I found most of the notes were a jumble of ideas, conversations and training notes, the later ones from the last 12 months have more clearly formed thoughts and ambitions articulated. Notes from conversations are more concrete and within them clear actions identified to move things forward.
When I completed Clore I was physically and emotionally tired and felt quite lost in a sea of newness – training to be implemented, ideas to seek funding for and new ways of working to implement. As a freelancer I didn’t have a workplace to apply or test the learning within, so I was pleased on many levels to know I would have the Artists Practising Well research project to focus upon following the completion of my fellowship*. This not only gave me the opportunity to work on a topic I feel strongly about but also allowed me to put into practice ideas and skills I developed from my time on Clore.
The Artists Practising Well research work has been a step change in my practice. It was a privilege to ask creative practitioners about how they are being supported when they work in health and wellbeing settings and to use their testimonies and the data which accompanied them, together with interviews and existing research to make recommendations for the future. The research also extended my ways of working, undertaking academic research which had to balance rigour and timescale, consider multiple view points and priorities alongside managing and digesting large quantities of information. Even though the research was not about my own practice, being an artist first and foremost informed the ways in which I conducted the study but also how I wrote the final report. I thought about how people could access the research discussions and findings in a number of ways including a synopsis and key information slides.
Artists Practising Well has now been out in the world for 3 months and there has been some gratefully received feedback about its usefulness and how welcome it is, especially from creative practitioners. The next stage of the work is underway. It has felt like an uphill journey at times, and so now it’s time to shore up progress to date, rest and reflect. I’m interested in how, when I re-start, can I transform what currently feels like a huge object into something more manageable and easy to manoeuvre. It’s important to be able to see more clearly my intended destination so I will know when I’ve arrived. I already have thoughts on what this destination looks like but there comes a time when getting it down on paper can pay dividends.
Summarising the reach of the research is important in terms of tracking progress and to celebrate achievements. Details of the report have been included in numerous arts and health newsletters and bulletins across the UK and beyond helping it to reach people who will find it useful. I presented initial findings at the Culture Health and Wellbeing Alliance Conference in Newcastle in March, followed by presentation and workshop events. For it is in the discussion that the research comes alive and develops in unexpected ways and it was great to have the support of Norfolk Arts Service, and the Culture Health and Wellbeing Alliance and London Arts in Health Forum for events in Norwich and London respectively during Creativity and Wellbeing week. Exploratory conversations with Phillipa Reive, Director of Creative Campus at Snape Maltings developed into an invitation to co-create a Creative Thinktank with Katherine Zeserson focused on Musician resilience – ensuring practitioner wellbeing in the context of participatory practice which takes place in November 2019. My speculative approach to the CVAN network paid off and I’ve recently written a guest blog for their website. I’ve accepted invitations to deliver workshops in Birmingham and Liverpool focused on practitioner wellbeing. This rich combination of activities is something I thrive on and seek to build upon more widely going forward. Through mapping reach the next stage is to ascertain the level and depth of conversation being generated, have attitudes and importantly actions shifted towards the report recommendations? How have the recommendations been received? In other words what is the impact and what do I need to be doing to drive it forward and with whom? In celebrating progress to date, it’s important to take time to acknowledge these things haven’t happened in isolation but have come into being through collaboration and connecting with people who believe in the work. People replied to my speculative emails and agreed to exploratory meetings within their already busy schedules which I very much appreciated and still do.
After the Fellowship, and the research focus of the last year writing and giving talks and running events, I wanted to use July to integrate some creative time for myself. Thinking through doing has been a playful process of visual experimentation, documentation and disseminating through a daily drawing for my instagram and twitter feeds. As a freelancer there can be a tendency not to take leave or to ‘stop’ sufficiently in order to fully rest and renew. The next task is not to have any tasks, for a week or so and take time in August to do, see and talk about other things to fuel a productive and energised return to work and the next phase of work.
*Artists Practising Well was funded by AHRC and Clore Leadership.