Sharing Freelance life

Emily Malcolm and Carrie Creamer have been working closely together for the last 5 years. They met as part of Wiltshire Youth Arts Partnership.

Although the business closed its doors a few years back, both have found a way to continue working together. They collaborate wherever possible, sharing roles, be it research and development, project management delivery or collaborative engagement with a number of different providers. 

The year of 2020. A year of changes and new things. Get summer ready. Change everything. Here is how. 

Every year begins like this. We shed. We move more. We talk earnestly with our friends about our new exercise regime or we praise the benefits of a new diet. Some of us shed people, weight, jobs, places and things. 

“We began the year by developing a new project together”

Carrie Creamer 

CC: “Emily and I began working together a number of years back as part of our work with Wiltshire Youth Arts Partnership. It was a complete gift being able to work with someone like Emily. At the time we met, I was spinning a great many plates and it’s no secret that it was at times very difficult both physically and emotionally.”

CC: “I was working full time, working long hours and trying my very best to achieve a lot with often not much at all. Emily bounced into the picture to lead the Dancing back to 1914 Arts and Heritage project. I really enjoyed working with her. She always arrived with a list, with questions and a warm travel drink cup.”

CC: “Our meetings were always productive. We would meander around various topics before getting down to some planning, actions, reactions, budgets and debates. I think we both understand each other’s needs and rather than dig around in the dirt looking at them or moaning, we found a way to support one another. Trust became a big feature of our practice. There was no requirement for micromanaging from either part.”

EM: “I moved to Wiltshire to be with my partner five years ago. Until then I had only been working for organisations as a PAYE member of the team but after applying for a few jobs, attending a couple of interviews and seemingly getting no-where on the new job front, I applied for a freelance project management post with Wiltshire Youth Arts Partnership. I had managed many freelance workers in the past but admit to feeling pretty scared at the prospect. The contract wasn’t full time and it was time limited. What was I going to do when it ended? What happened about holidays, sick pay and a pension? How was I going to find other contracts to make more money? But needs must, I needed work and I got this position.” 

EM: “I also met the lovely Carrie. Carrie and I worked well with each other from the word go. I had a job to do and Carrie expected me to get on with it. She wasn’t standing over my shoulder checking what I was doing at every stage. She trusted in my updates and allowed me the freedom to get the work down.”

CC: “Towards the end of my role working with Wiltshire Youth Arts, I really was beginning to struggle. The balance of work and life had begun to consume me. My daily life would lurch from one unhealthy engagement to the next. Often groaning at the magnitude of emails or correspondence, I joined my colleagues in gazing into my laptop while I spilled my lunch across the desk and into my keyboard. I rarely took breaks. I left my house early and arrived home late. It began to feel like a battle and one that I would not win. As a single parent, this kind of working structure wasn’t going to end well for anyone if I kept at it like this. I noticed that a few colleagues were beginning to become ill with the weight of work and deadlines. I rarely had time to see my daughter, she was nearly 5 years of age at the time. I felt at times quite low in part due to working for a large institution which I make no secret about railing against on a daily basis.”

CC: “I was a Unite union rep and worked hard to ensure that colleagues achieved the best possible outcome when they were faced with redundancy.”

CC: “I watched some really good friends lose their jobs or shift careers or countries. I began to feel the injustice of cuts regularly. The arts are always the first to be cut in times of need. I get that. I even understand and acknowledge that. I made the really difficult decision to take redundancy. I think I slept for nearly a whole month after my last day.”

EM: “For me, becoming freelance was a blessing in disguise for me. My partner and I like to travel and with both of us working for ourselves no one could tell us when we were allowed to travel and for how long. No, you don’t get paid when you aren’t working but if you budget well you will be fine. So, we took a few trips and enjoyed not having to be answerable to anyone about where we were going and when we would be back at work. I also found that I enjoyed freelance work. I like working for different organisations, being more in control of my time and being focused on delivering work rather than on how many hours I am sat in the office.”

EM: “I am a naturally organised person and found ways to track my time, focus on work at home and managing multiple contracts. Like most people I found some days I could work for hours and be really productive. Other days, I would work for a few hours and give up. Being freelance means you can do this. You can work when it suits you and not just because it is office hours. I find this makes my work more productive.” 

CC: “I am now a happy freelance arts producer, writer and researcher. In terms of PAYE and freelance, there really is no point pitting one side against the other as both arrive at the table with their own stories. Both relevant. Both involve people spilling the sandwiches across the keyboard, working long hours and getting by. Both can break you. Both can feel unfair at times. ”

CC: “There are times when the future is fairly unpredictable and at times it be lean and difficult to manage. But its important to find the balance and consider how best to work during those periods . You can also be invisible at times which is something of a super power in my mind. The difference that it has made to my wellbeing is incredible. I get to see my daughter more. I am often at the school gate. I work from home, so it does mean a degree of dedication, sticking to my hours and process so that I get everything completed when required. At times I have less money and at times I am abundant with money.”

CC: “BUT I did learn a little trick. Turns out that if you seek out people to share work with in a freelance way it is amazing.” 

EM: “I was coming to the end of my final project for Wiltshire Youth Arts Partnership when my twins arrived unexpectedly at 29 weeks. Carrie had already been made redundant but, as if I had some sort sixth sense, I had spoken to her about stepping in and helping me finish off the project on a freelance basis. Two days later I messaged her from hospital to explain that my babies had been born and asked her if she would run things on the ground for me while I kept an eye on things from the hospital.”

CC: “After I stepped into help Emily manage the last part of the Dancing back to 1914 project we agreed that we should find a way to continue working with one another. “

CC: “Right now, Emily and I have teamed up to deliver a piece of work for Barnardo’s. A heritage arts project with young people with additional needs. We both have children and require a degree of flexibility for our work. We often spent time lamenting about childcare, managing kids and navigating our way through tasks while one of us is in the car and the other is chasing children around the house. We can both be found typing and emailing after the kids are in bed (like many freelancers and PAYE people). What is different however, is that we share this thinking. One of us may have to put the spinning plates down for a short while the other steps up and takes over their tasks. One of us may be incredibly tired because a child is ill. It’s a kinder way of working. It’s real and brings life into our work.”

CC: “I think it’s the way forward for a lot of my work now. Sharing the load, balancing childcare and helping one another through it. In between it we still manage to do all of our work, support and guide one another and have a laugh at our funny lives.” 

EM: “Our continued partnership has led me to find the work life balance that I want as a parent. I want to be there for my children. I want to be able to take them to school, go to sports day, help with school trips. I like taking them to their music group, meeting up with friends and taking them out to museums and the theatre. I also like my work. It is a real balance being able to be the sort of parent I want to be and still produce work that I can be proud of. Having people like Carrie to work with is how I am going to find that balance.”

EM: “Having someone who understands that when my children are ill, they are my priority is really important. Being able to offer support back when Carrie needs to drop her daughter off at her swimming club or help out on a school trip is important. I hope we can build up a team of people around us who can support us and who we can support in return. People who want to work hard, who want to produce amazing work but also realise that sometimes family, your own wellbeing and life goals are more important.”

CC: “So, for both of us a flexible routine has become our friend. We set a tone and work hard to agree when things happen, where and when. We both do a fair bit of mapping out of our time and we make time to think about money, development and progress. Connecting with people has made a real difference to both of us. Sharing contracts, pitching together and sharing the load is the way forward. It frees you up in the long run to take other work.”

We are both strong advocates of social media, it is a life source for many of us. 

Do something that makes you happy and thrive. Don’t leave PAYE work to feel the same in the freelance world. Connect, grow and develop. 

We will be updating you and sharing information about our freelance life and the work it involves. We are very excited to share some of the work that we have been involved in.

Stay tuned and please share your tips and thoughts about life in the arts sector.

Approaching the silence

We travelled the sharp and bending curves of the road until we reached our final stop. A secluded meadow with a glorious backdrop nestled within the Wales countryside sits a Gypsy wagon. Our home for a few days courtesy of some true and brilliant friends. After setting down our things and placing our belongings around our new home, we talked about living a nomadic life. Us two, treading soft footed through villages and fields as we lived the simplest of lives. A simple and wholehearted life. Imagine that.  

In contrast, like many of you my normal life is different. I sit in my worn out armchair, writing and researching “stuff “. Papers spread all around me. I dip in and out of words trying to finish plans and reports. I drink far too much tea and coffee. I am never finished and always on catch up. I spin a long line of plates. I face challenges daily. 

I read hardship stories of pain and despair in the news. I have my own. I see and hear starkness. Dark gloomy nights hang over all of us. Turbulent times. Angy times of opposition. Opposing paths. Miscommunication. Lost friends and lost family. Opposing truths. At times despair. Some of us are sick with rage. Moments of huge contrast. Overwhelming kindness housed beside unkind words and doings. 

It’s become exhausting trying to stay connected in a way that is good for us all.  

The fabric of engagement and connection is a complex and layered one. It has its own itinerary about how we enter into its dance and connect. My work takes me down the path of connection through weaving and shaping layers of matrix systems, thinking, discussions and debates. At times, I have wondered why on earth I do this work. 

We know that history plays a huge part in how we engage and interact. Who I am, my story, our experiences as well as our collective relationship to the thing, the place the purpose and everything. A delicate and fragile history will resurface if we don’t respect it, understand it, hold it with love and care and acknowledge it. The Good Friday agreement is one very good example. History has forgotten already. You would think that we don’t need reminding about it but we clearly do. We have stories. Some of us have memories etched and printed on us across generations. Yet, here we are. Change brings with it a casual dismissive regard for the past. It doesn’t fit the new story. 

Yet, history itself tells us that we always pay the price for that thinking. Once we disregard the past as irrelevant or inconvenient we are destined to make new often fatal errors. It is a horror to watch. 

Yet, I hear cries across social media.

“Why do people always bring up the past. It’s so unnecessary”.

Our collective archive of history. The very thing for learning, understanding and growth.  

One of my first ever arts development programmes involved teaming up with a small group of like minded people to research and develop our thinking. One evening, while we collated and gathered paperwork, my colleague turned to me and said:

“See, this is what it is all about Carrie. Life is a series of letters and notes passed from me to you and from you to me and onto someone else. Passing information from one to another, back and forth. Over and over. Forever.”

I laughed politely but felt its sting. Is that it ? A bunch of notes between us all. Information and sharing more information. Data and more data. Back and forth. Registering information over and over in different formats. Telling each other stuff. 

Our notes gives shape to our plans. We do need the research and thinking in order to know what’s missing and why. To ask big questions. To find out THE question. To confirm if its wanted and needed. We need it so that we can ask. 

We question and re-question our language. 

“Let’s all be authentic.” 

“That’s authentic, that there. Look, see how authentic it is.” 

“I don’t think that it’s authentic enough.” 

“How can we measure whether its authentic or not ?” 

“What do we mean by authentic ?`’

Suddenly, authentic is not the word. It will be a new word to communicate and pass notes back and forth with. We will use new words that replace the old words. The new words are better, more current and more responsive to change and how things are right now. The old words are irrelevant. Sometimes for good. 

So, with that in mind, where in our thinking or passing of notes and data do we make space for love and honesty. Where in our weird systems thinking or energy mapping and community growth do we make room for critical awareness, self empathy, connection and emotional health. Do we make time for this in our project planning or reporting. Self kindness, common humanity and the struggle of everyone. What is the point of any of it if we don’t bring that to the table. 

On the way to a meeting the other day, I listened to this. A great listen on the BBC “Only Artists” to Julie Hesmondhagh and Tony Walsh. The two talk and compare experiences of growing up in working class Britain. A wonderful dance of a conversation. Both entered the space with a whole hearted love of the arts. It was great to hear their stories which really resonate with my own experience. Sometimes, its one teacher, a parent, a family member/mentor who notices and encourages you. That connection and paying attention. Acknowledging and respecting who you are and your history. Just offering choice, connection and a chance to examine the earth in a different way. 

Perhaps, its bringing back the whole hearted approach to our working and passing of notes to one another. Put the love back in because we need it more than ever. 

Over to you. 

Extend and Make Room

The final residential for the Extend programme took place a few weeks ago in Leeds. It was a chance for the cohort of 2019 to come together one last time. As a group we shared stories about our lives as well as the progress of our group enquiries. We debated, talked openly and reflected on our journeys and connected with one another again.

It felt familiar, warm and supportive. As always, Extend drew into focus artists and organisations who provocated our thinking about what we do and why we do it. Extend do something very special. The team work exceptionally well to curate presentations and work which offers us all the chance to consider not only our leadership but our values, who we are, what we are doing and why we do it. It is a chance to challenge ourselves and take and make what we will of the process. Their own gentle, inclusive style of leadership really shows a brave approach to a new way of thinking. Leadership doesn’t have to exhibit loudness or forthright language. It can be about noticing, communicating, being brave, taking on difficult conversations and connecting with people. I applaud those at Engage Extend for the chance to take part this year. Thank you all. 

Challenging conversations was a theme for our last day with Extend. It raised some personal and professional questions about how we collectively and individually develop our thinking around difficult conversations. Our deep rooted thoughts about ourselves and others. From early childhood to adulthood notions about our values, our teaching and who we are take more centre stage. It struck me that for many of us, leadership presents conversations that we collectively avoid. We actively seek out irrational situations to avoid confrontation, interruption or question. We are adverse to upsetting feedback and thinking. We all know that this is massively counter productive to both our professional and personal lives but yet so often we tread this quite often hilarious terrain of distractions in order to avoid difficult situations or uncomfortable conversations.

One colleague of mine from years ago had a boss who insisted that their entire team go running together twice a week as a team. At the time it was felt that this would encourage team activity and productivity. Some people were good at running and some people were not. Slowly and surely over time, people were actively avoiding the days that the run occured. It became so consistent that for some of the month, team members had started to work from home or book out very early morning meetings to avoid attendance. Not one person wanted to explain to the boss person why it wasn’t ok to insist on people running twice a week. For many it was about choice, personal experience, ability or quite frankly desire. There had been no conversation or exchange about choice. The boss took the lack of enthusiasm for running personally and got very angry about what they considered to be a lazy team who they thought didn’t want to be a team. This went on for over a year. It snowballed into a culture of mistrust on both parts…for the longest time… with both camps thinking that the other ‘didn’t get it”…until finally the boss left the company and the conversation. Both parties hurt and angry. Both parties with their own version of the events. Yet a conversation at the start, a debate or exchange about wants and needs would have sorted it all out. The boss could have noticed. The team could have said. Yet, noone wanted to hurt anyone’s feelings or expose their own. What a bunch of weirdos we are. 

Then, all too quickly our residential collective gathering was finished and our last moments were filled with emotional goodbyes and hugs. We packed away our things and carried our bags to the station.

I travelled back to Somerset with my good friend Fran Bossom where we shared our often hilarious and complex lives over the last remaining drops of our coffee. Whilst we busied ourselves with insulting one another (one of our favourite past times), we both reflected on the unending struggle to balance everything in our lives through a whirlwind of plate spinning. Twirling and whirling through the minor and the major as we slice up sandwiches for small folk whilst contemplating the health, wealth and wellbeing of all the people around us including ourselves. Worries. All the time.

Time and the urgency of finishing things, completing tasks, making time, creating time, spending time, quality time. Time to watch my daughters legs get longer. Time to cut her fingernails. Time to connect. Time to read. Time for fun. Time to remember who the hell we are in all of this. Time to be creative, to make art. 

So, what now that I have completed Extend ? It’s all finished isn’t it ? Some of us may have tidied away our files and notes of the past year with Extend, my notes are still lying scattered across my desk with arrows and circles sketched across my paperwork signalling something developing….

So, what am I working on. Disruptive and questioning I don’t mind if I do.

I have been working in London over the last month drawing brains and collecting stories from like minded folk as part of a piece of work. Years ago I collected lists and photos/prints of people’s hands Lets see about the brain works. Drawing things that no longer exist anymore from people, places, animals and objects. Don’t ask, actually do. Maybe. Much of my focus of late has been centred on Arts and Health and the curiosity of learning through arts as practice to raise our game, opportunity and progression for ourselves as artists but also our communities. 

There have been some great write ups lately about the importance of arts engagement, its value and impact. Have a read.

Me, I am off to draw a passsenger pigeon and another Dodo.

Read about:

Arts as Practice- by Robin Nelson

and

Natives Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire by Akala.

Openair arts practicing well

How do artistic creative activities regulate our emotions? 

We need arts premium in schools

Extend Alumni event January 2019

Last week I went to the Extend Alumni event at the Southbank centre in London. A chance to connect and reconnect with people. A great opportunity to hear about other people’s work, stories and reflections against the magnificent backdrop of a London sky.

So, while the River Thames swirled around us and the sun dabbled the river with bright sparks of light we talked about language, stories and being kind. Sharing stories is as old as time but hearing people’s experiences is something very special.

The afternoon was spent listening to the inspiring life journeys of Priya Khanchandani a writer, curator and founder of Museum Detox and Titilola Dawudu, a producer and writer who like me enjoys story telling (Hear me now).

I love a good yarn especially if told well. Maybe it is a thing about the Irish. Sitting in a room with my family and friends listening to them tell and retell stories has always warmed my heart. I can hear the same story over and over. In Ireland, the Seanchaí (shan-a-key) were traditional Irish storytellers of history for centuries. They could be found reciting ancient tales for learning and wisdom, a necessity which brought with it learning and reflection for people.

So, on the 24th January 2019, we sat and shared stories of our work, our thoughts and questions for the future. I learnt a lot by listening and taking note. Hearing about kindness, where you place yourself in the conversation, language, the gentleness of working with communities, braving things, fearlessness and being in our own true self.

Again, The Extend Leadership programme skillfully delivers taking notice and place the conversation at the heart. Thank you thank you.

Everyone is talking about it…

This morning, my father sat down in his usual spot with tea in one hand and over buttered toast and jam in the other listening to his raspy untuned radio. It’s a ritual that he repeats every morning.

Today, the voice from the radio informed us that more and more of us are taking solo holidays to manage and support our wellbeing. A mocking tone in his voice, the presenter talked about how ridiculous we have all become as a nation.

Some of us are taking holidays to get away from the people we love. To reboot and repair ourselves.

I have read lots of threads from parents seeking any kind of private time away from their families. Nothing new really. There are hilarious stories about adults retreating to toilets to escape the constant requests from children or partners. We mock and joke about our desire for private time. In contrast, some of us regularly share photos of solo trips around the UK or beyond.

But, increasingly we are a nation of lonely people with growing referrals to gp surgeries for people experiencing isolation.

I recently completed a study about a local area and its “wellbeing” as a community. It is a fascinating concept. What began as a study about young people and their wellbeing, quickly became an exploration of community wellbeing and how we as a collective people work to support one another. It is virtually impossible to explore and develop plans to support children and young people’s wellbeing without looking at the whole picture. With half of all mental illness beginning by the age of 14, its gonna take a village, a town, a community to work together to support one another better. Shockingly, suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15-29-year-olds.

From speaking to members of the community, the overwhelming comments where that people do like to connect with one another. Slow down and take time to notice.

Just talk. Connect. Take notice.

Share stuff and be kind to people.

Check in with your neighbours, the ones that you see and the ones that you don’t.

#Worldmentalhealthday

Do we have permission?

Recently, I have been consulting people about their wellbeing.  I’ve met several different groups over the past month to talk about the different ways they manage their lives. The things that we do to feel happy, content, empowered, noticed and healthy.

I often hear people say:

“I am not creative so I don’t do that or this”

or

“I haven’t done creative stuff since I was in primary school. It’s not really for me. I only draw stick men”

I remember many years ago I took a group of older residents to a local gallery and on entering one of the exhibition spaces, one of the group members pulled me aside to ask me whether we had permission to be here. They wanted to talk etiquette, how to behave, how to interact with the space and how to enjoy it. What to think.

A lot is changing in galleries and museums and I hope this continues as we consider and develop spaces whereby people aren’t asking us if they have permission to take part. That we stop labelling people “hard to reach” or “disengaged” and we stop blaming the general public for the lack of numbers taking part or attending galleries or museums.

How about we start seeing galleries and museums as spaces that as well as beautiful spaces full to bursting with wonderful art are also spaces that are good for our wellbeing and our health?

In the last few years, I have started gardening. I began by telling myself that I wasn’t a good gardener, encouraged by my ability to kill many house plants in the past. But the garden needed tending to and I had to do it.

But, as with many new things, of course I wasnt good at gardening straight away…O the shock! How can you be good at something straight way ? I had to practice and learn about gardening. I had to read. Now, I enjoy it. It makes me laugh. I love getting messy. Making things grow from seed to table. Corny I know but it is good for my wellbeing. I have enjoyed watering weeds, potatoes, tomatoes, chillies, rhubarb, cucumbers and an abundance of flowers and fruit. Some of it has survived, some if it hasn’t but it has been hilarious and fun and makes me feel amazing when we get to eat something that we have grown from a tiny seed.

So, now I help run the school eco garden club. Me. The person who wasn’t a gardener. Who is, was and feels good when she does it. I garden not to be a gardener but because i love it and i can do it.

So, here is a wellbeing checklist from our beloved NHS. It is a good thing. It can enrich us and support us as artists and people. Just people. Try and plot your week, your month, your year with it. It is really worth it.

  • Connect – connect with the people around you: your family, friends, colleagues and neighbours. Spend time developing these relationships.
  • Be active – It isn’t about going to the gym but taking to walking, cycling or playing active games, move.
  • Keep learning – trying something new with your brain, learning new skills can give you a sense of achievement and a new confidence.
  • Give to others – even the smallest act can count, whether it’s a smile, a thank you or a kind word. Larger acts, such as volunteering at your local community centre, can improve your mental wellbeing and help you build new social networks.
  • Be mindful – be more aware of the present moment, including your thoughts and feelings, your body and the world around you. Some people call this awareness “mindfulness”.

So, you know turn your mobile off, move, keep learning, give back, and talk to people…

The passing of time

The summer is slowly disappearing from view leaving behind it as always an unfinished to do list of wishes and aspirations. Our summer was broken into three parts. We travelled to Spain. We are quite a tight unit and although G played with other children and we chatted occasionally to other parents, we generally kept it very much about the two of us. We hung out in old towns, sought out local communities, swam a lot, drew a lot and read a lot whilst laughing our way around the local area.

Stage two of our summer holiday was spent supporting my mother through her hip operation. The operation was a success but recovery takes a long time. Things have changed for now. There is a slowness to our house, our movements and our activity are more considered. Stage three involves any remaining summer fun where possible coupled with preparation for a new term at school. Six weeks feel hardly enough time to gather oneself before a new academic year begins.

But this year the passing of time has played on my mind. Three generations living under one roof, each requiring care and support for sometimes the same but different things. We mark out the seasons with a little poem or book or a collection of found objects. We move furniture to accommodate changing weather and seasons. Time passing.

Our final activity towards the end of the summer holidays is to work through all of G’s toys and clothes, discussing and discarding what is no longer needed or wanted. She is at an age now where she is able to laugh at herself and her 43 soft toys and objects which hold much desire. She is happy to make room and pass on some of these items to others. A building block with the trace of teeth marks, a first doll with all of its ragged appeal and remaining twirls of hair or a makeshift toy with re-purposed parts from broken bits of wood. All moved to feature in another story.

Another year and we have completed this task. G is marking out her height on the wall. A new uniform is ready, shoes bought and preparations are in place to ensure that the first day of JUNIOR school is smooth. And so, we watch the aging process in my house. I watch the passing of time with my daughter and my parents at either end with myself sandwiched in the middle. The passing of time. The change of seasons.

Back to work, back to a new season, back to the future. Off we go people.