Civil Society and the arts

“Beware those men, the jokers and the tricksters and the clowns. They will laugh us into hell”.

Russell T Davies character Muriel stated in the final episode of Years and Years.

O gosh, an amazing drama which shows us a stark and terrifying picture of the world as it falls into a hell of our own making.

So, I want to talk about Civil Society.

It involves all of us. It is where “we come together” as a community for a purpose or maybe something useful… Maybe it’s the street parties, community groups, arts, events, community litter pick ups, connecting through good things, taking part in resistance -we are civil society. Right now we need it more than ever. The world and the community we live in is a divided one. Our democracy is questionable at best. Many of us feel threatened or scared, vulnerable or angry. Some of the voices in our community have turned to anger and division. There are also growing tensions between different communities often inflamed by the media. Politicians are at best creative with facts and often rail against community desire and voice. We are tired, we are scared and we are desperately seeking change.  

From rural to city, from rich to poor, from old to young power, powerlessness is a growing feeling that unites many of us. To add to our woes, austerity and an unequal society has created wider and deeper divisions within this place we call home and how we connect and work together for the better.

Ok. Stay with me. It’s going to be OK.

I recently attended a Civil society futures conference with Julia Unwin. The event held a lens up to the social tensions, stories and challenges we are all facing in our daily lives.

“We gonna leave” a good friend told me recently. “As soon as our passports are through. We have had enough of this country. It isn’t safe for the kids. This country has gone to hell. I don’t recognise it anymore”.

It is a depressing and recurring statement that I have heard and engaged with since Brexit began. I even entered into it myself for a short as I flirted with the possibility of moving back to Ireland with my family. That is until I realised how hard a move that would be for me and my family. 

But, the conference shared stories of civil society and communities bringing about change and coming together and that is what keeps me here. We were reminded of stories about how communities have forged partnerships to strengthen society through difficult times.

From the people who left their homes in the early hours with armfulls of food, clothing and gifts to those left homeless at Grenfell Tower to the small groups of people who stood picketing in the pouring rain for days to protect their beloved local libraries from closure. Or the people wrestling with the changing tide of freak weather reports to help a neighbour with comfort and support as they scoured through the rubble for precious ornaments and family treasures. Maybe you are one of the growing numbers of people who peacefully protest about climate change by making small and large gestures of resistance to raise awareness and bring about change. These moments occur despite everything that is happening around us. These moments occur with difference and sometimes because of it. These moments. 

As a community of people we want and need to have agency over things that matter and mean something to us and our families. What the civil society future report finds is that a deep connection and trust for everyone involved remains a key thread to our future. There is still desire for a sense of place, connection, collaboration and coming together.

Yes of course, the political landscape feels more and more out of reach for many of us. One person at the conference said “This change will have to come despite the government. We cannot rely on them anymore, that’s finished”.

“Yes but people have been saying that for years” said my neighbour. “Nothing new there”. Yes, that is true. Hear we are now in our call to rise up. 

However, what really struck a chord for me in the report was the notion of kindness. A call for a different language. A different language of engagement and questioning. Time for us to become more emotionally articulate with our interactions and intentions with one another. How our engagement and decisions have far greater depth and impact than we realise. To change for the future, requires all of us to consider kindness, courage and commitment as our anchor. It should be our anthem.

It made me think of a local authority that I once visited. It had placed its housing team in amongst the open space atrium. It was more cost effective. An atrium where families, individuals and staff mingled in amongst the clatter of coffee cups and the chatter of a public space.

In contrast to all of this, someone would occasionally hear that their housing has been denied or changed. The person waiting impatiently for someone to appear with good or bad news. In public. In full view. The meeting would involve the positioning and repositioning of chairs as everyone involved took their seats. I imagined the housing officer staring in silence, willing their case number to comply with change. The housing officer poised and waiting to offer alternatives and a paper sheet of numbers and contacts. Then empty seats as the chairs are abandoned.

Yet, this was the now preferred method. It may have made perfect financial sense to move the more accessible service to an open space but it now felt like a service that was unkind and publically witnessed. It had the potential to place the most vulnerable in full view. How would they rate that service ? Kind. Tick box 5, Unkind. Tick box 1. Humiliated. Tick box 1. 

If our future involves all manner of discoveries involving technology and the very way we work and engage with one another, then how are we proceed without kindness.

Imagine this:

The rush of language and definition for different social groups. “What shall we call those people?” “I know, let’s call them “hard to reach”. It is in the end, no way kind.

I dipped into twitter today to read the news. It could really do with some generous acts of kinds in language and behaviour. How do some of these interactions contribute to a kind, courageous and committed society. I leave feeling as though the divisions and gaps in society are like two huge husks colliding with one another in slow dry battle.

So, if it is our behaviours and practices that can and will shape the future how can we proceed ?

People are asking more questions. This is good. People are disruptive. This is good. People are provocating. Also good. Do I need to ready my Irish passport to abandon this country. Not just yet. For the artistic community, who isn’t here and why ? Do I need permission to be here and if so WHY? There are lots of organisations and individuals who are showing us a commitment to question and do things differently. Do they provide the solutions for society ? If you are involved in local arts and health could your progression be the answer ? Do we need to balance the power out of buildings and into open spaces and into smaller unknown spaces ? Where do local authorities fit in and how can they support us better ?

Additionally, I think the challenge we are seeking is both external and internal for the arts sector. I have witnessed small organisations bringing radical and innovative change precisely because they are the small organisation. The impact and the ripple effect they are having can be far reaching. So, we do have power. If very small organisations are pushing forward then we can make a huge difference in civil society. However, we can move forward exhibiting, modelling kindness in our own community as well as the wider world.

Here is the PACT from civil society futures aspirations:

  • Power – sharing power and using power to help everyone play a full part in the things that matter to them
  • Accountability – being accountable to the people and communities we serve
  • Connection – broadening and deepening our connections with people and communities
  • Trust – staying true to our values and investing the time and resources in activities that will help build trust in the sector

https://civilsocietyfutures.org/

http://civicroleartsinquiry.gulbenkian.org.uk/news

https://www.thersa.org/

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

Creativity and vulnerability

I turned 50 a few weeks ago. I marked the occasion without too much fuss or fanfare, no big party, no big event but instead surrounded myself with family and a few close friends. For me, it was a time to sit and reflect, consider and take stock.  After all, I have managed to stick around for 50 years, which is quite a big deal considering a few friends didn’t make it this far and they would have loved to have had the chance to celebrate their 50th Birthday at some point. 

My social media feed has been awash with comments from my peers (also turning 50) reflecting on memories, stories and thoughts about their half a century birthdays.

“I remember cycling to university like it was last week, I can’t quite believe it” one of my friends stated with shock at turning 50 this year. People tell you that time seems to speed up as you age and it certainly feels that way to me. It seems endless when you are young but now the days and weeks seem to flutter past with increased regularity. Age and aging plays on my mind more. Watching my child grow, marking out small moments of independence as I step further and further back to loosen the reins and watch her lead her way.

I want to embrace this older version of myself. A new chapter if you like. I am still here and there is much to do. I have a list. Lists are good. Fifty things to do for 50. It’s a chance to connect, reconnect and challenge myself.

A more considered work/life balance has become a prominent feature as I have aged. Ensuring that I look after myself and my family has become key to my every day. But a more common feature is maintaining my health and wellbeing. I am ever mindful of the friends and family that do not have the luxury of good health. So, I am grateful for the way things are for me. I have started to walk more, turn off my phone more, ensuring that I don’t work late into the evening or weekends, eat better, spend quality time with friends and family. Make memories and challenge myself. Less worry time or at least more manageable worry time. There is so much more to do. 

However, far to many of us that work in the creative arts world often place our health and wellbeing as the last task on our long list of things to do. We often work long hours, experience professional isolation, have less money and work under repeated deadlines, funding and uncertainty. We aren’t alone in this practice.

Recently, I have been working with Arts on Prescription, (more on that in another post!) with a keen eye on the Social prescribing model which has had increasing involvement in the everyday. Social prescribing, sometimes referred to as a community referral, is a means of enabling GPs, nurses and other primary care professionals to refer people to a range of local, non-clinical services. It’s not for everyone but as our health and wellbeing becomes a standing feature as we age, social prescribing seeks to address people’s needs in a holistic way which supports improved wellbeing. It works to offer individuals the opportunity to take greater control of their own health as part of enabling communities. 

It can involve a variety of activities including volunteering, arts, gardening, befriending, cooking and sports to name a few. But does it work ? Yes it does! There is a growing body of evidence that social prescribing can lead to a range of positive health outcomes. We all want a better quality of life and whatever works, works well for some people. I know older people who have been referred to a social prescribing model, meeting it at times with challenge and reluctance but it did add a wider network of support and improved their long-term health which they value greatly.  It essentially works to connect, learn, grow, give and be active.  It’s not an easy fit and does not support everyone yet but its a start and that is a good thing. 

Thinking about my Engage Extend leadership course, where I have been researching and interviewing arts leaders, I have also been reading Brené Brown (a researcher professor who has spent the past two decades studying and researching shame, courage, vulnerability and empathy) who talks about “the challenge in leading in a culture of never enough” in her book “Daring Greatly”. She talks about the notion that leadership doesn’t have anything to do with positions of power or status but more so it is about leaders who hold themselves accountable for finding the potential in people and process.

“Vulnerability is at the heart of the feedback process” states Brown. But it also plays a major part in how we lead, our voice, being truthful to who we are and our values as well as being kind to ourselves and others. So, how do we ensure that we as artists lead with a degree of vulnerability in ways that also maintains our own health and wellbeing. How do I lead in a way that looks after me as well as others ?

Leadership in any arena can be hard and especially difficult when things don’t go as planned or at times are unpredictable. However, staying close to our values and who we are and want to be, appears to be the key. We do have to take risks, challenge and be vulnerable to uncertainty but we also need to connect, be active, take notice, learn and give. In principle that could be taking notice of your friends, yourself, your health. It could be ensuring that we go for a swim or a walk or just moving more regularly or volunteering, helping and connecting with yourself and others. 

So back to vulnerability which so often defines our little or big moments of fear, sorrow, joy, disappointment, shame, creativity and so on. It is nakedness and exposing. I know that I am not a fan of it myself but without it we don’t get to enrich our work, our connection, relationships and our creativity.

How does any of this connect ?

In my opinion, we cannot have good leadership without vulnerability. Vulnerability is strength, it is daring. It is having difficult and challenging conversations which can be exposing and uncomfortable at times for all involved. It can be about learning difficult truths about ourselves and others but still managing to show kindness.

In order to work at a deeper level with communities do we need to be more courageous about ourselves and where we are placed within the conversation?

We often work to enrich people, empower communities to grow, improve and develop both independently and collectively but how much of that are we modelling ? How about we start looking after ourselves more ? We are also part of those communities as well. We are individuals who need to enrich our lives with better health and wellbeing outcomes.

From interviewing artists as part of my Extend Leadership programme, I have noticed a few things. One is the importance of kindness in your practice. Kindness to others and ourselves even when it is at its most challenging but also the importance of self-care, of peer support and connection and finally the chance to connect with one another. Put our computers down, turn our phones off and pick up the phone or meet up in person and talk. Relationships are key to everything that we do in this sector so its vital that we maintain that peer support and connection with one another.

In the next year, I am seeking out more conversation, to interview and collect more stories from artists and communities about their journeys. It will be a chance to share, connect and grow. I want to understand everyone’s journey and find a way to share these stories.

For now, stay healthy people. Stay connected and build relationships.

https://www.kingsfund.org.uk/publications/social-prescribing

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.

Take Notice

When I was younger, I took weekly life drawing classes as part of my arts course. There were some fairly vocal people in the group, regularly talking and chatting to our tutor. They worked hard to connect with one another by sharing ideas, laughter and ways of working. Our tutor was a confident man, he was tall, enigmatic and spoke with authority.

A smaller group of us lacked the confidence to engage across the room. Each week, I would park myself into the same seat and ready myself for a new life class. I concentrated, listened to our tutor when he spoke and applied his advice to all of my work. Yet, I struggled to be noticed and to connect with people and with my tutor. I felt invisible. I felt irrelevant. I felt unnoticed. Each week, I would arrive into the class with a different strategy. Some weeks I worked hard to chat with people around me, people I knew and some that I didn’t. Other weeks, I would attempt to join in the chatter to no avail. Then, I simply decided to just get on with things as they were.

At the end of our first term, we were requested to bring together all of our drawings and submit ourselves for a course mark with the tutor. We formed an orderly queue and waited for our ten minute meeting. As I entered the room, the tutor was sat busying himself with some paperwork. He stopped to check my name and reconfirmed my details. My heart sank a little. I opened my portfolio and layout out my coursework in date order.

He looked through each drawing, lifting them up and turning them over. He shot me a sharp look, “You are in my tutor group right ?” “Yes,” I replied. He nodded. I nodded. Silence. We sat in our uncomfortable silent space for a few long minutes. I chewed the inside of my cheek. Eventually, he took a deep intake of breath. He placed his hands on top of my work and looked over to me. “I am really sorry” He said. “I haven’t spoken to you for the entire term. I haven’t seen any of your drawings. I don’t remember you.”

I nodded and chewed the inside of my cheek more vigorously. I could feel my eyes burning. DON’T CRY. DON’T CRY.

The truth is at times we all feel irrelevant, I knew I wasn’t invisible. I knew that I was valued. I knew that. But occasionally, we enter a space where we feel unnoticed, lost and at times irrelevant. Nothing we do helps it change until someone notices, steps back and pays attention.

In arts leadership, what do we do about this? I haven’t always taken the time to consider who isn’t here and why. How often do we stand back and look at things through a different lense, consider other people who are different to us for any number of reasons. Like most people, I have taken part in supervision, regular meetings, engagement, conversations, reviews and very very open evaluation. Those are all good and valued elements of management and are designed to ensure that we pay attention, be honest and connect with our peers. Yet this still happens and for a number of reasons. Difference isn’t always reflected in our teams and the people we work with, so how can we say we know how people who are different are feeling?

A start would be to keep a diary, reflect, stop talking, stop interrupting, debate, dicuss, challenge, regularly take part in training to take notice, recruit different people, engage. Maybe we might notice someone else that needs a chance to be heard. Maybe, we could think about doing things different with different people. After all, we can’t say that we represent everyone if everyone isn’t represented within our teams and structures. Take Notice.

My fearless future

I find myself increasingly connecting with people who remind me a little of someone else. I seem to reference lost friends or faraway friends in conversation with more frequency. TIME has started to play on my mind more.

It is no secret that as you age, time seems to speed up and health become more important and talked about. We pay attention more. We look back more. We worry more. In my house, Ill health and funerals are a regular conversation over breakfast these days. My family in Ireland table funeral attendance with more frequency. We are starting to lose people. That’s a bit morose isn’t it? Lets not think about it. But you know, the longer you live the more you lose. So, life becomes more precious.

It would be easy to become fearful and to hide inside and hold it all close. To resist change and interaction. To distance ourselves. I think we are all a bit guilty of that. As we age, we become increasingly fearful risk averse people. Myself included. We collectively struggle to venture out, take on a new challenges, risk change, difference or any kind of danger.

So that’s it is it? Stay home and watch TV ? Well, no. I hope not. For me, journal writing and reflecting over the past few years have become a common feature in my life. I have set myself a challenge. I am a list writer after all.  

Years ago, I developed a project to photograph people with their lists. I learnt to print make, (badly I may add) and used my hands to overlay their words with their lists. I wanted to capture a moment in time, actions and thoughts of things that were important to them.

Here is my current list. It’s called: My aging list of tasks. Some of the tasks I am good at and some are a work in progress. I have learnt that with age, I need to be kinder to myself about achieving all of this.

  • Every year to fundraise for Cancer treatment to help family and friends treatment. It’s good and a chance to spend time with friends and family doing something important. One out of two of us will develop cancer as we age, so it’s a must. It’s become personal for me. Both my parents and various close relatives and friends have experienced cancer. Some no longer here. My sister is currently taking a miracle cancer drug to treat her benign Giant Cell tumour.
  • To spent more time with family work less, enjoy life more.
  • To be more creative in life and work. Writing, reflecting and making. Do something. Whatever it is, just do it. I am currently creating a scrapbook of ideas/thoughts and actions.
  • To take more risks. I am already a bit of a risk taker with often terrible consequences but I still stand by it both personally and creatively. You learn a lot.
  • To be brave. Challenge myself. Stop saying things like “this isn’t me or that is me.” Its me if I have done it.
  • Get involved. Politics and the environment have become more important to me as I age. I genuinely feel that we all have a duty to both of those things. Get involved and do something good. Be change. 
  • Stay in touch with friends in whatever way you can. Be it writing, email, texts, face to face and in groups. I give myself a hard time when I have little to no time to catch up with friends. But, I have learnt that I do what I can, where I can. After all, stressing about not seeing friends is silly. I wouldn’t want any friends of mine to stress out about not seeing me either.
  • Be impulsive. Do unexpected things, go to unexpected places, do unexpected things. Even if its rubbish. Last minute plans are always exciting.
  • Make new friends– younger ones and older ones…If it works it works! Find new people.
  • Volunteer. I help out at the local school, a local music charity, gardening and fundraising.
  • Learning. Giving myself time to learn something new be it training and development, a conference, an event. Connect.
  • Look after myself– stay healthy, walk, move, eat.
  • Sleep– go to bed earlier.  Sleep is good.
  • Be good to yourself.
  • Laugh and make memories.

What should I tell my daughter?

Books. Books are good. If I cannot figure out a way to answer or help my daughter, I buy a book for us both to read and talk about. I know more about dinosaurs then when I was 7 years of age, and I know more now about precipitation and marginal gains than I ever thought possible.

Usually the questions from my daughter arrive in twos. For instance, a while ago I was asked the following questions:

What is the point of humans ?

Followed closely with;

Is pain actually real or something we imagine as being humans and non of it’s really real ?

There is usually an outpouring of stories and questions when we are not sat opposite one another. Car rides are particularly good for this. The back seat of the car, can often yield animated discussion about life. Some of it is school based, but often it is based on books, people, overheard conversations, tv programmes or as I call it “what that hell is that about mummy ?” But despite buying lots of books about important women in history, role models and important valued women. I got this one question last week:

How come some things aren’t equal for girls mummy ?

So, yes there are books that I can share and I HAVE shared. I have quite a lot. I am not short of literature. The question has come after reading ALL of the books. So, who wants to have a conversation with their daughter about equality, and well stuff that every adult woman who I know has had to consider for all of their lives ?

How can I as someone who works in the arts support this learning ? What are we doing in the arts sector to engage and have a good conversation about this with everyone? Empowering girls and learning about consent isn’t just my responsibility surely? Surely its about everyone. It is a fairly obvious. A lot of the books about equality, suffragettes, feminism, activism for women, powerful women are still marketed towards girls. Surely, if we are to talk about safety, consent, misogyny, patriarchy and equality,  we need everyone to read them? Is it really just for girls to figure out for ourselves ? Surely, we need ALL kids to read those books, books about amazing women, girls who challenged, questioned and did something ?

Today I was reading a story about a dad whose son went to school, (reception). His son is into lots of activities; sports, cars, reading, playing, climbing, being silly. Pretty much the standard things that a lot of kids are into. On this particular day at school, he chose to wear nail varnish to school (which was allowed btw). He was teased ALL DAY about it by his peers. He was repeatedly called a girl by his peers about how it was wrong and laughable. He came home with an enormous amount of shame. So, think about it, we as a society are clear that girls should be supported to be empowered, equal in society. There is an endless road to achieving this. But in contrast, if a boy decides to wear and relate to toys/clothes and thing generally associated with girls they are ridiculed and mocked.

So, in the arts sector what do we do to engage children around this subject? Do we actively engage children differently based on their gender ? Are we working hard to actively facilitate a conversation for everyone to take part in ?

So, if I am going to be able to answer the question my daughter posed, “How come some things aren’t equal for girls mummy ?” I will need to do some work as it’s not just about girls. This is going to take more than a few dozen books about history, art and empowerment. It is going to take engagement, talking about good behaviour amongst girls and boys when we see it as well as challenging things when it is difficult.

A last word from her:

” I think if boys read some of the books for girls about power and how to be powerful and sticking up for yourself that would make it more powerful for girls. Girls should do the same and read the books that are about boys. It would make it more powerful. If everyone joined in, then everyone knows to be better and actually IS better”. 

So, we are off to study. Study artists, books and people and do as she says…include friends, boys, girls, everyone. Fancy joining us?