Created by Rebecca Livesey-Wright with and for Culture Collective, 2023.
This piece was written in response to the mother-artists peer group sessions hosted February-March 2023.
Throughout February and March 2023, with huge thanks to the Culture Collective, I was able to bring together a group of 25-35 people with experience of being mother-artists. We discussed how we exist in the creative industries as mothers who are artists and as artists who are mothers.
Both identifiers were used expansively. The term ‘artist’ was inclusive of all those working in the creative industries including arts administrators, producers, writers, somatic practitioners and more. The term ‘mother’ was used inclusive of all people, regardless of gender, who identify or feel an affinity with motherhood. This included non-binary people, trans men and trans women, step-mums, non-birth-giving/carrying mothers, bereaved mothers and surrogate mothers.
I believe the breadth and wealth of experience brought together under the term ‘mother-artist’ was part of the group’s power. By attending the sessions, every member made a commitment to respect the lived experience of each other member. And from this we were able to create an open space which felt safe to become vulnerable, to share our pain, our anger and our hopes.
When I first re-entered work after becoming a single mum to a newborn, I was a freelancer working in the general fields of community engaged arts, culture and heritage. I assumed these fields lent themselves to radical thinking and action but I came up against more than one challenge as a result of my parenting situation. I was rejected from a job with an organisation delivering community support for families because I couldn’t offer enough flexibility. When I was later hired by another organisation to coordinate a local heritage project on a (very) part-time basis, the hiring-manager questioned whether I’d be able to hold down the job because other mothers had quit positions there before.
This experience is not unique. The mother-artists sessions were developed following an initial much smaller meeting of 4 people following the talk I hosted with Maternal Fantasies as part of the Culture Collective’s International Perspectives series. At this first session, all the mother-artists shared that they had lost out on work as a result of having children. One group member was so affected by the challenges she faced in employment that she spent two decades hiding the fact she was a mother from her employers. This made me angry, and sad. That a choice to be something, to choose to live life in a way that feels so personally fulfilling, should so dramatically affect the ability to also choose to be something else. That literal lives have to be hidden, that part of the self has to be boxed and stored away so another part of the self can find fulfilment. That this (unfortunately) necessary act forces us into dichotomies, a separation of the self, a breaking of our personhood.
The initial group who met decided that we needed to meet again, and to broaden this conversation to include voices of other mother-artists. We decided to create a short-term peer-support group with the secondary aim of gathering resources for ourselves and for organisations, funders and employers to develop their practices to improve access to the arts and employment for mothers.
Three artists were invited to speak at each of the 3 sessions. We were honoured to host Adura Onashile, Laura Bradshaw and Raman Mundair to speak to us about their work, their practices and their experiences of navigating the cultural sector as mothers.
The sessions were raw and beautiful. Tears were shed… so many of us never had the opportunity to speak, in the same breath, about our multifaceted identities as mothers, artists, grown-up children, and beings and now here we were, hearing each other and bearing witness to one another and embracing the web of our entangled many-selves.
It’s hard to pinpoint any key takeaways or actions from across the 3 sessions as so much of what was beautiful and needed was simply the space to just be. However, each of the invited artists left us with wee nuggets of wisdom.
Raman Mundair gave a rallying call for developing inclusion or access riders for ourselves based upon our mothering needs; if a rockstar can have a mini-fridge full of White Goose, why can’t we have a mini-fridge full of Breast Milk™? She called for a revolutionary motherhood and for us all (artists, funders, employers etc.) to develop a new, creative imagination. On that note, she instructed us to cite each other. We can write ourselves into the canon; we can make ourselves visible.
In the spirit of citing one another, a member of the group, Leah Miller-Biot, described a creative family centred project we both worked on with Nadia Rossi (Rumpus Room) as “life-affirming”. This. Blew. My. Mind. For years I had been grappling with how to describe to myself what the purpose of art and culture was. And here Leah did it, in 2 little words. Now I think about that in the context of our group, in the context of hearing so many stories of diminishing, hiding, shrinking, and being made to feel embarrassed about, huge parts of our lives. We’re so often pushed out of communities of culture, whether intentionally or incidentally. We are missing out on life-affirming experiences.
This work is ongoing and developing and there is still so much to learn. I’m excited to have recently been introduced to the Radical Care project funded by Creative Scotland which released funds to cultural organisations across Scotland to explore modes of supporting and including caregivers. I am hoping that this will usher in a shift into a new way of providing access for parents in the arts, both as workers and as audiences.
In the meantime, there are some simple steps that organisations, funders and artists ourselves can do:
- Ask the questions: ask for childcare costs to be covered, ask for creches, ask for your friend, parent, partner to come to that work conference so that you can attend and put your kid to bed at night. Organisers: ask your funders to make these costs available
- Communicate before being asked: communicate your needs and your ideal access requirements – don’t hold your requests back. Organisers: communicate what access provisions you already have in place – don’t wait for people to ask you
- View care-responsibilities as valid access requirements: we may have chosen to have children but we didn’t choose to be excluded. Organisers: can you shift the time of your performance so people with children can come? Can you set up a play-den in the corner so your space feels welcoming to families? Can you offer flexible and adaptable working hours for your freelancers and staff?
But perhaps the most important thing we can do is value mother-artists for what they bring to the table. We are not ‘supermums’ or ‘earth mamas’ and neither are we ‘just mums’. We’re artists, makers, cultural workers, producers, writers, creative practitioners, directors, dancers with experience of, and access to, a vast community of people and the human experience. You’re not only doing us a disservice by deprioritising our access, you’re doing a disservice to yourselves and the communities you serve. We all deserve better.
The accompanying resources were gathered by Rebecca and attendees. They give an authentic and human insight into the kinds of things that feel important for mother-artists and intend to work as a starting point for opening up conversations around access for mother-artists.
To find out more or to suggest a resource, please email firstname.lastname@example.org