“Valuing labour in bright and brilliant new ways”

A week before Christmas I was very lucky to have been awarded an Arts Council Developing Your Creative Practice Grant.

Its taken me about 2.5 years to get to this point.

In that time there have been stop/start conversations, many unsuccessful funding applications, self doubt and lots of unpaid hours of labour fitted in amongst paid freelance work and caring for my two young children.

Following another 3-months of home schooling due to the 3rd national lockdown I’m only now just getting my head into the process.

At the heart of the project is considering what an independent public art programme might look/feel like for my community of Bitterne Park.

However, since receiving the funding and as an outcome of the last year I have also begun to ask myself fundamental questions about continuing to work in the public arts sector. Is it something I even want to continue doing?

This feels like a very selfish question to ask in the context of competitive and diminishing arts funding.

I am of course incredibly grateful to receive the funding. I was looking forward to skipping enthusiastically and light footedly into the DYCP process, but the reality of just forging ahead is not that simple when you’re a mum of two young children and  the continuing uncertainty of the pandemic rumbles on.

The last year has been about survival as I juggle to keep working as a freelancer, retain my independent ambitions and home school my 6 year old alongside caring for my 3 year old. The situation has left me reeling and gasping for breath. Like so many other women around the world.

When I am taken with a spark of inspiration it is wiped out with a sudden pang of anxiety because I simply don’t have the energy to sustain the juggling act.

For years I’ve compared myself to other high-flying women in the arts who seem to be able to manage the juggling (or at least appear to) but another realisation is that I don’t actually want to do the juggling.

If there is one good thing that has come out of the last year perhaps we are more able to see things from different perspectives and realise ‘one size does not fit all’.

So many of us who work in the public arts sector have been brought up on a diet of bigger is better and always striving for the next thing. The fact is the diminished arts funding landscape makes us all over promise and my fear comes from these learned habits. I don’t want to work in this way any more. So how can I work differently? This will be a strong research thread for me as I work through my DYCP project.

I don’t really want to stop working in the arts, but I do need to find better ways to work, which can encompass my life as a whole and all the responsibilities that go with it.

Here’s to “valuing labour in bright and brilliant new ways”.

Toni-Dee Paul’s poem ‘Who Cares? (And How They Do It)’, which inspired this first blog post was published by Metal and the Live Development Agency through the book ‘In Other Words’.