Author: Cristiana Bottigella

DYCP Application Writing Workshop ~ online Friday 9th of December, 4-5:30pm Limited spaces BOOK NOW

ACE Developing Your Creative Practice

WHEN: Friday 9th of December, 4-5:30pm
WHERE:  online / Zoom link will be sent on the day before
COST: £20 (including Eventbrite fee)

BOOK for Friday 9th of December 4-5:30pm

Are you an artist looking to further develop your practice but you are not sure how to?
Are you planning to apply for Arts Council England’s Developing Your Creative Practice (DYCP) programme and are looking for inspiration, advice and support?

Following discussions with artists, we have noticed there is a recurring theme surrounding a lack of support and accessibility to arts funding applications. The creative sector deserves better than this – we want to collaborate by sharing our resources and experience.

Join our Developing Your Creative Practice funding application writing workshop. We will share our knowledge and experience to help you create a strong Arts Council DYCP application.

What to expect:

During the workshop we will take an in-depth look at the DYCP programme application process: eligibility criteria and access support, analysing the questions and what ACE assessors are looking for, creating a solid plan and a budget.

We will look at examples of successful applications and we will share useful tips and resources to help you develop your ideas, as well as plan and write your own application.

The session will be friendly and informal. There will be plenty of opportunities for discussion and questions.

This workshop is tailored to those who are planning to apply to the Round 16 of Arts Council England’s Developing Your Creative Practice programme, which will open on the 12th of December. However, it will be beneficial to all those who want to take a moment to reflect on how to develop their practice and decide to apply in the future or just want to bring their practice to the next level and don’t know where to start.

What is a DYCP?

Arts Council England’s DYCP supports individuals who are cultural and creative practitioners and want to take time to focus on their creative development.  

DYCP Round 16:
Opening date: 12 December 2022 at 12pm (midday).
Closing date: 17 January 2023 at 12pm (midday).
Decision by: March 2023 TBC


I am independent from Arts Council England. The content of this workshops is based on my knowledge and experience. Artists should always read ACE DYCP Guidelines before submitting their application.

Book a free advice session with me through ArtQuest One to One

ArtQuest One to One

I’m delighted to be offering 7 free One to One advice sessions in September 2022 thanks to ArtQuest One to One.
Please book your session through their website.

ArtQuest One to One:
Free one-to-one advice for London-based artists. Delivered by Artquest and freelance artist career advisors.
Artists in London can book a free one-to-one advice session to:

  • answer your career-related questions,
  • get feedback about your work,
  • talk about how you work as an artist,
  • make a strategy about your future career,
  • find out about other arts organisations that can help you.

Socially engaged artists: how do they do it?

What are the common challenges of working socially? What are the dos and don’ts of working collaboratively and in participatory settings?

In 2021 interviewed 10 established artists to find out about their social practices and how they sustain them
I’m happy to share here a selection of the interviews together with a few conversations I had with art organisations that, on the other hand, support and commission artists. I hope that they can bring insight as well as inspiration and practical advice to those who are at the beginning of this journey. 


  1. Eelyn Lee
  2. Bredford Creative Arts
  3. Anthony Schrag
  4. Melanie Manchot
  5. Fiona Whitty @ WhittyGordon Projects
  6. Patricio Forrester
  7. Multistory
  8. R.M. Sánchez-Camus
  9. Yara + Davina
  10. MA Applied Arts and Social Practice @ Queen Margaret University 

I’d like to thank all the artists and art managers who took part in this project, and generously shared so much of their work with me.

ArtQuest Report submitted!

ArtQuest Report // The Future of International Work

International work and exchange are central to the working practices in the arts and cultural sectors. But how are Brexit, Covid-19 and climate change affecting the future of international work for artists? What are the risks and responsibilities of artists, art organisations and policy makers when examining international mobility? Is the UK at risk of cultural insularity?

These are some of the questions that informed my report for ArtQuest, which was the result of stimulating conversations with artists and art professionals as well as desk research and data analysis. The report was commissioned as part of a larger investigation into the current and future prospects for artists and it will inform ArtQuest’s work for the next 3-5 years. 

I am grateful to the following for their contributions to this research: Alessio Antoniolli (Triangle & Gasworks), Michaela Crimmin (Culture+ Conflict), Luigi Galimberti (Resartis), Frederick McDonald (Informality), Alex Julyan, Alberta Pane (Alberta Pane Gallery), Chris Simpson (PassaggiAtina) & Rain Wu.

September 2021




MA Applied Arts and Social Practice – Interview with Anthony Schrag

Interview with Anthony Schrag, Co-programme leader 

@ MA in Applied Arts and Social Practice

Can you tell me how you chose the name of the MA and what do you teach?

We had a long debate about the name. I still don’t think we’ve got it right, but the final decision is taken by the marketing team. The course has six modules and a final dissertation, but it looks at not only the theoretical and conceptual groundings of what it means to work with other people, but also what are the practical realities of that. We have a Marketing Module, a Finance and a Development Module, the kinds of things that might be needed to sustain a professional career in social practice. Obviously, we don’t want to present a singular idea of what social practice is and I think that’s really important that we recognise that someone might be more interested in arts and education but someone like myself is more interested in conflict and activism. We don’t want to present a single model of working so we have modules that look at ethics and ethical engagement, we have something that looks at the historical narratives, in which way you declare your legacy.

There are artists who might come through more radical positions and there’s some people that might come through John Cage’s conceptual legacy. There’s quite a practical element which looks at different types of engagement strategies. You might be a musician who’s interested in group music but we will do some sort of theatrical or written work, or we might do visual work to explore different types of engagement strategies. The last module looks at Practice Research: how can we think of this type of practice as a research strategy, which is important because practices have to be critically and conceptually framed within a context or a way of thinking.

All leads to a Dissertation Module which is a practice piece of work with a community supported with some reflections. But within that, we have a variety of assessments: from filling out an application form to develop a sponsorship pack. A lot of individual artists might question why that might be necessary or needed but whether you’re working for yourself or you’re working within a context of a community or an organisation, at some point, finance is going to be part of that.

Do you think that an artist can learn to become more entrepreneurial?

Thinking about the entrepreneurial side of things is a way to sustain the work. The way we teach it, is that there isn’t one right way but a multiplicity of different strategies. We recognise, that a lot of artists want to set up their own charities or their own organisations to develop what they want to do for example.

Is there anything that you don’t teach and you think you should be teaching?

I wish that we had a studio side, where we could present more of our creative work. I would frame the studio and the individual practice at the core, and then all the modules to sit on top of it. But we don’t have the practicalities of that within the university because we’re not, a production University in that regard, though we have production skills and media labs. The logic is that you should be working in the field, you don’t necessarily need a studio and I have never had a studio. My living room is my studio and actually there’s a liberation in not having a studio. But for some artists, a studio is a better space of thinking.

Do you liaise artists with communities and projects, or do they have to devise their own networks?

We have quite a few good relationships with individual organisations. For example, with Out of the Blue, which is a Community Investment Company just down the road. They run studios and they do something called Out of the Blueprint which is a social enterprise, in which out of work, young people learn how to do screen printing and develop brochures, small pamphlets and prints for sale. Or we work with Lyceum Theatre for those with a theatre-based practice. We have good relationships with organisations that come in to the programme to not only talk about what it is they do and how they got there, but also to offer opportunities. We have memorandums of understanding with them that if an artist wants to develop their final practice with one organisation or the specific community that they’re working with, they can sort of piggyback on those organisations. A year programme is a very short period of time to develop a relationship with the community and so we work with these organisations. Our practical engagement course is based at North Edinburgh Arts, a social practice organisation, which gives our students an on site, on the ground experience. We try to combine the theoretical with the practical realities of doing it.  

How do you teach community engagement?

I think it’s a lot easier than people imagine and you can teach processes and strategies. We have a class, for example, that looks at different ways of engaging with communities and students develop different strategies alongside a local community group where we introduce them to different types of workshops, or provide them with ice-breaking tools, different conversational frameworks, different ways of engagement etc etc. As such, I think you can pass on a variety of strategies quite easily: a good artist will take those strategies and make them their own.

Can you recommend any readings or references that help understand or explore the conceptual framework of social art?

I think problematically, there is no one ‘right’ way of social art: there are are lot of people, artists, organisations and even government agencies that claim this work and position it in certain ways: they want this art to ‘do’ certain things – to help the sick, to fix the poor, to address crime, to stop global capitalism, whatever. For me, if you’re trying to espouse a specific politics, how is that any different from propaganda? I am personally a very liberal lefty who believes in decolonisation, intersectional feminisms and take an anti-capitalist approach to my life: but that doesn’t mean I am going to use my art – my social practice – to try and make everyone think and be like me. Our job in the social art world – because it is social – is to keep conversations and relationships open…not to shut them down by being didactic or excluding people because they have a specific way of thinking about the world. That can be very difficult, I recognise. But I say this because any of the resources or references that are presented will often call for specific types of social art, so would encourage any artist interested in this work to read across the books; to read multiple perspectives; and to understand that writers have agendas, so to be critical about what you’re being told that social practice ‘should’ be: make it your own!

The main references that have been useful to me are Claire Bishop’s Artificial Hells (2012), and Grant Kester’s Conversation Pieces (2013). I also think Sophie Hope’s “Participating In the Wrong Way” PhD (2011) is brilliant in giving a a good contextual background to work within the UK. I’m also going to plug my own anthology (published in Spring 2022) that looks that the “Failure of Public Art and Participation” (Routledge) that touches on some of these concepts.


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Interview with Yara + Davina

Interview with Yara + Davina

How does social engagement fit in your practice and what event or single opportunity informed that change?

Davina: It’s difficult to define the moment when that change happened, but it was during my degree at Goldsmiths. I was desperately trying to find something which was to do with participation and meaningful dialogue. I really struggled as teachers were saying to me, I should go into art education or art therapy. At that time, almost 20 years ago, nobody pointed me in the direction of social practice. But on day one of my post grad, they said ‘Oh you are a social practice artist’! During my entire degree I was trying to find the right vocabulary, a language to articulate what I was doing. I then worked for a social practice curatorial team called B+B who were quite big in the early 2000s in the UK and they were doing super interesting projects. I did an internship with them at the same time so that really helped my understanding.

Yara: For me it wasn’t a single opportunity that changed my practice. I’ve been always making socially and politically engaged work and I was always using that term. It was about making work that was beyond just a passive viewer. I didn’t want to make a piece of work that’s sat in a gallery space. I found it really problematic and actually it didn’t excite me in terms of who my audience were or what it meant to be making contemporary art practice. I studied Fine Art in Context at University of the West of England in Bristol, and then did my MA at the Slade, and in both of them there was never a time when we talked about social practice. But within the context of site context and audience, there was this idea of: if we’re making it for an audience, how do they engage and who is the public? This led me to understand that I want to do more than just make a painting and put it on a wall, I want to be making for people and with people, where the public becomes embedded within whatever it is I’m doing or making. 

People and contexts are really important in your work. Could you tell me how they informed your projects from the start?  

Davina: Whenever we receive a commission or a brief, we begin to investigate the context around that brief. We literally think about every single element: the site, the history of that site and what’s currently happening socially and politically on that site, what’s happening in terms of people coming in and out of that site, who uses it, who lives in the locality, who actually engages at that site but maybe doesn’t live locally; who lives locally but never engaged. There are so many different dynamics to consider and we will very much weave all those elements into our thinking.

We’re never just coming to a project or brief with an idea and ask how do we embed it within whatever context is given. When we engage with a political context or we’re working with a specific institution, we also need to think about the politics of that institution, where they get their funding from, what is their history and their political angle.

We’re not just making the social practice work presuming we’re going to do three workshops and people will engage. We will actually really research the local audience, particularly those who do not feel engaged in that community.

Yara: We think really deeply about all of those ideas of how people engage with our practice, in a way ‘that’ is our creative practice. Our craft is the thinking process, and the conversation process that goes behind trying to create a work which is rooted in context, but then comes across as a work that everybody can understand. For us, success is about whether the public has engaged and whether there’s been meaningful participation. It’s not about if it’s been nominated to the Turner Prize, of course, that would be nice, but it’s not about that. It’s about how effective it has been in engaging people and also how effective it has been in changing the conversations about what art is and what art can be. 

You are shortly opening the Arrivals and Departures project in Milton Keynes. It’s a project that has travelled, not only in the UK, but also in the US. How will you present it in Milton Keynes, how does the project relate to the local area?

Yara: If you’d asked us this last year, we would have given you a much more vigorous answer. Because of Covid regulations we haven’t been able to fully present our public programme, which is a programme of events that goes alongside and allows the work to be more contextual. We think of this work very much as a triptych: the physical boards; the online engagement that happens, when people input the names and the stories, which includes an archive and a mapping system; and then the public programme, which is an integral part of the work. It doesn’t sit on the side; it is a third of it. That is how we give it context and relation to a place, but also how we engage a wider public.

Davina: What creates the life and soul around the work in Milton Keynes for example, is the way that we’re using the public programme to connect us with the local context. We’re working with Birth and Death Cafés and Kathy who is already based in Milton Keynes to have that dynamic relationship rather than bringing somebody from London; we’re working with the local university to do some creative writing around the work and we’re doing a talk with some local academics.   

Yara: It might be interesting to refer just very briefly back to some past projects, like another Arrivals and Departures installation in New York, where we worked with local immigrants’ rights organisation as New York has a history of being a place where immigrants first turned up to settle in the States. We looked at this idea of arrivals and departures very literally, so we worked with one organisation called Raices and had an online talk about the power of naming, what it means to name people especially people outside of the system, who can’t normally be named. And we used the boards for one takeover to name immigrants that arrived, and had been deported by ICE (US Immigration and Customs Enforcement). The same name was appearing on the Arrivals and Departures board, whit their arrival date into the US and their departure date and then a story that told their narrative, and each story was different, exposing the idea of what arrivals and departures means.

Davina: The work is going to Hull in September. The city has an history of having lost lots of men. There was a big incident in 1968: three trawlers from Hull sank within a few weeks of each other and 58 men lost their lives. There, we’re looking at contemporary times, and people who have lost their lives at sea. We’re working with France based activist Maël Galisson, to name people who are dying crossing the Channel, and tell their stories. When we went to Norwich, it was at the same time that there were heated conflicts between Palestine and Israel. We worked with a peacekeeping organisation to name the victims of that violence during that time. It’s about the location or the large, political global context of time. 

We’ll go to Zurich in August and again we’re thinking about a public programme that relates to the Swiss context, and that’s really interesting.

What do you think are the challenges in this practice?

Yara: I think one of the challenges actually is the lack of recognition or understanding of what social practice is. I don’t think it’s valued the way it will be in another five years. I think that we’re still on the periphery, still not as valued as a Damien Hirst that’s going to sit in a vitrine in the middle of a gallery space. We’re still working towards defining the value of making work that is for people and that can be questioning what art is.

Davina: One practical challenge is that a lot of the commissions often will come from outside of the art world, which is actually positive and we, in many ways, prefer working for non-art organisations because it makes the work much more accessible and reaching a much wider audience. But with that often comes a high level of bureaucratic content. Working for a Council to develop a project brings so many layers of people that have to Okay the idea, and the idea has to be sensitive to not potentially offend anybody, to the point where you might not even be able to use a text because it’s in one specific language, like English that can be seen as being insulting, because it’s not accessible to people who don’t speak English. There is a complexity that can be incredibly challenging to the point where the work has the potential threat of being reduced or compromised so much that it will lose its value and its meaning. So, for me the biggest challenge is working in setting where there’s just too many people involved and too many risks because everybody is so fearful now.

When you say, lack of recognition, do you mean from the art world, or the wider community?

Yara: I’d say both, but I think more from our institutions. They’re still slow in commissioning social practice artists what they’ll think is: Well, we’ve got this great painter and as an educational strand, we’ll bring them in to do some community engagement/ We want curators to be expanding who they curate, so we can widen the spectrum of who walks through gallery doors and who engages with work. We are also trying to further ideas around what art is and can be, and where artwork can reside, so we’re not striving to necessarily be within a gallery space, but in the public realm commissioned by the gallery/museum as an institution. There shouldn’t be a separate curator, who just at the end thinks about bringing people in. It is about how we widen the spectrum of who walks through those doors and who engages with work, or where work can be, because we’re not striving to be within a gallery space, but in the public realm.

Do you think that having the five nominees for the Turner Prize will make a difference for the sector?

Yara: yes social practice is getting recognition, but it feels like this is the token year as it’s all five in one year. Like if they needed to find something else to make the Turner Prize relevant and forward thinking. It would have been good to just keep seeing this happening and building up year after year.

Davina: There has been a shift, which comes from the structures of the museums and galleries. Five years ago, we’d be working with spaces that would have the director of the gallery from an exhibitions background, and then the person in participation would be more junior to them. This is not right and highly problematic. We need to have directors who are placed between participation and exhibition and actually there shouldn’t be a definition between the two. But then of course money. If you make such a practice work, you’re not selling it to galleries in Dubai or to rich collectors. There’s a massive financial implication to making this kind of work. We are given commission fees but they will never reach the fees you could potentially get through selling.

How do you sustain your practice? Is YARA + DAVINA a formalised partnership?

Yara: We both work part time which is one of the great benefits of working as a duo. In this way, we can be parents and sustain our practice. But it would also be very hard to be able to earn enough money for us both to have full time career within social practice.

Davina: We had talks about legalising YARA + DAVINA into a company, but to be honest we’re both awful at admin. we both aim to work 2.5 days each on our combined practice to make a full-time practice.

Yara: We both come to our collaborative relationship from quite different angles, and I think that just brings a breadth and depth of excitement to our projects. Davina has much more of a focus on participation in a way that is so elegant and really thoughtful. I come from   an interest in how to make work that is exploring the political aspects of things, how can we explore contexts in this particular way. Together, we have ideas and think about projects that are absolutely a marriage of the two. We bring our practices together and it becomes something bolder, bigger, better, and more ambitious. The fact there’s two of us, allow us to be more experimental. We can work at a much larger scale because there’s two of us who can take those risks. We also bring together very different networks and have different skills, which can be really helpful.

Davina: There’s also some practicalities. Being an artist is an incredibly lonely work   because most of the time we’re just sending emails, writing applications, making plans and coming up with ideas. Through working together, you have that dialogue and that kind of social element which is really good for your mental health. And then we just come up with better ideas, quicker, because we are challenging each other.

Let’s talk about commissioning. You have reached a point in your career where commissions come to you. But how was it at the beginning and what has changed?

Davina: Open calls have always been an absolute nightmare. We have done some, and sometimes even just to get on the shortlist is useful because you build up the dialogue with that curator and then you can make sure that you have them on your mailing list and you keep in touch. I think that is something that’s really important: to keep in touch. But you need to also try to do it in an authentic way. Generally, open calls are a lot of work and a very low chance. We do participate in shortlists of course, when we are invited and paid. We think it’s fair to pay a certain amount of money to come up with an idea. It’s really important that they have that respect from the beginning.

Yara: But the advice for younger people is that you do have to start with some of those open calls. You need to learn the skills of writing applications and succinctly say what your idea is about and also deal with rejection, which I actually think are really important.

Davina: When I graduated at Goldsmiths, I was putting myself out there as much as possible. I was doing internships and when I was 22 I raised £10 K from a funding organisation called Big Boost that supported young people led art community projects. And by doing it, I learned skills that are helpful in social practice spaces, like working with different communities. 

Yara: Writing applications is an important skill. When I was in London, I was passionate about live art, which for me was really important in terms of engagement. Connections with the Live Art Development Agency and Artsadmin were really important as well. I built a close relationship with both of those organisations just by always being present, by making work that I believe was challenging, applying for their bursaries, being part of that social culture. That really helped me because, I received a couple bursaries from Artsadmin, and then I became an associate artist for five years. I then joined the board of Chelsea Theatre. When you become part of these organisations and embed your time and passion, they become your networks and your support. I’m not saying I got things because of that, but what I’m saying is, you’re in that world. And it opens doors.

Davina: I like active networking. The kind of work we make doesn’t really have private views in the traditional way, so we are mindful to build relationships with people that we’d like to work with. And to keep in touch with people through newsletters.

How has Covid impacted your work? 

Davina: It had impact on two major projects we were working on and it did affect us in a very practical way. Arrivals and Departures for example, was due to open at Somerset House in April last year (2020). We had been working on the public programme for the tour for 18 months, and it was supposed to tour all of the UK. All of it had to be paused, delayed, altered and the public programme had to be radically transformed. There was another project we were working on with the National Trust called Kickoff, where we were supposed to have a major live event last July, which had to be cancelled and reassessed because people couldn’t be in close proximity. So, on a practical level, it really affected two projects that we’ve been working on for years. Those projects are still happening but obviously in a very different way and we’ve had to re think so much, we had to go back to square one and question what can a public programme look like or how can we engage young women.

Yara: It also completely reduced our capacity to work as we both had our kids at home full time and home-schooling. At that time, we were working full time to make these projects happen and we went down to two hours a day, because that was all we could do.

Is there anything you wish you knew when you started your career?

Davina: If you want to be an artist and that’s your absolute passion, what you were born to do, then just don’t give up. So many friends and colleagues have not touched their work since graduating in college. You have to find the time.

Yara: Art is much more challenging than a traditional career, where there’s a ladder of success you can climb. That structure isn’t there. We don’t have a pension or the support system to know that you’re in a career and you’re moving up. As Davina said, it is a lonely profession, and it’s just important to be aware of that. Something I wish they talked more about in school is how public facing this role is. If you are an artist, whether you have a social practice or not, you’re putting your work on the line, you’re putting it within the public realm. And there’s a level of vulnerability in doing that. You should be aware that there will be criticism and praise, there will be rejections of proposals. It’s financially challenging too, and both Davina and I are teaching, lecturing, tutoring or we are part of panel discussions.

Davina: It’s become part of your practice because you talk about what it means to be a social practice artist. It’s a moment of reflection for us too. They’re very good opportunities to articulate and to reflect and to and to pass on what you have learned. 

ID 1: Arrivals and Departures at Somerset House, 2020
ID 2: Arrivals and Departure at Freedom Festival, Hull 2021 
ID 3: Kick Off, 2020-2022


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Interview with R.M. Sánchez-Camus

Interview with R.M. Sánchez-Camus

How does social engagement fit in your practice and what single opportunity informed that change?

I was not the kind of artist that had a transformative experience where they realised they wanted to come out of their independent studio and engage in social practice. Rather, my work with social engagement came about through a process of developing my voice as a creative practitioner, which was aligned with finding a way to express how I wanted to work in co-production. I feel that a sector has grown around me, which is wonderful, particularly when I thought that I was the only one doing this and it wasn’t actually ‘art.’ It’s been a process, both of how I have come to embed social inclusion into co-production, and how co-authorship has become central in my work.

Can you give me an example of one of your projects that you think was successful in inclusion and co-production?

Success is a really interesting term and quite contentious. I probably have to unpack what we mean by success in order to answer that question. We live in a late-capitalist society in which the art world is dominated by a language of the art market, an unregulated financial world that is alien to most of us.

To me, success looks at factors including authentic and ethical engagement, individual and social change and how that might be born out of ally-ship and the ability to participate in cultural democracy. It could also include rewriting a narrative of the ‘self,’ because when the work is able to help individuals or groups, that is when social change can happen. I can find those measures of success in all the projects I’ve done.

Currently, I’m concluding two museum projects. I have done public programming for museums before, but to have two main commissions for a museum meant connecting to the larger professional network in a new way. Those projects have allowed me to think about what makes a project ‘successful’ because a measure of success is how we begin to bridge social practice, which has often sat on the margins and instead break it into the centre of cultural power. This has been a role for me recently, partially through my own work as an artist and running a social practice studio, but also because I’m part of the Social Art Network (SAN).

To give a short answer, a huge success for me is a shortlist nomination for Scrolled Life Stories by the Museums + Heritage Awards Exhibition of the Year 2021. It’s a win for the sector, it’s a win for all of us. When we see others win, we all win.

What do you think are the biggest challenges of social engagement?

There are a lot of challenges. A lot of what I’m going to articulate has come through the conversations that we have as part of SAN. One of the real challenges for artists working within this field is that we are working outside the conventions. We don’t have the models of understanding, validating, funding, reviewing and building a critical language around the arts. We have to rewrite, develop, create and share a new language, especially around aesthetic appreciation. Language, aesthetics and critical appreciation are some of the challenges, which are complicated by validation, recognition, and funding. How is money distributed? And if you don’t know how to even understand the work, value it, and appreciate it, how are you going to know whom to give that money? It’s about building a new concept and thinking around how we understand and validate all this work.

The other challenge around breaking conventions is that we’re moving past what has been the conventional approach of the single virtuous individual and thinking about collaboration. The artist becomes an instigator or provocateur, a facilitator. We need to recognise a collaborative approach as central, whilst not disregarding how the artist is an incredible person to bring that all together. That requires restructuring how we think about cultural production, but also how we subsume the artist’s ego. Even in art school training, you might have been taught this whole time that you, your concept, and who you are, is tantamount. There’s very little, if any, social practice training in art schools, so a whole re-education of the ego, especially within Western capitalist society, needs to happen. 

Can you explain why and how you decided to set up Applied Live Art Studio?

I coined the term Applied Live Art as part of my research as a way to frame art that is embedded in the community. Hosting my creative practice under that term became a way of working that was not about the artist R.M. Sánchez-Camus, but about an embedded social way of working. Having my name listed on a website or whilst presenting work was not reflecting the collaborative approach that I wanted.

Applied Live Art Studio is working towards becoming a charity organisation, which is exciting. There are practical reasons for registering as a charity, such as being able to apply for grants and venue building. But the most important element for me is building livelihoods for artists. A lot of the artists and collaborators who work with me on a weekly basis have long term commitments. Our work comes through cycles of project funding. I spent most of my life just struggling. This isn’t to say I’m not struggling now, but I absolutely know how it was to be on the poverty line for a very long time. The importance of offering livelihoods to emerging practitioners dedicated to social practice has become really important to me as an individual and as an artist. Also, a social practice studio could really offer that collaborative model that I discussed before.

Our work sits within communities, but we also sit in the art world. Surprisingly, there are very few bridges between the two. The fact that the Arts Council put out a 10-year strategy about social practice without actually being linked to social practice astounds me. The intentions are good, but the fact that there’s no bridge-building is problematic.

How do you sustain your practice?

I never had the intention or the desire to have my art be my livelihood. I was very happy to work in the world. Without it, my artwork would be nowhere near as well rounded as it is today. This idea that your art needs to be your sole money-making activity is a confusion brought about in art school training, the art market and the economy. Challenging that is really healthy. Any kind of labour that you do that informs your practice is brilliant, and do it with gusto! I’ve cycled through a lot of commissions, but that’s only thanks to the place that I’m now in my life because I just happen to be around a long time. I’m still often applying for commissions and getting rejected. That will happen until the day I die. It’s part of the process.

What’s key, for any project, even if it’s a small project, is to look for partnerships. It brings a multiplicity of voices into the deliverables. It also branches out your amount of possible engagement and measurable impacts. Knowing how to identify and balance all the players in a project is important.

I was really influenced by Ward Hunt Goodenough, a sociologist who wrote Cooperation in Change: An Anthropological Approach to Community Development. It was written in the early 1960s and yet there is very little out there that matches it. Goodenough discussed international community development. It helped me understand how to position all these different roles, identifying in each of them by what Goodenough defines as the ‘wants and needs.’ To see the difference between the wants and needs of all these different groups: the community, the funders and your own; you have to play an incredible balancing act. Knowing this has helped me manage partnerships. Something I would say to any young artist is don’t ever see yourself as working alone.

How did the international work come along? 

The international work started with meeting people and establishing conversations. Some of this work grew from my own personal interests: I went somewhere, met people, and said I want to do something there. Then I was driven to develop a partnership, find the funds, and deliver the project.

Some of my international work began through UK-based projects. For example, I worked in the UK with a Colombian company that was doing a social circus. Following this, I travelled abroad to run a two-week project with them and found myself staying for months. I ended up directing a show that did a national tour. Had I not applied for a job in the UK, I might not have gone on that journey. 

What impact did COVID have on your work?

Probably the opposite to what it had on many creative practitioners. A lot of energy has gone into my work. It’s been quite intense and powerful. That’s often the case in times of crisis for social practice artists, and it’s different from artists who are working on stage and theatre for example. For me, it has been an explosion of response work. Some of that has been with my own creative artistic commission work and some has been with my consultancy work, a new role for me which, again, has to do with getting older and having collected all this knowledge.

I believe in ally-ship, and the social practice field is growing. A big part of my interest is to make sure that we work collaboratively and not through competition. I can now play this role, to come in and consult in various different places, and help people and organisations grow and deliver.

That kind of partnership building and using a social network as an ally-ship and mutual aid group is important because in doing response work, you need support. You need to know you are not alone. That kind of care-taking has been a big part of the last year. It’s been an incredibly busy time, but a very fulfilling one, because I feel that I’ve been able to respond to the times productively and creatively, which has helped me emotionally deal with them better, too.

ID 1: From Birth till Death: Scrolled Life Stories
ID 2:Woolwich Speaks, London 2021. Image credits Stephen Burridge
ID 3: El Ensueño del Dorado, Circo Para Todos, Colombia 2012


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Interview with Jess Piette

Interview with Jess Piette

Project coordinator @ Multistory 

Why is the organisation called Multistory?

Multistory in the sense that it’s multi vocal. It’s platforming many different stories rather than the dominant one by inviting a lot of different people to participate in projects. Multistory is an arts organisation that aims to challenge the barriers to arts participation, in particular socio-economic barriers. Traditionally, white, middle- and upper-class narratives and experience are centred in art and culture, and our work is about challenging that. We recently curated a programme in collaboration with Sandwell Visually Impaired and a photographer called Karen Visser, which is all about challenging perspectives around sight loss and pushing the boundaries on accessibility and the arts. Currently we’re collaborating with Don’t Settle on a programme for young curators from racially minoritised backgrounds and they are producing an exhibition and public programme that reinterprets Wednesbury Museum and Art Gallery’s collections.

Can you tell me about a project that you think was particularly successful in terms of what you think success is of course?

We delivered our first festival in 2019, called Blast! Festival, and it was funded by Arts Council England’s Ambition for Excellence, which is a fund that invites arts organisations to contribute to the development of strong cultural places and highlight artistic work internationally. The festival ran for six weeks across the six towns of Sandwell, which is the area we’re working in. The work displayed at the festival was developed over the period of a couple of years by socially engaged artists in collaboration with local communities, and was shown through exhibitions, workshops, film screenings, walks, social events and performances. It was a really joyful celebration of Sandwell, and highlighted the issues that are important to local people. It was brilliant to have different public spaces occupied in these exciting ways. The programme took place in libraries, community halls, streets and pubs, becoming a part of the fabric of the local community rather than taking place in traditional arts spaces or contexts.

Is that a choice not to operate through a space?

It’s partly because of the lack of spaces in the local area. But even if we had a space where we could show work, our priority would be to continue embedding our programme within community spaces. 

What do you think are the challenges of working with artists and communities?

One of the challenges is how to practice care as an organisation with sometimes limited funding, and having to work within tight timeframes. Larger institutions often end up needing to do short term community engaged work where they are required to push people into a mould in order to meet certain outputs, rather than having the flexibility to create slower, long-term projects where the people involved feel they have an ownership over the space or over the creative work that’s been produced. Working in a slow and caring way is important to us, and so committing to funding is a constant process of reflection, especially because we are a very small organisation with limited capacity. We give long term commissions – some as long as two years – to artists, and work on long term programmes in partnership with local communities. Each time we design programmes and apply for funding, we ask ourselves, are we going to be able to deliver this in the right way, and sometimes it’s not possible so we need to pass up on that opportunity.

Does the local community come to you with proposals and ideas?

The organisation has been based in the local area for 16 years now. There’s a network of community groups that we are very strongly connected with, and they do come to us with proposals for partnerships. Also, local artists come to us saying, I’ve got this idea, could you help me realise it? We’re working on many different levels with long term commissions, artist development programmes, complex partnerships, and then also just thinking about how we can support local artists and community groups to develop projects where we have the capacity and funds.

Do you commission projects to artists or do you publish open calls?

A mix of everything:  research, attending events and seeing what’s going on, who’s doing what, but also call outs to make programming more democratic. Finding a balance between local artists and artists from further afield is really important. 

What would you suggest to a young artist who’s looking to work with you?

I would say, come join the Blast Creative Network (our free artist development programme), because we’re able to offer opportunities to members, including commissions, residencies and a yearly round of bursaries. The BCN also offers local artists and creatives an annual programme of talks, workshops, reading groups, discussions and social events, and we aim for it to be a space for mutual support, learning and knowledge sharing. Through the BCN, we get to know emerging artists and see what they’re looking for in their career and how we can best support their practice.

What do you think emerging artists need the most?

Emerging artists need money, accessible opportunities as well as access to equipment and studio space! I think it’s every arts institution’s responsibility to nurture the next generation of artists, and to offer opportunities to artists and creatives who haven’t had access to any before.

Advice for emerging artists would be, join some sort of network, it offers you the space to meet other artists, and if you’re not in formal arts education, it can be difficult to build a network of peers. Having peers to support you and who you can collaborate with is important to develop your practice, and to give you feedback on work in progress. Also, attend lots of professional development talks and workshops: information like how to apply for opportunities and get projects funded sometimes get left out in arts education, and it’s not something you can just learn to do on your own! Seek out mentorship by people you respect and don’t be afraid to ask questions – you can simply reach out by sending them an email and most people will be happy to help in some way.

What changes would you like to see in this field, that could potentially improve your work?

More funding for accessibility would be really important and funding in general, or opportunities for organisations to give money to emerging artists with a focus on development, rather than requiring them to produce something. So, more funding for emerging artists to undertake research or develop their practice. And also, funding application forms need to be radically revised, because for someone who has never applied for anything before or who has access requirements, it’s completely inaccessible.

Do you apply only to Arts Council or you also look outside of the arts?

Our core funders are Arts Council England and Sandwell Council, and more recently we are delivering a programme funded by Historic England, and we have received funding from SCVO to make the Blast Creative Network fully accessible. There are lots of places to look for match funding outside of arts funding streams, but it changes from project to project!

ID 1: Creative writing walking workshop led by Suzan Spence, 2021 © Multistory
ID 2: Blast Creative Network Social © Michael Landelle
ID 3: Pop Up Poetry – Phillip Parnell Photography



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Interview with Melanie Manchot

Interview with Melanie Manchot

How does social engagement fit into in your practice and what event or single opportunity informed that change?

My work has always  formed a sustained enquiry into questions on the human condition and pursued a socially engaged approach. I think this comes from my strong belief that visual art, or other art forms as well have in a way a social contract with our society: we reflect the world, we reflect societies, we raise questions and pass comment on it. Artists can provide reflections, observation and critique that is very different from other forms of critique and engagement such as journalism, politics or social work. There isn’t necessarily one milestone or event that changed my practice as such. I’ve always had this overriding sense that the work needs to reflect upon its time and place. This has led increasingly to particular kinds of foundations or pillars in the work, which remain present throughout, such as a strong connection to location and to ideas of participation, collaboration and co-authorship. 

Your older projects had a very strong element of participation, how has that changed in your practice?

Well, I’d say it has and it hasn’t. The first work that was a longer extensive project was a body of work where I photographed my mother for five years. I photographed her naked, and in a way that was probably the most intense collaborative process of engagement because I asked this particular woman, whom I was intensely close to, for permission to look at her over and over again. I didn’t plan to have this huge project with her. I set out to make a couple of photographs and then it turned into something much bigger because of the integral development of what happened in the work. If there is a milestone of change, that was probably in around 2000 when the work with my mother came to an end and I started engaging with strangers, passers-by and inviting them to engage with short term momentary participations in the work. But still, these participants very much defined a lot of the parameters in the work. The first work that came after working with my mother for so long is a video called For A Moment Between Strangers, where I stop people in the street, randomly and ask them whether they will give me a kiss. And to me that work is absolutely about a moment of exchange and connection where the parameters are quite often defined by the other person, so it’s up to them what they do with this invitation. In a sense, forms of participation have always been there but they take different shapes and forms.

At the moment I am in the process of making a feature film that focuses on one particular person whom I met nine years ago in the context of making a body of work entitled Twelve that addresses addiction and recovery.

Did you work on this project during COVID?

I’ve been developing this film for about 5 years now and with uncanny timing we went into pre-production, getting ready to film in 2020. Which of course then became hugely complicated, particularly as the film involves a relatively larger cast and crew then I normally work with. This film is the most ambitious project I have ever worked on and to try and film it during a pandemic has been challenging to say the least. The work is both a feature film and a multi-channel installation for gallery and museum presentation. To make a feature film is tough if you’re a filmmaker but even more difficult if you’re an artist and have never worked in the film industry. To then attempt to do this during COVID was quite mad.

I’m working with very vulnerable people. We started working in December 2019 and we were supposed to go into production in March 2020. I was with all these people on the 16th of March 2020 and I was due to go back and film again on the 23rd of March which is when we went into the first lockdown. Throughout 2020, we managed to film very sporadically, just to keep everybody engaged. But we postponed five times. Going into production requires an enormous dose of adrenaline, not just in me but a collective sense of heightened energy, so that as a team you enter that space of total concentration on the object you wish to jointly make. That collective energy is amazing when you are in it, however what happened with this production is that we built up to it several times and then I had to take the difficult decisions to postpone over and over to keep everyone safe and healthy. But it means that everyone then needs to drop that energy and that is really hard. For a year I was always the messenger bringing bad news.

Let’s talk about Twelve in particular, can you tell me how the idea came about and how you produced it?

Across my practice I work on commissions and self-funded projects. Sometimes I apply for funding, or I have an idea and then an opportunity comes along that fits that particular idea. Twelve is an interesting case. I was approached by a curator who sent me a very short email asking if I would be interested in discussing a project about addiction. I thought this could be either really problematic or really interesting. Problematic because addiction is such a difficult subject to make work with, partly because it’s full of stereotypes and full of both vilification and glorification. But also, even though I have experience of addiction in others, I haven’t suffered with addiction myself yet. So, there’s also the question of what right do I have to speak. To me, a huge subject that is really important at the moment is the whole question of which authority we have to speak. In the past there were probably a whole range of positions for artists. There is the insider position. When I was working with my mother, the work was very much inflected by feminist concerns. At the time I felt that the only person I could make this body of work with was my mother as she was the only older person I could possibly speak with, to speak as two women together. And that’s one position yet there is also the position of ‘the other’, where we position ourselves as an outsider and look in onto something, hopefully with some clarity on it and in the past that has always been a valid position to take. But this position at the moment is very complicated. To take the position of the outsider to speak with or about a community is considered to be much more controversial. I think the crucial question here is to find a way to ‘speak with’ and not ‘about’.

I still feel that there is value in the position of an outsider looking in, but particularly at the moment there are many communities where I feel I wouldn’t have permission to speak, where you can only speak from the inside. These are complicated questions which came up with the issue of addiction: how can I talk about it. The curator Mark Prest, who invited me, spoke from a position of personal knowledge on the subject and he was convinced that I’d be the right person to engage in the project. He runs an organisation called Portraits of Recovery, which deals with projects that engage with recovery, as an artistic practice. We jointly applied for money from the Wellcome Trust and Arts Council England. It probably took about three years to get all the funding. I started working on it first through a research grant and then we moved into production thanks to Arts Council funding.

What are the challenges for someone doing this kind of work?

I think there’s a number of challenges. One must definitely be this question of who we speak with, how do we speak with them? But also, how can we set up projects that are a right balance between being powerful as artworks, and powerful as social engagement? I think that is to me probably one of the biggest challenges, but also one of the most interesting ones. A lot of people who work within social engagement would probably disagree with me and say that they would put the engagement at the forefront of the project and aesthetics is less relevant. I will always insist that I am operating on the grounds of art, and it is my responsibility as an artist to produce work that functions on the grounds of aesthetics. I also think it’s my responsibility towards the participants that I produce something that has validity within the discourse of visual art.

I make choices to protect both the integrity of the participants and the integrity of the work.

Another challenge concerns the question how you can respond to a commissioning context in such a way that the work can exist beyond that brief. Sometimes you make work that is so specific to a particular context that it can never transcend it. And that is very problematic because it’s not a good use of either time or resources.

Do you think you could have done it differently, in a way that it could have relevance somewhere else?

Yeah, or maybe come up with a completely different idea that is engaging with the context. A lot of the work that I’ve been commissioned to make is engaging with context. For example, Celebration (Cyprus Street), is specific as it was made on one particular street in the East End but it deals with the idea of streets and demographics and the work has been shown loads of times because it transcends its context and it speaks to a wider audience. But sometimes it’s hard to know that in advance, you make something and you’re convinced that it’s a really powerful work and then you suddenly only afterwards see that it can’t quite transcend its context. That’s definitely a lesson, when the context is hyper specific it can be hard to make work that then has relevance outside of the context.

Can you tell me about The Ladies project?

Recently I’ve started to rethink my relationship with photographs as material, rather than objects. I think it’s much more liberating to think that the material as an image can be presented in a number of different ways, which is something that someone like Wolfgang Tillmans has done for decades. The series The Ladies was commissioned by Kettle’s Yard for their re-opening exhibition. Andrew Nairne asked me whether I would be interested in working on a project in Cambridge with their nearest neighbours, which is a Bangladeshi community in North Cambridge. So, again those classic two challenges and questions. Do I have agency and permission to make work with a Bangladeshi community? Do I have permission or authority to speak with them, and how can I make something that isn’t then just confined to this particular place? In this case, it came together in a very light and fluid way and it surpassed my own expectations. I decided that I wanted to work with Bangladeshi women, and I found this group that called themselves ‘The Ladies’. I proposed a number of ideas to do with the history of performance art and Valie Export in particular and make a small series of works that engages with the ‘Body Configurations’ that she did in the 70s: they were really up for it. We staged and restaged, they staged themselves and we made these images sort of really in a kind of exchange, and in this case the images do travel, they go beyond Cambridge.

Do you think there are producers or commissioners who are particularly interested in supporting socially engaged practice?

We should firstly mention Claire Bishop and her book Artificial Hells, which I think is important in this context. The organisation If I can’t dance I don’t want to be part of your revolution is inspiring (

An organisation like Portraits of Recovery really is important in its field. But there are many others, both individual and institutionally: For example, there is a really wonderful curator called Persilia Caton. She worked at Space Gallery for a while, where she commissioned Lindsey Mendick recently when Space reopened. Persilia is completely committed to socially engaged practice and commissioning artists. Another one is David Wright, who runs an organisation called Commisson Projects. And Tamsin Dillon who produced the incredible 14-18NOW project and has recently founded her own orangisation Art in Public. A lot of work commissioned for Whitstable Biennial, by the director Sue Jones is really interested in developing ideas on location-based projects that relate to communities and the specificity of context.

I think there are a lot of really good commissioners out there.

Do you have a network of support or are you part of peer support group?

There’s a group of women photographers who I’ve known probably for about 20 years. We were at the Royal College of Art together and we normally meet once a month and discuss each other’s work. For the past two years I have been part of a writers’ group where we look at each other’s writing. And even though I don’t write that much, the current film I’m making does have a script. I’m also part of a reading group, which is about reading particular essays and works around each other’s practice. All these groups really help a lot. 

How has your relationship with technology changed during the last 12 months?

Like everybody else, I’ve engaged more with screens. I watch films obsessively, and it’s probably one of the things that informs me most. I have endless notebooks full of notes on films, and obviously all of that has been not in community shared spaces like a cinema but on the computer. I haven’t really engaged much with online art, probably to my detriment, I just find it really difficult. I think the last year has made me realise how important it is to see art as an embodied multi-sensory being, ideally in a room with other multi-sensory bodies. So, whether it’s utterly conventional and conservative, to me art is very much an embodied physical critical space. In a reverse movement to the general migration towards technology, I’m making a series of photographs at the moment which are a very idiosyncratic and indirect response to COVID. These images are made with a large format 5×4 plate cameras with negatives and Polaroids and so that’s really old technology. But I think it can be equally relevant to go back to some older technologies that are less present, perhaps for me it is not just a one-way movement into everything becoming more digital and high-tech. Low tech can be incredibly rewarding.

Is there anything you wish you knew when you started your career?

To trust my intuitions. As artists, we need to understand where we can make a difference, and what we can do. If we can make a tiny bit of difference to somebody, if something that I’ve been able to produce makes people think, or makes them feel or makes them listen, or makes them embrace the world. To find that space and voice as a young artist, it takes some time

ID 1: Dance (All Night, Paris)
ID 2: Celebration (Cyprus Street)  
ID 3: Groups + Locations (Moscow)



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Interview with Fiona Whitty, WhittyGordon Projects

Interview with Fiona Whitty – WhittyGordon Projects

Can you tell us how does social engagement fit in your practice and what event or single opportunity informed that change?

My work has been always socially engaged. During a residency at the Pistoletto Foundation in Italy back in 2008 I decided to do an MA in Fine Art and I applied at Chelsea College of Art in London. During that time, I met Jenny, she was in the same course, she is a painter. We got on very well together. Something about the Irish and Jamaican getting together clicked. We decided we wanted to do more work that was about involving the wider community in Chelsea. Our whole practice started from a Salon event that we put on in Chelsea. The first one was combining the Irish and Jamaican cultures and we asked Chelsea College staff to get involved: the porter, the receptionist, people brought in food and it was about recognising people’s hidden talent and everyone’s everyday creativity. It was a success. We liked the format of the Salon with discussions, screenings, music, performance.

We set up a collective with other classmates in college called Askew and we organised film night events in non-art venues across London, like pubs. We met hARTslane as well and asked them to host one of our Salon events. Students were going out of their comfort zone and taking risks and experimenting with different ideas that they didn’t have the chance to do in college. They were having the chance to exhibit work in a non-art space.

After that Jenny and I got funding for two years from Open Vizor to go to Jamaica and research about Irish and Jamaican connections. Then we got an ACE funding to make further research for another year. From there we started making films and working with deprived communities and we realised the need for art to tell people’s stories and we decided to set up WhittyGordon Projects as a Community Interest Company in 2014.

You have worked together for seven years now. Which one do you think was your most successful project? 

It’s hard to quantify work as a socially engaged artist as most of it is based on the process not on the final product. A lot of our products take years to complete. We have done a lot of research and a lot of footage in Jamaica, but we need to finish it and now we have to apply for more funding to have the film edited. We find it hard to find long term funding to complete projects.

The most ambitious project that we are completing now is with Anchor Hanover Housing, an intergenerational film work that we have done over two years funded by the Mercers Foundation. Its’ taking place in Hackney, in London. Their company is the largest company for social housing for over 55 in UK. They have a lot of wellbeing activities and they wanted to document how they can be a model to tackle loneliness and isolation for other organisations. Instead of writing a report they invited us to make a film to document these activities but also to involve young people to talk to older people as an intergenerational project. The result is a series of short films and one longer film documenting the 2-year journey and that’s going to be used by Anchor Hanover as an evaluation and to apply for more funding.

The reason why they got us in was that it was difficult for them to get the result across in a written report. The wellbeing manager said the film had a massive impact in reassessing the way they work and now they want to include film in their work and want us to be more embedded in the organisation to document their events and activities but also as a way to reduce loneliness and isolation as we are there talking to older people or having them to meet young people which is something they never do.

How did they choose you for this project?

It was the result of a smaller project. As it often happens, you get funding to go in for 6 or even 3 months but you don’t have enough time to sink in. We went in with a 3-month Lottery funded project that was about intergenerational work with young and old people in Hackney. We found this older people shelter accommodation and one day we met the Wellbeing Manager who was visiting the centre. She said she wanted this to be a continuous activity and we did a joint application to get funding from the Mercers Foundation.

And why do you think this was successful?

Because we had the opportunity for longer term funding, which was important.

We weren’t just parachuting in, doing a project for 6-12 weeks and leaving. We got to know the residents, we built strong relationships. Also, we are now working again with the Wellbeing Manager who wants to apply for more funding for us. She likes the way we work. The work has grown organically. We had more time and the freedom to shape the project in the way we wanted. We could take our own spin in the editing and it was a very inclusive way of working. But the main thing that impacted on us was the amount of funding and the greater amount of time we could spend on the project. 

The Edge of Invisibility is another example of a successful ongoing project. Originally, we got funding from the Arts Council to develop a film about women over 50 who are isolated and we wanted to change the perception about them, change the negative stereotypes, show that women over 50 are very independent and want to live their lives on their own terms. We then applied for the Relay 6.6 residency at hARTslane, and we met other women and produced a film that will be part of The Edge of Invisibility. We are now trying to get more funding for more workshops with the same group of women.

The residency gave us the opportunity to have a base, which we often don’t have. It felt a safe and inclusive space. We got great support from the organisation as well, and maybe because they are women, that helped too. It was an organic process, it grew naturally. So many people got interested in the project and wanted to have more of it.  

Are there any lessons that you have learned from working on your projects?

I started a new job as a Culture Development Manager in an organisation called In-Situ, in Pendle. They are all about social engagement and collaboration. Which is great because there are not many organisations that understand the needs of the community. There is a need for a longer-term investment in engagement so that people find out what the problems are, what the issues are, what the community actually wants. They often don’t want a 6-week painting or drawing project, they want something more long term.

There is a need for more investment and appreciation that is a process that doesn’t happen fast. Many funders want to see a turn-around in 3 or 6 months. You need 3 years to see real results. You need to build relationships and trust. 

We do most of our work in Hackney, which is where we are based. As WhittyGordon we try to see where there is a need and we try to fill the gap with film making.

And how do you do that? Do you engage with people on the street? 

Yes sometimes, and I quite enjoy it. It just takes a while since you can start talking to people and with Covid now is even more difficult. In a previous project in Barking, we spent a few hours every week going around and talking to people. Gradually we got to know the shop keepers and business owners who are the link into the community. This is more effective than randomly talking to people in the street.

Talking to people is a skill. And not everyone has it. I talk to people who can then go and reach out to other people in the community.

What would you recommend to an artist who want to do work in this field?  

The way in for us is often the Lottery Awards for All applications, which are so much easier. It’s like a 10k pot of money to start off the project. From there we start meeting people and building the connections to apply for larger funding and Arts Council funding. Definitely start off small and collaborate with partners. You can’t really submit an application without partners and community connections. You have to find them even before you start, maybe through volunteering.

How does being a duo / small group benefit your work?

It helps that me and Jenny are also best friends! We bounce ideas to each other. We are able to support each other. Now I’m splitting my time between London and Manchester and we are trying to find best ways to work together. Also, we don’t have a board or too many people involved, that can be time consuming. 

How do you sustain your practice?

I’m working part-time as a cultural community manager. Jenny is a painter and she has a studio in Hackney. We divide our time, 2-3 days independent work and 2-3 days WhittyGordon.

We realise how difficult it is to survive as freelance artists and running the company alone. So for the moment having other jobs allows some variety and security and it means we are not consumed by the organisation

Do you deal with your website or someone else does?

At the moment we have a Squarespace website that we haven’t updated in a while but we need a revamp and to get more SEO. Especially during Covid we looked at how can we change our business, how can we reach more people. For example, we want a function on the website where people can book workshop sessions with us online.

Are you part of any formal or informal network or group that makes a difference in your work?  

As a socially engaged artists there are not many organisations that support your work or that we can talk to. Artsadmin really helped when we were writing applications to the Arts Council. We used to pay for a membership. They reviewed the application.  And there is an assigned person within Arts Council called relation manager who can be helpful as well.

Is there anything you wished you knew when you started your career?

I wish I had more training in marketing and business side and in how to run a community interest company: the business planning, the forecast, the financial side of it. Also, I wish I knew how to run and maintain your art practice and had better digital skills to do the website and video editing.

ID 1: Intergenerational project in London
ID 2: The Edge of Invisibility
ID 3: In-Between Spaces, Jamaica 2011


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