Making Support Structures: Who Gets to Speak? Sarah Lincoln’s article discussing The Mothership Project Satellite findings for The Visual Artists News Sheet July -August 2019

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WRITER DONNA HARAWAY is exasperated with the limits of criticism. She is frustrated that our most sophisticated thinkers and critics expend their energy developing more and more nuanced ways of describing the seemingly hopeless societal and ecological binds in which we find ourselves. The challenge, according to Haraway, is to apply the force of our thought to proposing creative and inclusive solutions to these problems.1

We are indebted to The Mothership Project – a collective of parenting artists based in Ire- land, founded in 2013 – for stretching to meet a provocation like this with energy and action. In May, The Mothership Project launched their report, Satellite Findings, in which 145 parenting artists responded to a range of questions about their professional lives while parenting. Of the respondents, 92% were mothers, with 80% feeling that parental responsibilities were having a negative impact on their arts practice.

Professor Eileen Drew (Director of Trinity Centre for Gender Equality and Leadership at Trinity College Dublin) contributes an import- ant essay to this report, in which she highlights broader societal realities around parenting in Ireland. In Dublin, the average cost of full-time childcare is currently €1,047 per month for each child, while the average salary is approximately €3,800 per month. The survey outlines how parenting artists have responded to these financial pressures by undertaking this caregiving themselves. The snapshot captured by this survey describes how this task is largely being undertaken by mothers, with 42% of those surveyed spending 10 hours or less a week working on their artistic practice. What emerges through the survey is the harsh impact upon artists who parent, as well as the frustration being felt at this broad correlation of parenting with a ‘silencing’ of one’s professional life. As one respondent states: “the unwritten rule for being a successful artist is ‘don’t have kids’”.

The Mothership Project is explicit in its aims: it seeks “societal and institutional change” to make space for the voices of parenting artists. Drew’s essay sketches out practical solutions to some of these pressures, while being mindful that these changes can only find traction through political support. She identifies a few areas of progressive and achievable change, noting that while parental leave in Ireland is generous in terms of duration, it is underpaid; she cites Nordic models, which means-test childcare costs.

Some of the recommendations emerging from Satellite Findings include the suggestion that arts organisations do more to check who might be excluded from engaging with their programmes, due to a range of factors, including practical ones, such as the time of day at which activities occur – art openings typically happen at children’s tea time or bed time. There is also a call to child-proof professional offers such as residencies. Has enough lead-in time been given to parenting artists to either organise childcare, or perhaps provide family-friendly supports within these offers? Are funding bodies genuinely supporting parenting artists by accepting budgets which include childcare costs within them?

 

There are multiple quotes in the report from parenting artists who describe, in negative terms, their understanding of their sector’s perception of them as a parenting artist: “you weren’t taken seriously as an artist if you were a mother too”. In a sense this issue of perception is the most insidious current running through the report. It indicates a type of embarrassment at not being able to unhook oneself from lived experience; it implies that ‘real life’ experiences – like caring – are too inappropriately personal to call into visibility within a professionalised art world. Surely one of the beautiful potentials of the art space is that it can hold within it the true messiness of life – that we can bring our biographies with us? That the unruly and awkward can be held, in the belief that these qualities contain within them the potential to generate new forms and, in so doing, enrich our creative spaces.

I remember an evening last November at the Cow House Studios, where I was lucky enough to be taking part in ‘Satellite Residency’, organised by The Mothership Project.2 There was wildness in the air. We were giddy, knowing that we were part of a new shape taking form and we were drinking in the excitement that this created. I was arranging images at the kitchen table, while having a conversation with Alla about women-friendly workwear. Ruth was operating a power tool in a shed across the courtyard, while Ruby and Linda were sketching out their studio rhythms to each other. Food was being prepared in an adjoining space and between all of these activities, our children were being minded. Our children, part of this project, were feeding it and being fed by it. I remember pausing for a moment and enjoying the unashamed eccentricity of the scene: thinking (hoping) that the support structures which had formed around us, through this residency, could somehow become part of the future for parenting artists in Ireland.

Sarah Lincoln is an artist living in West Waterford.

Notes

1 Donna Haraway in the documentary lm, Donna Haraway: Storytelling for earthly survival (2016), directed by Fabrizio Terranova.
2 ‘Satellite Residency’ was a pilot residency for 15 parenting artists at Cow House Studios, Wexford, which was rolled-out over Autumn / Winter 2018. The residency included the payment of a small stipend. Accommodation, childcare and meals were provided onsite. The artists taking part in the residency were: Dorota Borowa, Stephen Dunne, Niamh Davis, Sarah Lincoln, Ruth Lyons, Ciara McMahon, Susan Montgomery, Celina Muldoon, Niamh O’Doherty, Sally O’Dowd, James O’hAodha, Una Quigley, Linda Quinlan, Ruby Wallis and Kate Warner.

This article was first Published in the July-August 2019 edition of Visual Artists News Sheet.
Link to the original printed version.

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