The Launch of The Mothership Project Satellite Findings (May 16, 2019, The Lab, Dublin)

Over the last ten years, academics and artists have focused increasing attention on the intersections of ‘artmaking’ and ‘mothering’ as is evident by a growing number of international conferences, publications, artist collectives and residencies that, amongst other things, attempt to render visible the precarious balance between the two different forms of labour. Furthermore, it confirms, as Rachel Epp Buller notes in Reconciling Art and Mothering (2012): “Many contemporary artist-mothers are no longer willing to hide their maternal status.”(5). It was with this in mind that I attended the launch of The Mothership Project Satellite Findings (May 16, 2019, The Lab, Dublin), a publication that marks the culmination of six years of efforts by a collective of artists, the majority of whom are mothers, to make the art world a more inclusive place for parents. 


Mothership Project

The Mothership Crew Michelle Browne, Tara Kennedy, baby Kim, Seoidín O’Sullivan and Leah Hillard at the Launch of The Satellite Findings.

Speaking at the launch, artists Michelle Browne and Leah Hilliard, on behalf of The Mothership Project, discussed the genesis of the network which began as a series of meet-ups organised by and for parents who came together in solidarity to discuss the challenges they faced: finding time for artistic practice, the relative isolation of artists who are primary carers, the high cost of childcare and the relative economic instability of parenting artists. For the organisers of the project, it was important to conduct a survey that moved beyond personal observations and anecdotes into concrete empirical findings that translate into structural changes to enable parenting artists to fully participate in their creative communities.  

In August 2018, The Mothership Project conducted a survey via Survey Monkey, designed in conjunction with researcher Dr Helen Kara. It aimed to provide insight into four main issues: Time, Space, Money and Care. Of the 145 respondents, 92% were mothers, 68% had two or more children and 58% were between ages 36-45. A significant number of parents reported working between the hours of 9am– 12 pm and 12pm -3pm, coinciding with children’s school attendance. 70% reported working between the hours of 9pm – 12am, after children’s bedtime. This gives insight into the necessity of adapting to children’s schedules and suggests that between the two forms of labour, artists are most likely working long hours. It also demonstrates that time spent on art work is extremely precious. The majority of respondents (70%) create their work from inside the home. The statistics that 89% reported making art cost them money and 76% turned down opportunities due to lack of childcare makes for stark reading. However, the survey recommends six positive changes that will better benefit parenting artists. [] The publication includes an essay by Prof Eileen Drew (TCD) that further digests these findings, examining them againstthe shifting work culture in Ireland. Drew argues that policy-makers and funding bodies need to focus attention on changes that will facilitate a better work-life balance for these artists. 

The initial survey findings were fed into the development of Satellite Residency at Cow House Studios (Wexford). The residency was funded by the Arts Council of Ireland and Wexford County Council Arts Office, and received support from Visual, Carlow and Wexford Arts Centre. RosieO’Gorman of Cow House Studios spoke briefly about the residencies and how they supported the participating artists. In October-November 2018, fifteen selected artists, some families in tow, though others attended solo, were given valuable uninterrupted time and space for their creative practices. They availed of studio space, onsite childcare, flexible scheduling and the luxury of a shared meal without having to cook or clean up afterwards. The analysis of the exit survey included in the publication confirms the benefits to participants. 

Prof Kathleen Lynch (UCD) discussed ‘love labour’ and economies of care underscoring the need to re-evaluate how love and care work is viewed within the context of a neo-liberalism. She argued that love, care and solidarity are key equality issues for women. As a concept ‘love labour’ resonates with both artmaking and raising children, both provide an immeasurable benefit to our society that we cannot do without. Afterwards, Dr Declan Long (NCAD) chaired an open discussion on the survey findings and Prof Lynch’s talk. From the audience, an artist highlighted the importance of acknowledging practices that expand and contract (in terms of the range, production, scale and output) depending on the demands of one’s parental duties. They called for the art community toreassess the value placed on these practices. There was discussion about the naming of the ‘Mothership’ and this elaborated on how artists grappled with the shifting identities of ‘artist’ and ‘mother’ and ‘parent’. At this point a father who participated in the Satellite Residency reiterated the necessity of continuing to politicise the term ‘mother’ in the context of artmaking.

Ultimately, The Mothership Project Satellite Findings makes a welcome and timelyintervention into the status of parenting artists in Ireland. It provides valuable insight into the different, often times, invisible barriers that parenting artists face. This publication holds the potential to improve the lives of parenting artists and, in doing so, further enrich our creative communities. What remains to be seen is how soon before these recommendations are widely implemented. 

Dr Kate Antosik-Parsons 

Researcher, L’Internationale

National College of Art and Design

Minutes from Meeting held on 3 September 2013: Perception of Mother/Artist

mothership perception 1Perception of mother/artist: How does having a child effect the artist within a reputational economy?

Tues 3rd September 2013 from 1.30-3pm at Visual Artists Ireland, Central Hotel Chambers, Dublin 2



The frame for this meeting relates to the perception of the mother/artist – How does having a child affect the artist within a reputational economy? Do you feel that you, your practice or your professionalism is considered differently now that you are a parent? Would you like to understand better the structures that support the art world and why parenting might impact on how you are perceived? What practical responses might be taken to respond to this? The session will be lead by artists Naomi Sex and Fiona Whelan.

In attendance:
Lynda Devanney, Carissa Farrell, Sandy Kennedy, Cora Cummins, Naomi Sex, Tessa Giblin, Mary Fitzgerald, Jason Oakley, Sheena Barrett, Michelle Browne, Carolann Courtney, Elaine Leader, Orla Whelan, Niamh O’ Donnell, Fiona Whelan and Niamh Looney and 5 children.

Fiona set the context for the meeting. Many themes had emerged from the initial mothership meeting and Fiona had felt this was the one that most personally connected to her. Because of the subject matter of Naomi’s recent PHD, Fiona had invited her to give an input on her understandings of the reputation based economy of the arts to act as a frame for the subsequent discussion. Naomi gave an edited presentation related to her PHD. Some key points:

• While Richard Whitley coined the phrase ‘reputational economy’ within a scientific frame.

• Naomi outlined the recent professionalism attached to the arts and the constant act of presenting ones-self through cv, website, etc communicating publicly who you are associating with, what you are doing and where. She referenced this also as an ‘attention seeking economy’.

• Naomi referenced Hans Abbing’s description of the art world as made up of many smaller worlds where cultural assembly and cultural superiority and inferiority occurs. Power emerges, dominant voices emerge and have social value for example generally those trained in art educational institutions are the ones who say what art is.

• Naomi described the unique relationship to money in the art world which is different to other economies. Money is often hidden and conversations around payment are often the last to happen.

• Originality and distinctiveness are seen as very important to the context of art making as is the collective regard for the artist, what is being said about them and visibility is also still of primary importance in this economy.

• The growth of the Post-Graduate arena brings a new language, a research and academic language dominant. Naomi sites Dan Fox’s analysis of artists’ press releases as repetitive with aggressive undertones and over use of key phrases, urging a move to other forms of non academic writing.

Fiona invited each person in the room to introduce themselves and say something relating their personal experience to the context of the meeting or the presentation. Many themes emerged and were then discussed:

mothership perception 2


• Working for low financial return is a high risk move, start out by giving all, only a few rewarded (or not – does it ever pay off?)

• Working extra hard having just had a baby to prove yourself.

• You can become invisible when you have a child in your hand, assumptions you are still on maternity leave, or not making work.

• The age and personality of the child impacts on what’s possible.

• Guilt as mother/artist.

• As a curator, you are being perceived and a perceiver of artists. Being a mother and artist is not seen negatively by some curators.

• Some collectors won’t buy work from female artists pregnant/ with children because they feel they may stop making art and value will decrease.

• We are not in our twenties, average age much older having children. Labour state, artists can’t have kids until their 30s.

• Societal gender issue, childcare is female issue.


• Openings are of key importance for staying connected.

• Attending seminars and talks also of importance for staying connected to the discourse and to your peers.

• Professional visibility is a construct – easy to slip off the radar.

• Reduced opportunities for peer critique, exchange and organic opportunities to develop.

• Returning to formal education can be a way back in after a child is born.

• Shallowness of art world, branding game, leads to disillusionment.

• Value of documentation, don’t need an audience for some work, just good documentation.



• How many successful women artists are there who have children? Many successful female artists have none.

• Some female artists chose not to come to Mothership meetings, there is a self-consciousness around how you are perceived, they don’t want to be seen as ‘whingey mums’.

• What you present of yourself, different in different contexts

• Can we be leaders – can this be a movement? Hide from it or present it, be visible with our children.

• Gender/parenting statistics would be useful.

• Isn’t it a justifiable whinge – coming from a place of anger?

• Why is the time now for these conversations? Is this a third wave of feminism?

• There are a lot of people interested in this theme now, is there a critical mass having children, can The Mothership Project exploit that?

• When you have an issue in this economy, this is what you do – form a group, voice the concern. The Mothership Project is that.

• Bringing children to openings, in the public eye – there is a leadership responsibility in that. Sacrifice some of your own comfort to be a leader.

• We must normalize the view of artists with children

• Many in the room are also educators in arts educational institutions. How to teach students how the art world works, balance between exposing shallowness and teaching skills to survive, importance of openings, networks.

Practical suggestions:

• Connect to Women’s Art Group (WAG) – Group of Irish artists formed in the 70s/80s – explore their motivations then and what’s changed.

• Develop a site for international studio swaps to include houses with studios. Could the international studio at the Red Stables be used as part of an exchange as it can accommodate children? Campaign to other residencies like Tyrone Guthrie that children be welcomed and catered for certain times each year.

• Flash mob – pick an opening and everyone bring their children.

• As part of college visits to group studios, include some home studios too to show alternative sites for art making to students.

• Request an adjoining room, facilities for conferences etc. (like children’s room in some churches)

• VAI include some extra questions in their next survey to gain a greater insight into some of these issues.

• Jason will write for the Visual Artists newssheet about this meeting. Another column may also become a possibility.

Next meeting:

• Seoidin o’ Sullivan to host a meeting relating to alternative approaches to child care for artists. A suggestion that this be part of Workers Café in Temple Bar at the end of October.

• Others encouraged to propose other themes, workshops, discussions.

The Mothership Project – Next Meeting | Perception: How does Having a Child Effect the Artist within a Reputational Economy?

Perception: How does Having a Child Effect the Artist within a Reputational Economy?
Tuesday 3rd September from 1.30-3pm at Visual Artists Ireland, Central Hotel Chambers, 7/9 Dame Court, Dublin 2


The third themed meeting of The Mothership Project  will take place on Tuesday 3rd September from 1.30-3pm at Visual Artists Ireland offices,  Central Hotel Chambers, 7/9 Dame Court, Dublin 2.

The frame for this meeting relates to the perception of the mother/artist – How does having a child effect the artist within a reputational economy? Do you feel that you, your practice or your professionalism is considered differently now that you are a parent? Would you like to understand better the structures that support the art world and why parenting might impact on how you are perceived? What practical responses might be taken to respond to this?

The session will be lead by artists Naomi Sex and Fiona Whelan.
Babies and children are welcome but please confirm your and their attendance as space is limited.

To confirm your attendance please email: themothershipproject [@]