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. [https://themothershipproject.files.wordpress.com/2019/05/mship-final-to-print-1.pdf] 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

http://www.kateap.com

‘Even in Sweden’ – Jason Oakley salutes The Mothership Project in the latest issue of The Visual Artists News Sheet

In the Nov / Dec Issue of The Visual Artists News Sheet, Jason Oakley salutes the efforts of initiatives such as The Mothership Project in tackling the alarming persistence of shallow presumptions about the incompatibility of parenthood with pursuing a dynamic art career.

“Women in the art world have had enough”.
Jennifer Thatcher, The Mother of All Battles, Art Monthly, June 2013

“… and this is Sweden, the land of legislated gender equality and paid parental leave for both fathers and mothers. If things are so bad there, they can only be worse elsewhere.”
Jennifer Allen, The Parent Trap, Frieze, March 2012

SERIOUS attention has recently been focussed on how the artworld harbours some pretty retrograde attitudes and practices in relation to women artists and artworkers in relation to parenthood. The UK publications Art Monthly and Frieze have explored the subject in articles respectively titled The Mother of All Battles and The Parent Trap.

The reported issues include attitude shifts that occur when women artists and artworkers reveal that they’re planning or raising a family – the presumption is that they’re no longer ‘in the game’. In the broader context of the ‘precarity’ of cultural workers, questions arise as to how financially pressed artists can balance – or even justify – childcare costs against the time and monies devoted their practices. It seems that women still find themselves in the situation of having to choose between having an art career or children – it’s shocking that this dilema hasn’t been consigned to the refuse bin of history.

At a more structural level, attention has been drawn to the lack of even the most basic childcare facilities in art venues, studios and academic institutions. Seen as equally problematic is the lack of alternative opportunities for networking, other than the child-un-friendly evening-time exhibition openings, talks and events.

Critical mass around these issues has also been growing in Ireland. Sheena Barrett, Curator of The Lab, Dublin has paved the way with the ‘Baby on Board’ series of parent and child meetings for art workers. This initiative has been allied to artist and academic Michelle Browne’s ongoing research project ‘Mothers and the City’. In Belfast, PS2 has ran an experimental childcare facility. In addition Visual Artists Ireland have also explored the topic with a profile of UK activist group Enemies of Good Art in the Visual Artists’ News Sheet and presentation by the founder, Martina Mullally, at the Get Together 2013.

Founded in April, The Mothership Project, a new Irish networking group, has been going from strength to strength. They’ve been profiled on RTE radio and in the Irish Times; and operate an informative website. The groups genesis was sparked by artist Seoidin O’ Sullivan’s email exchanges of ideas, views and links with over 20 female art workers. The group has so far conducted three public sessions, addressing the logistics, economics and status associated with being an artist / parent. Upcoming meetings will consider alternative childcare models and support networks.

The Mothership Project’s most recent session, entitled ‘Perception: How Does Having a Child Affect the Artist Within a Reputational Economy?’ was hosted at the VAI offices at the beginning of September. Sixteen parents, 3 toddlers and 2 babies were in attendance. Artist Naomi Sex (PhD Gradcam) outlined the socioeconomic history of the concept fo the ‘reputational economy’ – including its migration from the realms of business-speak and the lexicon of the social sciences . Alternatively dubbed ‘the attention seeking economy’, the concept is now in vogue as a means to understand the power-dynamics between artists, curators, collectors, critics and institutions.

Where’s the anger? Why so polite? Aren’t the problems facing artist mothers absolutely horrendous? This was the sharp end of the spectrum of viewpoints aired. Artist-mothers felt ‘invisible’ in professional terms, perceived to have “fallen off the face of the world”. There was agreement that informal networking situations – openings, talks, conferences, residencies, performances and events – were hard to access. This added up to an exclusion from the everyday peer exchanges that organically generate inspiration, affirmation and opportunities for artists. Some lamentable attitudes in the commercial art world were reported: collectors seeing female artists who had started families as a bad ‘investment’, presuming a lack of future productivity and commitment to their art careers.

Others expressed more hopeful views – having children had been empowering and had sharpened their sense of what was really important in life. The situation was just a challenge. Wasn’t there everything to play for in countering shallow art-world attitudes and very visibly overcoming the difficulties and misconceptions? In this regard, the Mothership Project was recognized as a valuable tactical and strategic resource in itself, bolstering the reputational ‘capital’ of art-worker mothers and providing an alternative networking space.

The Mothership Project and the other endeavours mentioned here all welcome the participation of men – ‘art dads’. But, undeniably the issues at stake are glaringly feminist. Jennifer Thatcher, writing in Art Monthly, noted a reluctance in male artists to define themselves as parents, and highlighted double standards: men garner praise and attention when they involve themselves in childcare; women are patronizingly pre-judged as being unavailable to work out-of-hours. 1 Frieze’s Parent Trap article cites statistics attesting to how women still make the biggest time-commitment to childcare, even in the ‘progressive’ art world – yes, even in the Swedish art world2.

Expect to hear more from the Mothership Project, they have more work to do.

Notes & Further Reading:
1. Jennifer Thatcher, The Mother of All Battles, Art Monthly, June 2013
2. Jennifer Allen, The Parent Trap, Frieze, March 2012

www.enemiesofgoodart.org
www.mythologicalquarter.net

The Visual Artists News Sheet is published by Visual Artists Ireland
Jason Oakley is Publications Manager at Visual Artists Ireland

The Mothership on RTE Arena

The Mothership on RTE Arena!! Seoidin O’Sullivan, Michelle Browne and Kitty Rogers will represent The Mothership Project on RTE Radio 1 arts and culture show ‘Arena’ tomorrow night, Tuesday 20th August. The show airs from 7-8pm. Tune in to hear some of the issues we have been discussing so far and the topics for future investigation. You can listen to the show on old school analogue radio or tune into the RTE Player here: http://www.rte.ie/radio1/arena/