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

Meeting 2 – Time & Money – Summary

The Mothership Project: Meeting 2 – Time and Money

Broadstone Studios, Wed 31st July, 11 am.

Attended by Ruthe Burke, Fiona Whelan, Seoidín O’Sullivan, Joanne Boyle, Naomi Sex, Helen Barry, Sarah Lincoln, Mary Fitzgerald, Michelle Browne, Gabhann Dunne, Olivia Hassett, Orla Kenny (Skype) & 6 children

Minutes:

The meeting was roughly divided into the headings of time money and labour. Under each heading a list of questions/topics were posed to get the conversation started. They were:

Time:

How to buy time?

How to justify time?

Studio time?

How to manage school holidays etc?

Child friendly residencies

Maternity leave

Practice v’s Kids

Art openings /networking

Money:

Artists’ fees

Getting paid on time

Family income

Crèche fees

Female artists earn 66% of what male artists earn – artists’ earnings >25,000

Labour:

Invisible labour

Free labour/voluntary (time, reputational economy)

Precarious /no security

Discussion notes:

Some people commented that their work changed when they had children, their thinking changed – the question was how to keep the thread or focus of the work – how to keep it, retain it and develop the ideas.

Some said they managed their time better after having children and this was definitely a positive that came from having children.

Most often when there is an offer of money versus that studio work which is not being paid, the money work wins out.

The group discussed models of work practice

  • kibbutz style of shared or exchange labour,
  • a co operative style of living in New York was also discussed a way to buy time.
  • Anton Vidokle’s Time/Bank http://e-flux.com/timebank/about, a labour transfer model
  • Reggio Emilia – Artist Studio in the school presented as an alternative to artists doing workshops in schools. The takes time away from the studio work, where as the Reggio model allow a children to observe the artistic process without it taking time away from the artist making work. Other models in Ireland Aisteoir – early years learning in Ireland ,the suggestion here was to look at Aisteoir as a structure where artist can bring their own artistic practice to support the development of the creative skills of the teacher/child rather than artists delivering workshops for workshop sake.

Helen suggested that the group could lobby City/County Council Arts Offices to approach Education Centres to develop structures that engages artists in a longer term basis through evidences in schools and training in in-service training for teachers.

and Kids Own – virtual relationship with the classrooms (this called Virtually There)

Question also about how to remain intellectually stimulated while having a child, as can’t go to talks etc as often.

With regard to residencies it was suggested that studios etc be contacted and for them to make it explicit if they take families. Not always clear. The group also suggested members posting family friendly residencies they are aware of on the blog.

The location of ones studio was also seen as an important issue.

Openings – bringing children seen as difficult, time not compatible with family life, and not child friendly.

Maternity leave – feeling that taking maternity not that easy as you don’t want to disappear. It can be detrimental to your career. For some it was more about going to seminars, to get to things to be visible.

What your baby is like  – This also important. You can bring your baby to some things if your baby is good and quiet and won’t cry etc.

One of the best selling books this year,  Lean In by Cheryl Samberg

Lean In – women who educated should lean in and work harder. Written for white middle class women who can earn enough to have childcare,

Popular perceptions of parenting, points don’t translate into situation for artists –  how does this push to keep working harder operate for artists when you don’t earn enough for childcare etc?

Proportion of male artists who represented higher in gallery system –

Some artists noted that there is still the perception that after having kids that making art is a hobby for women but remains a career for men.

If you are taken out of the arena for a couple of years to rear children your prices in the gallery system stagnate for that time so that creates a disparity between men and women.

Also are galleries more inclined to support male artists who they know are not going to disappear for those years to have children and their production is not going to be effected by the increased demands of home life?

At a certain point there is the sense that many women drop off and after having children and they don’t make work anymore. It was noted that in the original first four years after college you loose 80% of art class, then in thirties a lot of women disappear off the scene because of having kids, but this not the same for male artists. You still see them at openings etc

One member noted that a male colleague said that having children didn’t affect his practice and that he continued to make work. She proposed that it was a question focus and that perhaps there was an ability to completely switch off to everything and immerse yourself in a project and develop it. Chanel and focus not affected as much for men, that getting that focus or energy or thought for a project or proposal more difficult for a woman after having a child.

Question of multitasking being necessary for women because they are the primary care givers but are women actually not good at multi-tasking, that we are not following through on all areas?

Another suggested it was more to do with when you go for a project that statistically men wait until a project is 30% developed before going for it while women wait until it is 70% developed and is it a question of confidence?

Who is doing laundry? Who is keeping the housework ticking over? Who is tending to those jobs and who is seeing those jobs?

Going to work – Mammy is gone to work. If you are in work you are in work but if you are at home and your time is more fluid you are jumping from one thing to the other, squeezing meetings in between family obligations. But when you are gone for 8 hours and not having to worrying about the family obligations that you tend to get that focus more. Not a case of it being men and women but more about time and where and when you get that time.

When living precariously even in relationships where both are artists those who can get more funding are the priority and the practice of one suffers as ultimately it is about who is bringing in the money.

Do artists include childcare in their bursary applications? Many included this in applications and it is seen as a perfect match with the idea of buying time that is included as part of the remit of the Arts Council bursary.

Do they hide the fact they are having a child? Some said that they did while others didn’t. There was a question around the fact that artists tend to have children later in life, and if you are an emerging artist are you less likely to say you have children as you haven’t built up the reputation before having children that will make you seem more likely to come back and make work after having children?

How do you deal with the gap in your CV if you do take time out? Do you put it on your CV that you took maternity leave?

Some artists noted that some artists were clever about this, exhibiting work in a number of exhibitions but perhaps not showing new work and that this fills the gap in some way.

Next meeting early September. Theme: Reputational Economy.

 

Time and Money Meeting # 2, Broadstone Studios, Harcourt Tce, Dublin 2, 31 July 2013.

The second meeting of The Mothership Project will take part on the 31st of July at 11am at Broadstone Studios. The theme of the meeting is Time and Money. All are welcome to contribute to a conversation about the precarious working conditions and pay for visual artists and how this impacts on family life and vice versa. The meeting will be lead by Michelle Browne and Seoidín O’Sullivan.

For further information contact themothershipproject [at] gmail . com