Train Ticket Tea

The past week has been half-term, so we haven’t been at any schools.

The highlight of the week was on Thursday- Mary and I got a train to Newcastle/Gateshead, where we popped into the Sage Gateshead to meet with Mary’s friend Dawn. Dawn told us about an amazing youth art festival called Juice, curated by young people, for young people. Young people were presenting work, participating in panel discussions, and great youth focussed work by pros was also brought in. Sounded totally inspiring. Dawn told us about one part she was particularly involved in, where 50 young delegates from all over the country were coming together to talk about things and see stuff/make stuff/learn stuff. They were going to have one session focussed on what young people consider to be quality. While the adults on the project wanted to name it something dull, along the lines of ‘The Youth Perspective on Quality’… the young peeps rolled their eyes at that and named it ‘How do You Know When it’s Proper Belta’! How awesome is that!

I love the idea of entrusting curatorial responsibilities, panel discussion themes and the like to young people- totally brave and empowering. I would love to do something like this somehow…

Mary and Mike on the far right @ The Angel!

After the Sage, Mike took us to see Gormley’s Angel of the North. WOW. She is so huge- I had no idea. I felt like I was going to meet a celebrity! Mike commissioned the Angel in the 90’s and was subjected to the most horrendous public & political opposition during the 7 years it took to get the project from initial conversation to final install. But as soon as it was up people loved it- the angel immediately became the cultural icon of the area. It’s now a major tourist attraction and is something the residents really feel ownership of. I felt really wowed by this story. So impressed by the perseverance from Mike, Gormley and the local council, and by just how right their vision was. Hugely successful public artwork. Public art often receives criticism, but it seems like this really was the right artwork for this area. The funny thing is, now when I read internet backlash against a public artwork, the haters often say things like ‘Why don’t you get a good public artwork like The Angel of the North…’!

We then went to RT Projects in Durham for the second Salon. RT Projects is a busy art centre where various regular art sessions are hosted for different groups (often mental health support groups).

In attendance: Mary, Mike and I, Stewart and Emma who run RT, Allie and Craig from the Waddington St Centre (a mental health support centre), and then independent artists: Annette, Jeremy, Susan and Bruce.

The question Emma and Stewart put to us was:

What makes for meaningful reflective practice?

Great question! We talked a lot about what reflection was and how people facilitate this. Several freelance artists said that they found reflection was much easier to do when working with someone else and they didn’t always have that opportunity. One artist said she writes a report for every single workshop, and finds this tiring but important.

There was reflection within the discussion on the undeniable benefits of arts and health. Some people brought up what seemed to me to be really extreme circumstances for artists and facilitators to work under. There was mention of a client who wouldn’t leave their house other than to attend a regular workshop, and several examples of people with severe mental health conditions really connecting with artistic processes and making leaps and bounds in terms of their social interactions and their perception of their own abilities. I actually felt really humbled listening to some of these stories. The people running these projects have absolutely no concern for outcomes or their own reputations- all that matters is the here and the now. Every minute can be so important when someone is dealing with a critical mental health condition. I wish I’d asked when I was there what training people had in working with people with a mental health condition. The closer the projects get to the health sector, the less qualified I feel. To me it seems important that artists are supported by health professionals in those environments- just in case.

The need to talk to someone external about your professional experiences was brought up. Everyone agrees that there isn’t enough support for arts health professionals- from dealing with extreme situations and really needing some form of counselling, to just needing to have a bit of a de-brief and no-one being available or interested. Independently sought supervision seems to be the best option- although finding an appropriate supervisor may be tricky! Peer support was also brought up and everyone in the room agreed that it would be great for them all to meet semi-regularly and just have a chat. This was a pretty awesome happenstance conclusion for the meeting and I hope they continue with it.

I’m enjoying the diversity of arts health professionals that I’m meeting. I wear the hat of artist, producer/curator & arts administrator and I’ve been able to meet people that have challenged my ideas about the way I do each of those things.

Poppy arrived on Monday- so glad to have her here! Even though Poppy and I probably have like a hundred Facebook friends in common & know of each other fairly well- we’ve never really met so it’s been great to hear a bit about her practice. She’s a lot more experienced than me so I hope to glean some wisdom from her while she’s here!

Mary and I had a somewhat ridiculous picnic, on the very cold and frosty Sunday just gone! We took Mary’s ‘Kelly Kettle’ to the park- a genius invention where the water sits inside the walls of the kettle and you light a fire in the centre of the kettle, which boils the water! We couldn’t get the fire to keep going, so burned all of the paper we could find in our bags- train ticket tea!



About Renae Coles

Renae is a Perth (Aus) based artist, working between live art, sculpture and installation. Renae loves working with children and young people, usually through community art projects, and is currently working on a series of experimental play structures. In addition to being an artist, Renae works full time at the Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts and is a Paper Mountain Co-Director.
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