On Thursday the 29th September I organised a screening of the film ‘Who Does She Think She Is’ a very thought provoking documentary by American documentary filmmaker Pamela Tanner Boll looking at the role of women as artists and mothers from historical and contemporary perspectives. The film provided a framework for discussion for the 35 women who gathered afterwards.
Here are the categories I have identified from our discussion with added thoughts. I’d love your thoughts on this as well. Whilst this is written specifically with mother artists in mind - these are categories which could be applied to many areas of culture and business. I hope/plan to blog individually in these areas in the coming weeks/months.
The systems we artists work/are expected to work within themselves are flawed (ie. how the art world operates) and yet we are fighting to get into networks that not only don’t serve mother artists, they cater to very narrow clientele full stop
Status - Women choose or are forced to choose work that they can better balance with family life. This often comes with a lowering of status (and pay). (ie. The performer character in the film ends up giving up her lucrative and critically acclaimed musical theatre career to run a drama camp for kids)
Class Issues - The Women represented in the film appear to be from a very middle class trajectory. Why is there not a better representation within the arts? (ie. are creative young women channeled into hair dressing/childcare rather then given opportunity to develop their artistic voice? Is Art not seen as a valid ‘job’?)
Visibility of Women Artists - Artworks that have ‘women themes’ become ghettoised (ie. work about motherhood seen as being ‘specialist’, when women gather is is perceived as ‘specialist’). Statistically women artists (let alone Mother/Artists) that are seen/exhibited etc… are very much in the minority.
Head Space (where do we get that???) The women presented in the film appear to have a caffeine fuelled, no holds barred, fill every moment life wherein they have no time to be. This efficiency must come at a cost. One character had health problems as a result of all her responsibilities. This must be taken into account.
Childcare - Childcare isn’t just about putting kids into a holding cell - we must develop systems that support a child’s development as well. If a child has special needs or talents they equally must be given the opportunity to be cared for properly so as to not further support inequality in class structures.
HouseWORK - Housework is work. It takes up an inordinate time and yet is seen as an ‘extra’. How do we further democratise and support this. Dinner clubs for example?
Access - Family shows are often geared for kids regardless of quality, shows that are resonant for adult audiences are outwith the remit of viewing to parents with no support networks. Not to mention ticket prices are hugely prohibitive. (who do the programmers *really* want to come? It is an unfriendly structure that goes beyond ticket cost however, it’s about feeling part of a community.)
Funding strands - There is very little ‘job security’ in the arts, funding opportunities are highly competitive and having the time to work on applications is a must. When one has childcare and household to manage this becomes more problematic (see head space). Also there is a drive to always have *new* work, to develop *new* ideas, this takes a lot of energy to create on top of everything else.
Free Labour - The arts world is largely dependent on free labour and skills. When one has the resource of time this can (and is) given more freely. This unpaid resource is often another networking opportunity which is missed out on when cannot afford time/childcare to contribute. We must recognise on every level how much of our economy is based upon the backs of free labour.
Diversity is important - it is important that our arts structures represent our world. A richer cultural life results in happier societies. If our cultural landscape continues to be unrepresentative then we come to believe that is what matters, not the accurate picture.
What would you add to this list?
I would like to add there are individuals and organisations that buck this trend, who I will elaborate on in future blogs.
The next plan for Mother Artist Scotland is “Hearth” - a series of dinner events with inspirational speakers starting in Winter 2017! If you would like to be involved in the planning/organization of this please get in touch.