Interview with visual artist Bethan Maddocks – paper rainforests, creative anarchy & being a nosy parker.

I’m so excited to share this Culture Vulture interview with you all – this interview is with brilliant, Newcastle based visual artist, Bethan Maddocks.

Bethan was actually one of the first artists, I became fascinated with before the Culture Vulture was even a sparkle of an idea in my eye. She’s a multi-disciplinary artist that works with different types of materials – in fact, I’m pretty sure, if you look up multi-disciplinary artist, you’ll see a picture of Bethan smiling back at you. I found it so inspiring when I was first starting out, to see a fellow creative, confidently working across lots of different types of projects and refusing to sit neatly into a box – Bethan to me was an artist that represented creative possibility, opportunity and the beauty of constantly evolving and growing through projects and collaborating with people.

Her work, projects and sculptures bring to life people’s stories and her own ideas, into technically brilliant, unique visual interpretations. They are often socially engaged too – which in present times, is not only crucially important, it also shows that art has a really powerful role to play, reinterpreting and reframing thoughts, ideas, history and can often enable audiences to see and consider things in a different way.  

Bethan was one of the first artists, that I noted co-creating art with communities in such an inclusive, warm, participatory way and I witnessed, the joy of folx seeing their contributions become a final professional artwork or sculpture! Participatory arts in the community, in my opinion, outside of the art world, isn’t really understood and massively undervalued. Bethan was my first real exposure to not only the positive impact of a participatory arts project but also, that the art work created can end up displayed at a professional exhibition or light art event.

I’ve always been a little star struck by Bethan too, a little bit in awe of her. If you know me – you know, I’m not detail focused, I’m not precise, I’m creatively chaotic and methodical process just isn’t a natural thing for me. Bethan’s work is often so delicate, so precise, made from paper, all about the small touches and detail – she probably represents my polar opposite type of creative! I admire her technical brilliance so much – she creates type of work that I look at in total awe, as she’s so highly skilled, accomplished and brilliant.

So this artist interview has been on my “NEED to interview” list pretty much, since I started out as Culture Vulture. And across the years, our paths have crossed many times and I’ve been lucky enough to support a few projects she’s worked on over the years. She’s an absolute North East gem and a really lovely, kind, open human.

Over to you Bethan!

Visual artist Bethan Maddocks

Hello Bethan, can you introduce yourself and tell my fellow Culture Vultures a bit about your practice? 

Hello! I’m a visual artist; I work with light, paper, fabric and found objects to make large sculptures and installations that audiences can touch, explore or add to. The last few years I’ve become really interested in paper-based work so currently I make lots of intricate paper-cuts.

I often work with archives, communities and organisations to collect stories and make socially engaged, political or site-specific artwork.

Bethan Maddock’s piece – From Junipers Branches Grow

I ask every artist I interview this question; can you tell us about your journey into the creative industries? 

Ever since I was little, my twin sister Catriona and I, were always scavenging things for ‘projects’; bottle tops or bits of scrap metal from outside the tiny blacksmiths in our village. Haberdasheries and DIY stores were our treasure troves. I’m grateful that I’ve always been encouraged in playing, exploring and creating since I was a little kid; probably one of the reasons that workshops and community sharing are such a core part of my practice nowadays.

I studied art at college, then Northumbria University and also at a Finnish University for an Erasmus Exchange. After graduating I volunteered on every creative project I could find, till I started getting small projects myself – I think it was easier for recent graduates in the last years of the Labour government as there was more support for young artists and a greater all-round appreciation and understanding of the arts from those in power.

Bethan Maddocks – Floraphone – Photocredit: Colin Rose

Huge congratulations on being awarded the Dover Prize – so excited for you! Can you tell us about the Dover Prize?

I was really lucky (and completely blown away!) to win The Dover Prize in 2019. It’s an amazing £10,000 bursary awarded every two years to a UK-based artist. Its aim is to help artists develop their practice and  comes with the gorgeous ethos to ‘provide the artist with time to think, research, reflect and experiment with new ideas’.

As an artist you’re always applying for things, seeking ways to make your work fit a commission proposal; what’s brilliant about the Dover Prize is that it’s centered around the artist’s own work- the initial application form asks useful questions about your practice and your aims – things I found helpful to reflect on.

In February 2019 I was shortlisted from over 100 applicants and invited for an interview where I got to meet the judges and discuss my work and practice in person. The judges were great, and again asked really helpful questions about my aspirations and inspirations (I even somehow managed to talk about meeting my favourite artist Louise Bourgeois as a wide-eyed 20 year old. I’d like to think Louise was looking down, helping me to win -a sort of artist fairy-godmother!).

The Dover Prize 2021 is now open (deadline February 14th!) and I’d hugely encourage any artist to have a punt at it – it’s been incredible support for the last 2 years. You can apply HERE.

Bethan Maddocks

Can you tell me a bit about what you’ve done with the award these last 2 years?

The Dover Award originates in Darlington; having grown up in County Durham it felt great to focus my practice on a part of the world where I began my journey as an artist. I’ve spent a lot of time exploring the history of the area and trying to connect its historic backstory with contemporary politics. Darlington’s schools, libraries and social infrastructures were massively developed by several powerful Quaker families in the 18th century, so I connected with the local Quaker chapter to learn about their ethos of listening, equality and stewardship to help ground some research. Sitting in silence with a group full of kind strangers, waiting for ‘ministry’ is quite something!

I also used the bursary to help fund a residency to the incredible Studio Garonne in Southern France, where I collaborated with designer Remi Bec to make a series of paper and light sculptures and drawings and I also embarked on a research project to Canada to meet some brilliant paper artists such as Crissy Arseneau, Rachel Ashe and  Brangwynne Purcell. I’ve made lots of experiments combining my papercutting work with machine cut elements, and I’m hoping to translate some papercuts into metal this year.

Bethan Maddocks – Book of Shadows

Can you tell me a bit about your relationship with Woodhorn Museum in Northumberland?

I’ve worked with Woodhorn Museum on and off for the last few years often creating large installations in their huge, ex-mining industry buildings. A lot of my work is about exploring hidden stories, and Woodhorn has a great ethos for uncovering Northumberland’s lesser-known stories – so we’ve collaborated together on some really fun projects.

The Programming team often invites me in, to create installations based on brilliant random ideas they’ve had for exhibitions such as ancient forests, homing pigeons and orchid growing!

Even in 2020 they managed to commission a new project for myself and Unfolding Theatre (as well as the ever-brilliant Ruth Johnson, Nick John Williams and Jill Bennison). The Quest of Missing Questions was Woodhorn’s invitation to its audience for its re-opening after the first lockdown. The commission personally was a bit of a life saver, showing me that good organisations can (and should!) support freelancers even in tough times and in doing so create lovely rich collaborations.

Woodhorn Museum

Here, here! You’ve worked with them a few times in the past? Tell me about one of those projects? 

One of my favourite pieces was The Fallen Forest that explored the prehistoric carboniferous forests that existed here 250 million years ago, which formed the coal so key to our region’s economic and socialist development. I spent several months researching fossil records, becoming my own pretend geologist. I did a residency over in Borneo and managed to connect the kind of foliage that you find in modern Asian rainforests with similar foliage from these ancient rainforests. I created giant ferns and cycads and huge 5 metre tall papercut trees- each paper-tree’s surface referencing the bark patternations that you find recorded in fossils.

It was open for 9 months and the audience could attend workshops to make small paper artworks to add to the forest, so that it grew, expanded and then collapsed; mirroring the ancient forests growth and demise.

I love projects like that; I get to obsess and learn so much about random things. I’m always dreaming that one day I’ll go to a (very specific!) pub quiz and know all the answers from all the avid research I do (it has not happened yet!)

Bethan Maddocks – Fallen Forest

A lot of your work involves engaging with communities and community contributions – why are community contributions important to your practice? Why are opportunities to contribute to creative projects important?  

I’m a huge champion of creativity for so many reasons – it’s the great unifier; when you get a group of people making artwork alongside each other there will always be brilliant, eye opening, heart expanding conversations. There’s some magic that happens when people use their hands to make; it sort of frees up their thinking and people reconnect with their inner child.

I love working with other people as it’s always a helpful side-step for my thinking, I can have the best laid plans for what I want to create for an exhibition, and then a conversation or even a throwaway comment from someone, plants these delicious seeds, and sends me in ways I’d never of thought of. It’s an honour to work alongside people from such diverse backgrounds – there’s always so much to learn from other people.

Bethan Maddocks – NHS Celebration Artwork

You often create sculptures/artwork to scale – what is your favourite thing about that type of work? Do you enjoy watching folx take it in?  

When I go to exhibitions, it’s alwayslarge-scale sculptures and installations that I love to see and experience the most; that sense of becoming aware of your own scale – a little like standing at the top of a massive mountain and feeling so tiny in this all-encompassing landscape.

I also love making loud noises in quiet acoustic buildings, touching stuff that maybe you shouldn’t, opening drawers, prodding around, and I want to make artwork that encourages that, where you can be a playful nosy parker! I made an installation a couple of years ago, where there were hundreds of sandcastles inside a tent, all decorated with cocktail umbrellas. We opened the tent and loads of kids came in, all wanting to smash them down but thinking they ‘weren’t allowed’. Watching the first kid (my nephew- ever a proud Auntie!) go and kick one down and then all the other children running forward to join in; it was just absolutely gleeful to see all that work disappearing in joyful, anarchic seconds. I want to create moments like that.

Bethan Maddocks – Everything There Ever Was

What is your role at BALTIC? Have you been involved in any of their online creative work during lock down? 

I’ve worked freelance for the Learning Team at Baltic for about 12 years; they took a punt on me as a relatively inexperienced but eager workshop facilitator just after I graduated and I’ve been working there ad-hoc ever since. I love the range of groups that we get to work alongside and the Learning team’s encouragement to try out new stuff, take over spaces and explore the exhibitions. They were also brilliant at the beginning of 2020 madness (we’ve got to champion the good ones!), paying all freelancers for sessions they couldn’t deliver, and helping support us to do online workshops. I’ve made quite a few online videos since, and it’s a learning curve, but I spent a lot of my childhood apparently critiquing Neil Buchanan for his crafting on Art Attack, so perhaps it was meant to be. You can watch them here and here and here

Bethan Maddocks – Floraphone

How has lock down/pandemic affected you as an artist/freelancer?  

Well it hasn’t been easy for anyone has it (except perhaps for political donators and disaster capitalists…)!? I had a week in March where I had 7 exhibitions and two years of work cancelled which wasn’t particularly fun. It has been difficult being self-employed and I hope the brilliant work that people have done in raising awareness of the vulnerability of self-employed and zero hour contract workers has helped the public to appreciate cultural and hospitality workers better.

On the flip side, I’ve had more time in my studio at 36 Lime Street, which is just a dreamland to work in, a building full of lots of talented, diverse makers in the heart of the Ouseburn – my windows open right onto the river so I get to work to the sound of the water and the ducks and swans flapping about.

I’ve  also loved watching things like #ArtistSupportPledge, Beccy Owen’s Pop up Choirs, Mutual aid support groups and Artists’ Union England’s solidarity fund come together. The arts are a mixed bunch of brilliant, creative, bloomin’ hard working people, and even in all this weirdness, they’ve given me lots of moments of joy and celebration.

Bethan Maddocks in her 36 Lime Street Studio

That made me so teary, I’m so proud to be in this sector with wonderful folx like you! Do you have anything to say about artists being described as “unviable”  ?  

I mean it is ridiculous isn’t it!? Weapons manufacturing, the aviation industry and fossil fuel use aren’t exactly viable, if we want to have a happy, existing planet, and yet governments never seem to pull them up…

I think there are things in the arts that aren’t particularly viable – like reserving huge amounts of funds for top management and the running and upkeep of buildings rather than fair living wages for all employees, and I hope that this can change.

And look at everything that we’ve ever sent into space to be found by future/other civilisations, or any time capsules that we’ve buried in the ground and they are full of the arts – music, literature, artwork, Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man carved on the side etc. Our society is defined by its culture past and present – make that unviable and you have a pretty grey world.

Bethan Maddocks – Frost of Forgetfulness

An answer like that is exactly why I bliddy love you Bethan! I personally believe creative opportunities for all are more important now, than ever – as a process for folx to make sense of what’s happening, feel connected to others, express themselves…… any thoughts? 

Definitely; it’s what’s kept us all sane hasn’t it! As unsatisfying as culture being mostly online can be it’s also opened the doors for some brilliant new ways of engagement and accessibility- I think of all those people with mobility issues, with young kids, with low self-confidence who in the past haven’t have been able to engage in the arts physically, who were effectively blocked from going over the threshold and now they can join in. They can settle their kids, pour a glass of wine and go online and join in on a bookmaking course, or watch a piece of live theatre, or go to a gig on their couch. We’ve got to celebrate that. And when things become more open again, we’ve got to make sure that we keep people with us, that this new accessibility doesn’t stop with a vaccine, but changes the landscape. We’ve got to make this the best learning that we can.

Bethan Maddocks – NHS Celebration artwork

Can you tell us a highlight of 2020? 

I’ve missed live music; there’s not much better than having a dance at a gig with your mates, so I had a particularly brilliant birthday, in amongst this strange year. County Durham based arts organisation Jack Drum Arts, were organising doorstep gigs with musicians and storytellers coming to perform for small groups during the summer holidays. My Mum surreptitiously organised for the legends that are Baghdaddies to come and play in her garden for me and my twin sister on our birthday. We had our own tiny festival- sousaphones, trumpets, drumkits popping out of the flower beds, mojitos in our hands as we “wiggled our bums, our big fat bums…”. That was pretty heady.

Bethan Maddocks – Book of Shadows

Sounds glorious! So, what’s next for you? Can you tell us about a project you’ve got coming up? 

I have an exhibition ‘Finders Seekers’ that has just ‘opened’ at Greenfield arts (although currently no-one can visit it!). It was a lush commission to create artwork around ideas of possibility, changing perspectives and inquiry.

The exhibition is made up of a series of paper installations of trees, mushrooms and lichen combined with objects such as ropes, ladders and magnifying glasses – tools of investigation and elevation.   I spent most of Christmas hand-painting and cutting 300 paper oak leaves to thread onto a ladder!

I wanted to create a fun, celebratory, optimistic exhibition; artworks interconnected like an ecosystem, where the viewer enters a childlike world, a paper-made forest full of metaphor, imagination and elevation.

Where can we keep in touch with you and check out your work?

I’m currently reworking on my website with the brilliant Branded by Naomi and I’m hoping to have a snazzy new launch of it early this year www.bethanmaddocks.com. Or if you want to find photos, drawings, papercutting videos and the occasional lycra-clad leg kick you can find me on Instagram bethan_maddocks.

Bethan Maddocks – Christmas Carol Lit & Phil

Thank you Bethan! Interviews like this make me feel so certain that I’m in the right sector, working and collaborating with glorious humans and that the power and potential of art, is that it can change the world and make such a difference in people’s lives.

That’s all for now Culture Vultures……until next time!

Interview with Liv Hunt – artist, activist, proud freelancer & puppet master!

Liv Hunt – Culture Vulture Artist Interview

Image credit – Equal Arts – Creative workshop with Equal Arts’  – Read more about their work via: www.equalarts.org.uk

One of the biggest blessings of 2020, is that whilst the year hasn’t played out as anticipated (understatement alert!), I’ve had the privilege of working on lots of brilliant and unexpected projects. One such project was #Gateshead10x10 – as someone born and bred in Gateshead, it’s always exciting to work on something in my own community, on home turf and especially a project like this, that really has such brilliant aspirations.

Creative community project 10 x 10 Creative Gateshead launched in August to connect and inspire Gateshead people during the pandemic, through activities devised by Gateshead artists. 10 x 10 Creative Gateshead involved the creation of two booklets, one for adults and one for young people and families; each with 10 creative activities created for the people of Gateshead. The activities include a wide range of art forms from mindful writing, to puppet making, to origami, to Gateshead celebrating creative prompts and can be used indoors or outdoors, alone or as a group.

Gateshead based community organisation Dingy Butterflies has been heading up the project and across August, hundreds of activity booklets were distributed across the Gateshead community. Each booklet features 10 activities created by Gateshead artists, developed in collaboration with 10 Gateshead community and creative organisations. These physical packs are targeted at people who have limited or no access to the internet; Gateshead has a high proportion of residents without internet access and low levels of digital literacy.

In addition to the hundreds of physical packs being distributed across the community, there are digital versions of both 10 x 10 Creative Gateshead booklets available for ANYONE download now from www.dingybutterflies.org/10×10-creative-gateshead/ – follow the link to check out the booklets and have a go at something creative. All materials for the activities are inexpensive and easy to find in shops or you will find them around the home.

10 x 10 Creative Gateshead has also provided paid work for 15 Gateshead artists/freelancers during a challenging time for the cultural sector, in which paid freelance work has been decimated (how lush is that!?) It has been such a beaut project to work on and meeting so many artists (some I knew and others I didn’t) was ace! So al a Culture Vulture – I thought I’d reach out to one of the #Gateshead10x10 artists for a Culture Vulture interview to find out more. So for this interview, I went after a goodie and an artist, I’ve wanted to interview for a LONG TIME!

So step right up – Liv Hunt – artist, theatre maker, puppeteer, lovely human and freelance champion……let’s GO!

Liv Hunt – photo credit : Michelle Bayley

Well helloooooooooo – for my Culture Vultures, can you tell me who you are, what you doyou’re your practice?

Hello, I’m Liv Hunt.

I’m a theatre-maker, facilitator and activist working in participatory arts. My practice is centred around telling, sharing and imagining stories and to do that I use different mediums such as music, puppetry and sensory theatre. I began my career delivering theatre projects in care homes, schools and community centres working with people from varied backgrounds and abilities in partnership with Equal Arts charity for older people. I then began developing my practice with arts organisations, delivering on freelance contracts to produce theatre. 

I am also the community engagement coordinator for Alphabetti Theatre where I designed and coordinated participatory projects Walter (2018) in collaboration with The Discovery Museum and Write Something Junior (2019) in collaboration with 6 primary schools across the North East. My role is to ensure that everyone has access to the theatre and to develop Alphabetti’s networks within the community. My approach is quite hands-on. I get out and talk to people and, in the process, have formed strong relationships with organisations, groups & individuals.

In 2019, I formed Woven Nest Theatre with Poppy Crawshaw. Our aim is to create theatrical experiences with, for and by older and neuro-diverse audiences. Our first company project was to create a piece of multi-sensory theatre for people with advanced dementia who are bed-bound. I am driven by arts for social change and champion for inclusivity and accessibility in theatre.

Tell us about your journey into creative industries?

I wasn’t initially going to be in the creative industries. I liked drama at school but I wasn’t really sure what I would do with it. When you’re at school you’re not taught all the jobs that are in the arts. So, I thought studying drama would make me an actor, a director or a teacher. I had no idea about participatory arts or how the arts work with communities and the possible jobs tied in with that. A friend told me about a drama course at Northumbria University called Applied Theatre – I had no idea what applied theatre was but when I started looking into it, it grabbed my attention. I knew I wanted to learn more about it, so, I enrolled. Towards the end of the course I became interested in working with older people with dementia, which framed the first 3 years of my career in the creative industries.

Image credit – Equal Arts – Creative workshop with Equal Arts’  – Read more about their work via: www.equalarts.org.uk

Tell me more about your experience in theatre and puppetry?

My experience with theatre and puppetry is through a participatory arts perspective, the work is centred around the communities and people I work with. In my early career I was developing theatre in care homes, community centres and schools. In 2017, I was commissioned to work on a project with St Marks Care Home and Battle Hill Primary to develop a piece of theatre, celebrating the Gateshead born Dodd Sisters who founded The Little Theatre, Gateshead. The project was to produce a retelling of The Pitman’s Pay written by Ruth Dodds, to be performed at The Little Theatre.

I have been a drama worker for Live Youth Theatre for the past 4 years where I have directed youth theatre shows with young people aged 13 – 25. In 2019, I started working with Unfolding Theatre to develop a Christmas show with Edberts House over 12-weeks. The Edberts Express was then performed at St Mary’s Church. I am an associate drama worker with Open Clasp Theatre Company where I have delivered drama workshops exploring issues related to women.

I’m currently developing a theatrical film with my company, Woven Nest Theatre. The film is called Mariana’s Song and is about a woman who is in love with the sea. We are just in the pilot phase of this project. It has been created for older people with advanced dementia who are bed-bound and incorporates sensory stimulation, lighting and sound.

Prior to lockdown we were developing a touring puppetry show specific for care homes. We were developing a tea trolley theatre complete with tea-pot puppets, original music and sensory surprises. We were commissioned by Sunderland Culture to develop the piece with a Sunderland care home but sadly due to COVID it was postponed. When we get the chance and it’s safe to do so, we’ll be dusting off our teapots again!

Wow….what an accomplished portfolio! Puppetry is something that absolutely fascinates me….can you tell me a little more about your puppetry experience?

I’ve always really loved watching puppets and puppetry shows. I became interested in using puppetry within my own practice after I did a course at Northern Stage with Tom Walton. He taught us how to make really simple puppets using materials found at home. I loved the way you could make a puppet out of an old newspaper and some masking tape. I was doing a lot of work in care homes with older people at that time and decided to try it out in there. We built a simple newspaper puppet as a group which they really enjoyed (it involves a lot of repetitive actions such as crunching and rolling the newspaper.) I then brought the puppet to life and moved it around in the space.

I was amazed at the reaction that this had. The older people were calling for the puppet to come towards them and when I came over with it they would smile, laugh, stoke and talk to the puppet as if it was a living breathing thing. I don’t think they really saw the puppet as though it was real, but they were able to take it for what it was in that moment and connect with the emotion that the puppet was portraying. So, if I was portraying sadness, they would comfort it and if I was portraying happiness they would laugh and smile with the puppet. That’s what I love about puppetry –they can portray emotions in a really pure form.

What is the puppet scene like in the North East?

The puppetry scene is good and growing in the North East. We are really lucky to have a growing number of puppetry companies in the region and of course Moving Parts – Newcastle Puppetry Festival which was held at Alphabetti Theatre last year. The festival showcases fantastic puppetry from companies all over the world so what you see there is really diverse. I love going and just soaking up all the different kinds of puppets. Moving Parts have also brought lots of training opportunities to the region which has meant that more artists, such as myself, are starting to use puppetry as part of their practice. So, what we’re starting to see is a ripple effect of more freelancers starting to use puppetry in performance and also participatory arts which stems from these training opportunities.

Tell me about a recent project you’ve worked on?

Last year, I co-founded my company, Woven Nest Theatre with Poppy Crawshaw. We are a company that produces theatrical experiences for neuro-diverse audiences, specifically older people with advanced dementia. We were just about to start our first company project, with a care home in Sunderland when Covid-19 started so everything had to be cancelled and put on pause. The project was to develop a theatre show in collaboration with the elderly residents there at their bedsides using elements of puppetry, lighting and sound.

In June, we were funded by Northumbria University to do a research project, looking at ways in which we can provide a theatrical sensory experience, digitally. It has been great – we have had space to collect our thoughts, plan and start filming snippets of our story. The entire experience has been really eye opening. I would never have dreamed of doing a digital project but now I genuinely believe using digital media is better suited to the project than the original idea on pause.

I think this time is really interesting for artists, we’re having to adapt our work in a really interesting way. We are not able to work like we used to, but by having this new barrier, it’s starting to unleash new artistic possibilities which is producing some really exciting work.

Can you tell me about a recent theatre production you’ve contributed to?

I was commissioned by Alphabetti Theatre and Fulfilling Lives charity for people who experience homelessness, substance misuse, ill mental health and offending. I worked with a group of experts by experience and their support workers over a 2-month period to develop a piece which would later be performed at the Fulfilling Lives Annual Forum. The piece was centred around commemorating the lives of the experts by experience who had passed away in the previous year, which had been particularly high and so the group was experiencing a high level of trauma. We developed a series of short pieces, taking inspiration from creative writing, spoken work and contemporary performance, which we then crafted into a script. The piece was performed to a backdrop of an outline of a human which was gradually filled in as the piece unfolded. The aim was to show that people who had died weren’t just numbers on a page but people with complex and rich lives that deserved to be celebrated. The group performed the piece themselves and then we took part in a Q&A with the forum.

Image credit – Equal Arts – Creative workshop with Equal Arts’  – Read more about their work via: www.equalarts.org.uk

Can you tell me about your experience as a freelancer so far?

Generally, I love being a freelancer. I love how versatile and surprising the work is and all the lush people you work with along the way. I like the thrill of starting new projects and don’t get me wrong writing funding applications is a nightmare but when you finally get funding it’s like you’ve won the lottery. That being said, I definitely find it stressful sometimes. It’s a lot, constantly. And the idea of job security sounds dreamy.

What has your lockdown experience been like?

During the lockdown I found it really hard at first. All the jobs I was working on/about to work on got cancelled and you watch everything you’ve built topple down in front of you. As freelancers we’re so use dto keeping the cogs turning, day in day out, so to have everything come to a really sharp stop with no sight of starting again was really jarring. After I got over the initial shock, I decided to use the time to take a well-earned break to recharge, plan, reflect and read. I used the first half of lockdown to basically check back in with myself after years of going full steam ahead. I started doing art just for the sake of it, which I hadn’t actually done in a really long time. Then for the second half of lockdown I started to turn the cogs again, but I definitely felt the benefit of giving myself time to breath. It’s made me think that every freelancer needs a 1 month paid recharge holiday (if only!) I started picking up more freelance work and volunteer positions. One of those was being on the Freelance Task Force.

Image credit – Equal Arts – Creative workshop with Equal Arts’  – Read more about their work via: www.equalarts.org.uk

Ohh tell us more about The Freelance Taskforce?

The Freelance Taskforce was an initiative started by Fuel Theatre. There are over 150 freelancers from across the UK on the taskforce. And I was really lucky to have Karen Traynor and Sian Armstrong on there repping the North East with me. We formed the NE Freelance Taskforce – we have a twitter page where we post regular information out and we going to be announcing some exciting updates soon so check us out!

If you could change one thing about being freelance, what would it be?

I’m a big fan of the initiatives that pay freelancers just to be freelancers. This isn’t centred on a product or a particular project you have to work on. You can use this money however way you want obviously within reason. I think that’s a brilliant idea and would solve a lot of problems. We spend so much time looking and searching and frantically running from job to job we don’t allow ourselves time to stop and think, reflect and check in with ourselves. I think if there were more initiatives that paid freelancers to do that, more people would.

PREACH – love the sound of that! So, tell me about your role/work on #Gateshead10x10?

I was commissioned by Dingy Butterflies to create two activity packs, one for families and one for adults. The idea was that the activity packs were for people who are having to spend time indoors due to self-isolating but were unable to access online activities. The pandemic has really shown the digital divide. For some, the arts have become more accessible. Suddenly, you can watch brilliant theatre for an affordable price and in the comfort of your own home. Fab! But, for those who do not have access to a computer or internet it has been tricky to find stuff to keep the kids and themselves entertained. This project aimed to provide the community in Bensham, Gateshead with activity packs complete with instructions and materials. I was one of 11 brilliant artists who worked on the project. The artists were diverse in art form; creative writers, visual artists, illustrators, bee conservationists and theatre-makers. It was my first time making an activity pack or a booklet and I absolutely loved it!

Each #Gateshead10x10 artist was partnered up with a Best of Bensham Collaborative member organisation – which organisation were you partnered with and how did you work together?

I was partnered up with The Comfrey Project in Gateshead, a charity delivering a programme of activities in gardening, languages and arts for refugees and asylum seekers. As you come in you get a glimpse of the beautiful gardens they have there where they grow their own fruit, vegetables and flowers for the bees. I always feel 100% calmer after a visit to The Comfrey Project.

I started volunteering there around June time, and straight away I felt really at home. Over the summer I have been delivering some socially distanced activities with families visiting the centre. When we met to discuss the Dingy Butterflies project we talked through the needs of the group and ideas around activities. One of the main things that I needed to think about was how to make this accessible for people who have English as a second language. I went away and began developing the ideas and playing around with puppetry techniques that relied on easy-access materials and simple but effective steps. The packs have gone out now and I’ll be keeping up to date with how they get on. Hopefully at the end when they have created some puppetry magic we are going to have a sharing of what everyone has made.

Can you tell us about the #Gateshead10x10 two activities you developed?

For the family pack, I have done a how-to-guide on making a shadow puppet theatre out of an old cardboard box. This is really easy to make, uses materials found round the house and is good entertainment for the entire family! Once you have made and decorated your shadow puppet theatre you can then start developing your story. When I trialled this activity out on my niece we used her favourite story-book for inspiration but you can use your imagination to come up with a story as well. Once you have your story and the characters in your story you can start making your shadow puppets using black card and kebab sticks. Finally, all you need to do is put a lamp in the right position, turn the lights off and begin your theatre show.

The pack designed for adults shows them how to make tin foil puppets. This is a little bit trickier but the result is a defined puppet which looks great and has good movement. Tin foil is a brilliant material to use as you can get really good definition on the faces. One you have sculpted the tin foil into the right shape you then layer on baking paper with glue. The result makes the puppets almost look like there made out of wood. I then encourage them to start exploring with their puppets and record a short story using their puppets as the main character.

Creativity is a huge part of #Gateshead10x10 – Why is creativity important to you? How do you think it can help others?

Creativity is one of the brilliant things that makes us human. I think it plays a huge role in how we process ourselves and the world around us. I rely heavily on creativity to get me through and I think without creativity life would be really really really boring. I see it as something that we all have inside us, some people may use it more than others, but it’s still there.

When I work in communities a lot of people tell me that they are not creative, and that the arts isn’t for them. But with a little unpicking we realise that they lead very creative lives, so somewhere along the line there has been a disconnect between the creativity in people’s everyday lives and creativity as a concept. I think we have got confused in thinking creativity is only for some people and not for others. Labelling some as creative and others academic and so on. I think that’s a huge mistake as it’s robbing people of the opportunity to express their inner creativity.

What are you working on right now?

I have just been commissioned by Helix Arts & Gateshead Arts Team to run a pilot project with unpaid carers. This project has been a long time in the making, so I am absolutely buzzing to finally get it off the ground! I’m going to be working with them over 8 – 10 weeks to develop a piece of forum theatre which will then be showcased to a closed audience. That’s all I can give away at the minute but I’ll be sharing out more info soon.

Do you have any advice for future freelancers AND/OR folks wanting to enter into creative industries?

Ahh there’s tonnes…. Here are just 5

1.            Find your tribe, the people who have your back and are going to support you. We are really lucky in the North East there seems to be a really good ‘ladder-down’ mentality.

2.            Being a freelancer is hard graft, make sure you give yourself time to rest so you don’t burn out.

3.            If you can, continue to find training opportunities. I believe we should never stop learning. Whilst working as a freelancer I have continued to train in performance, puppetry, movement, voice, playwrighting. Some have directly benefited my career and others have been good for me creatively.

4.            It’s ok to ask about pay, please please do, and make sure you know your own value. I did a lot of work for free at the beginning which is fine to some extent. Sometimes I still do bits for free. My general rule is that if I feel like I’m getting experience out of it that I ever wise wouldn’t have then it’s ok. But know what your limits are – these are just mine.

5.            Shy bairns get nowt. This saying has helped me in so many ways. If you want to work with someone, send them an email. People are generally nice and want to help you. 

Great advice….you’re a gem! Anything else you want to tell us about?

I’m setting up a network for participatory artists – #ParticipatoryArtsSocial. It’s a space to come together and share, reflect, listen, learn, rant and support one another. We meet fortnightly and if you want to join the mailing list please email me on oliviahunt11@outlook.com. I put regular updates via my twitter @LivHunt_11

Well thanks Liv! See – I told you it was a goodie of an interview! Very excited about Liv’s upcoming projects and happenings!

If you get a chance – please check out #Gateshead10x10 activity booklets and why not have a go at the activities! I’ve love to see how you get on and see your creativity!