(#AD) Does Culture Matter? – a mass participation research project from Crystallised.

I’ve found myself really missing cultural experiences whilst on lock down. Even as The Culture Vulture, I didn’t realise how much “culture” mattered to me on a day to day personal level and how intrinsically linked going to the theatre, cinema, wandering around a gallery, is to my sense of self and well-being. I miss it and I miss feeling a part of a creative community in person. Attending things and supporting cultural venues gives me a real sense of positive purpose and now their doors are closed, I’ve spent a little while feeling lost. I am going to go on the BIGGEST cultural binge when this is all over – I want to attend, see, visit, experience e.v.e.r.y.t.h.i.n.g. all the time.

I’ve been trying to replace this sense of loss in my life with cultural streaming – watching theatre, live performance poetry, launching a Silent Book Club (and about to launch a Culture Vulture film club) alongside heading down a rabbit hole on Insta discovering new artists and creative lushness. It’s helping ease that loss….but it’s not the same!

A project that is helping me tackle some of the above and making me feel useful to the cultural sector – is Crystallised’s project Does Culture Matter?  You might have seen me plugging it on my social…. Does Culture matter? explores that question thematically by collating the opinions and insights of the Nation, during COVID-19 and beyond. Through a series of weekly questions sent direct to your inbox on a Sunday, you get to explore and reflect on what culturally matters to you, what you’re missing and what you’d normally be out and about doing.

Lead DCM

Crystallised are collecting all this data, to make it available to arts and cultural venues and sector when locked down measures are lifted. Your insights and data will directly help organisations recover, pivot, be more resilient, stronger through the power of knowledge and shape their activities by enabling them to identify what is actually important culturally to you!

So do I think my fellow Culture Vultures should get involved…..

  • It’s something a little lush to do, to get you thinking and reflecting. The questions asked are interesting and in the moment – I mean there was a question about Tiger King last week!
  • It’s something to look forward to each week; I really look forward to the questions dropping in my inbox, grabbing a cup of tea/Sunday gin and sitting answering them. Only takes a few minutes but it’s a little lush brain exercise.
  • You are a part of a cultural community who are united in sharing their insights – it’s lush to feel useful and to be a part of something happening across the UK. #peoplepower
  • It’s helping the creative and cultural sector at a time of need – the organisations that will have free access to this data need a helping hand to recover post-COVID – this is that helping hand. Knowledge is power. At a time when you can’t attend these venues, support their cancelled projects or donate to every single cultural organisation and venue – this is something you can do to help that they will all have access to.
  • The data produced could form part of regional and National government lobbying – fingers crossed – it could form the foundation to justify increased spending in culture and creative projects by evidencing what is important to the Nation; what they want, need, love.

To get involved and to sign up – follow this link to take part – takes seconds and you can do it HERE

I had the pleasure of catching up with Laura Rothwell, Managing Director of Crystallised to find out more about why they launched this ‘Does Culture Matter’ project, why it is important and what they hope to achieve through it!

Hiyer you – right first things first, tell my fellow Culture Vultures about Crystallised?  

Crystallised is a marketing, PR and events agency for ethically, socially or culturally motivated organisations.

That’s the spiel.

What that means is we work with a range of organisations. All of them with a cause or purpose at their heart. We help them promote themselves, or their initiatives, we help them reach new audiences, market their work or make some kind of change. Invariably that means we work with a lot of arts and culture organisations, but we also work with charities, NGOs, ethically minded brands and foundations.

We’ve been doing this for seven years; we’ve helped organisations reach audiences of over 30 million people from all over the world.

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Team Crystallised

Impressive stuff – has has your organisation been personally impacted by COVID-19?

Yes, big time. A lot of our work is about getting people to a place. Arts, culture or destination marketing. So, jobs have been cancelled, or indefinitely postponed. We’re seeing many of our clients putting their plans on hold until at least October.

In January, I started looking at pitching for work which was less event-focussed, because of COVID-19. I have anxiety, and actually that has come in handy here, because I was worrying about this very early on.

Snap and snap! It’s been full of devastation and an opportunity to re-imagine in equal measure. What was is about the cultural and creative sector that drew you in?

It took a while to be honest. As a kid, things like ‘culture’ (museums, galleries) weren’t ‘for us’. Sometimes we went to castles which I loved, other times we went to National Trust properties which I hated, my main motivator for tolerating those was the Kendal Mint Cake at the gift shops.

It’s marketing that got me here, it’s where I started at 17, as a Marketing Administrator. And it’s what I’ve done for the past 19 years. The first eight years or so was retail and destination marketing, very commercial environments which are incredible places to learn and to train as a marketer.

I eventually took a role which connected me to ‘art’ for the first time, albeit in a commercial art organisation. There I ended up working on projects in the museum sector, at Great North Museum; Hancock, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and Magna Science Centre (Sheffield).

That’s what drew me in. I saw – for the first time really – what art meant, what culture could do for people when/if it wasn’t about commercial gain, how essential it was. I very quickly felt as though I had to use my marketing experience to allow more people (everyone, ideally) to a) know what was out there b) feel like it was ‘for them’ and c) contribute to it, own it, be part of it and d) benefit from it.

I started Crystallised, and seven years on I still feel those things acutely.

We are crazily similar #kendalmintcake Let’s move on to Does Culture Matter? What was the inspiration behind Does Culture Matter? – why did you start the project?

The idea came from an Instagram group convo with a collection of excellent women I know who work in the creative sectors. We were talking about what this all (COVID-19) meant for us, for our jobs, for the sector.

I was in the middle of what I suspect was coronavirus, I felt truly awful in the mind and the body. We’d had a recent, sudden family bereavement, and my brain was just not up for anything at all.

Anyway, as is the way, during this chit-chat back and forth, inspiration struck. I just thought, now is the perfect time to listen to audiences, to learn, without an agenda. No-one is paying us to do this, we aren’t trying to meet a brief, we are simply listening.

You almost never get an opportunity like this.

Can you describe what it is and how people can get involved?

Does Culture Matter? is a mass participation research project. We want to understand how our relationship with culture is changing because of COVID-19, what it was like before, perhaps if our own definitions of what culture means are changing and what we might want it to look like after COVID-19.

We want EVERYONE to give their opinions, even if – no, especially if, like me back in the day, you don’t think ‘culture’ is for you.

All you need to do is follow and input your email address.

You’ll receive an intro questionnaire via email and then one every Sunday for the rest of the year.

Why is it important that people share their insights with you?

It’s important because culture belongs to us all. There should not be someone ‘in charge’ of culture, there should not be someone gatekeeping, or deciding what is or isn’t culture. It belongs to us all. We own it.

I believe every single human being should be able to be involved with and relate to the cultural offer of their cities or communities.

The sector talks about ‘hard to reach’ audiences, that is infuriating bullshit. Audiences aren’t hard to reach, it’s the organisation that is hard to reach, because for whatever reason, intentional or not, they have made themselves inaccessible.

So, it’s important for you all to join up and share, because when your voice gets heard, change can be made.

We have an opportunity to come out of this and shape the next chapter. I felt as though the best way Crystallised could contribute to that change, was to use our skills and expertise.

Listen to people, advise organisations. It’s what we do every day.

Have there been any interesting insights you wish to share?

Our North East participants told us their favourite places to visit in the city, at the moment, the list looks like this – the data changes the more people who join, so that’s another reason why everyone should get involved.

Tyneside Cinema

BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art

Sage Gateshead

Northern Stage

Laing Art Gallery

But, if you look at our North East respondents under the age of 25, the list changes:

Cineworld, Newcastle

Tyneside Cinema

Riverside Newcastle

O2 Newcastle

Utilita Arena

Three music venues, two cinemas. I find this fascinating, there’s much that can be explored from this data alone.

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What do you hope to get out of it after the research period?

I’d like the data to have organisations start asking their own questions. I’d like this to be the starting point for organisations to look at how they can better serve their communities.

I’d love to work with the braver organisations who want to do something bold and radical as a result of seeing the data, perhaps homing in on something specific, collaborating with audiences, flipping the narrative and to some extent taking a back seat, so that others can shine.

In your opinion, do you think Culture Matters more during this period?

Yes.

This is a horrible, terrifying time, we’re all going to lose someone or something. There are many many people, organisations, institutions that desperately need support. I’m not suggesting that an “art gallery is more important than the NHS” – which I’ve been accused of on social media of late.

No argument is that black and white.

I think culture has the power to uplift, to teach, to heal, to connect, nourish and to be fun. I think it’s essential for us to support and protect the sector if we don’t want to see a desolate, cultural wasteland post COVID-19. Our lives and societies will be much poorer if we don’t act.

Has the lock down changed your cultural consumption personally? Have you been watching any streams/online happenings?

Yes, I’ve been watching National Theatre, stand-up comedy, a film discussion and some DJ sets all online.

A theatre performance feels special even when it’s on the small screen, you can still sense the atmosphere between the audience and the cast.

How do you feel about the movement to digital culture and events through streaming platforms and social media?

I think it’s amazing and fantastic that so much has suddenly become available, the speed at which organisations have been able to adapt to the changing circumstances I think is impressive.

However, I can’t help but find it problematic that it’s taken a global pandemic for organisations to make their content accessible. It has long been the case that parts of the arts sector are inaccessible to disabled people. To now see all this readily available content filling our timelines because their able-bodied audience members are no longer allowed to attend a venue, is shameful.

The future must be radically different. We cannot live through this, witness all the change that has been enacted and then revert. That would be a tragedy.

What’s the first thing you’re going to do post lockdown?

Oh Christ! I’d like to go to Riley’s Fish Shack, sit on the beach and listen to my pals chatter, feel the sunshine on my face and be able to lie down on the sand, let my dog make friends with a Bichon Frisse, and just take my sweet sweet time outside.

What would be success for you as Crystallised for 2020?

Crystallised still existing would be success. I’m fearful of how much harder the year is going to get for business. This is going to be a slog. If we still have our full team and are on the way to some semblance of stability at the end of this year, I’ll be thrilled and relieved.

Anything other projects or happenings you think my fellow Culture Vultures should know about?

Right now, we’re working with one of our long-term clients Family Arts Campaign, who exist to make the arts accessible for families. Our focus is supporting their ambition to be the go-to national database of all arts and culture events happening online for families to join. We’ll be working on PR and influencer campaigns to get as many families as possible trying something new. Find that here: fantasticforfamilies.com

We’re also deep into New Creatives, a two-year project with BBC Arts and Arts Council England which looks to find undiscovered talent to make work for the BBC – could be a film, or something for radio. No prior experience is necessary, we’re trying to find northern creative folk under-30 who have something to say. Find that here: newcreatives.com

Other than that, we’ll be staying at home.

DCM. Share your thoughts.

Thank you Laura….so does culture matter? Well it does to me, it does to Crystallised and I think it matters to my fellow culture vultures, followers and readers. I’d love you to support Crystallised on their mission by signing up to participate in ‘Does Culture Matter?”

Remember – signing up is LUSH and is contributing to a project that could support your favourite arts and culture organisations to learn, pivot, recover, restart and fingers crossed – GROW.

Signing up takes seconds and participating in the project takes approx. 5mins a week.

You can sign up by HERE and feel free to share the project with your friends and networks – spread the word! #ganon

(#AD) An Interview with Workie Ticket Theatre – giving a voice to communities & human stories through theatre making….. #womenwarriors

One of my favourite things about being the Culture Vulture, is that I get to meet people who are truly living and breathing their passion – independent folks making real changes and a big difference to people in the North. Passion and purpose is what gets me out of bed in a morning, and I love to connect with others who connect with theirs.

Workie Ticket Theatre Company is a company of brilliant humans doing just that – they first came to my attached due to the name. As a bit of a “workie ticket” myself – I appreciated their branding……. For that don’t know – a “workie ticket” is a Geordie term for someone who is a bit mischievous, a tinker, someone who pushes the boundaries, pushes their luck……..but in a likeable way. I’m all about pushing boundaries so I really embrace the term and the Workie Ticket ethos.

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Workie Ticket are doing amazing things in the North East– their first project came to my attention on social media. Hear Her Roar, celebrated and gave a platform to brave, bold new writing by some of the North East’s most exciting playwrights. Giving a platform to new talent is something I’m really passionate about and part of my purpose as Culture Vulture so it’s lush to see others championing equitable opportunities. Their current project ‘Women Warriors’ is extremely important and gives voices to the stories of female veterans on stage- stories that haven’t been told, silenced and disempowered – so I was thrilled to be invited over to The Exchange in North Shields to meet JoJo Kirtley founder and co-Artistic director of WT and Lindsay Nicholson, co-Artistic Director of WT. We had some amazing chat about things we’d like to change in the theatre industry in the North East and it was an ace opportunity for a Culture Vulture interview and to find out more about Women Warriors on 9th October at The Exchange at 7pm – tickets are available to purchase HERE.

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Hi JoJo & Lindsay, right so for my reader and fellow Culture Vultures….Who are you?

JoJo Kirtley, founder of WT and co-Artistic director. I write, produce and facilitate. I am originally from Newcastle but I’ve spent a lot of my career in Manchester.

Lindsay Nicholson, Co-Artistic Director of WT. I’m a performer, facilitator and producer.

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Tell me about your journey into theatre?

JoJo– I went to Longbenton High School where I was introduced to drama because of my drama teacher, Ian Williams. He believed in me at a time when I was struggling. I fell in love with Brecht instead of Shakespeare, but I wanted to learn more about how to run a theatre. So, I worked in theatres as an usher, back-stage hand, in the box office and marketing whilst I was at Uni. I studied for my Masters degree in Theatre Studies at Manchester Uni and I then went into youth work and teaching drama to young people excluded from school.

I never saw myself as a writer. Never had that belief in myself. I didn’t write my first play until I was 26, when I was on maternity leave with my son, Tom. I had entered a Royal Exchange competition and later wrote ‘Loaded’ which was produced at 24:7 Theatre Festival. I fell into producing when I was pregnant again with Ry and my pals, Rob and Martin needed a producer to help produce their play, “Away From Home” which I did taking a baby every where with me!

Lindsay – My background is performance. I was in my first musical at the age of 9 – ‘Brigadoon’ – I’ve never been able to stand the sound of Bag Pipes since… After my degree in Performing Arts, I fell out of love with the theatre industry and ended moving into event management and art curation, I enjoyed running a Multi-Purpose Art Space in 2010, moving on to coordinate events at a queer-led art space – both non-profit Pop Ups that aren’t here today but I am immensely thankful for those opportunities that taught me how to deal with floods, minor electrocution and how to zip up a 6-foot-odd, bearded drag queen into a Care Bear dress.

I’ve had the privilege of working and living in some amazing places, teaching Drama one Summer in New York, working on the events team at Melbourne Arts Centre for two years in Australia and a year spent in-between Tokyo and Bali for an events and hospitality company. I realised however I was being pulled back to my original communities and the art of story-telling… I decided to return home and “dip my toe in” the acting world again. JoJo punished me with an 18 minute monologue and since then we have become sound friends and now business partners.

Tell me about Workie Ticket? What is it? How did it start? Inspiration behind it?

JoJo – I had a story I wanted to tell; my story and I wanted to be my own boss, when it came to writing (I am not good with people telling me what to do). I feel like the North East has a very male-dominated theatre industry and there isn’t many opportunities for women.

So, I set my own company up to create those opportunities-first it was just a group of us who primarily to wanted to raise money for Newcastle Women’s Aid and raise awareness about domestic abuse. Then, I realised that I could develop it further but I couldn’t do it on my own so I asked Lindsay to Workie Ticket too. Best thing I ever did!

We’re now a female-led theatre company who want to push boundaries and empower the people we work with through theatre. Essentially, I just want to tell stories that make audiences sit up and listen.

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I got goose bumps hearing that…Tell me about Women Warriors?  

JoJo – I was at a women’s mental health conference and I saw a post it note that read, “What about female veterans?” and I thought…..GOOD question, what about them? It haunted me…how come I had never thought about women who fight for this country?  Eventually, after some research I met up with Paulie from ‘Salute Her’ and we talked about me writing a play but I started to think that these women needed more…so Women Warriors was born…

Women Warriors has been devised by engaging female veterans through forum theatre and discussion-based workshops. We also spoke to a lot of women veterans at groups and meetings. Some rang us up and told us their stories.

Our main aim with WW is to contribute to their empowerment whilst creating a dialogue about how to support veteran rehabilitation through creative methods. We wanted to centre the lived experiences of female veterans, women who are often socially isolated, overlooked and suffering from lack of support in a theatre production but make it real. We also wanted to raise awareness of the challenges female veterans face in society such as prejudice, discrimination, abuse and PTSD but also celebrate these women. We were lucky to be funded by the Newcastle University Social Fund and work with Dr Alice Cree who is writing about our methodology. Other funders for this stage were Hospital of God, Sir James Knott, Greggs Foundation, Rothley Trust and the Joicey Trust.

Within a safe space, we have facilitated issue-based and forum theatre workshops to develop a series of short plays with five writers. We presented a rehearsed reading of our piece in July as part of our R&D in the build up to producing the first full production of ‘Women Warriors’ It was very well received and the veterans loved it; which was the main thing. Two days before the reading, the Arts Council confirmed funding the full productions and I remember thinking, if the veterans don’t like it then I will send the money back! And I would have.

But luckily, they loved it….and one said to me this week that they felt like they could open up more now and talk about their experiences.

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What can audience members going to see Women Warriors on 9th October at The Exchange expect?

JoJo – I don’t think you can really define this production. Expect to be shocked. Expect to cry and laugh. Bring tissues. There are some real moments of heartache which are pretty-hard hitting.

What do you want audiences to take away?

Lindsay – Really quite simply that they will think about female veterans from now. The audience may be more informed in why people sign up to serve. It is not the same for everybody…

JoJo – When we first started working with the veterans, I thought we would struggle to connect but they are an amazing group of women. I hope audiences see that.

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Sum the show up in 3 words?

Lindsay – Bike, dyke, frigid?

Talk me through the process of developing the show up to this point? Who have you worked with?

Lindsay – We made a connection with Charity – Forward Assist to engage with female veterans based around the North and developed a core group of veterans that attended our workshops and…

We knew right away that we would employ practitioner Rosa Stourac McCreery to deliver Forum Theatre Workshops. We see Forum Theatre as a tool for change, it’s an active empowering process – we knew this was the kind of theatre these strong, brave women would be interested in learning about and using. Rosa, also an experienced Director is directing the piece, considering the essence of the female veterans participation at all times.

Dr Alice Cree is an ESRC Postdoctoral Research Fellow in critical military studies and political geography at Newcastle University. Alice contacted us to see if she could follow our process for our research originally, but has become a vital part of our team on this project, advising us, drawing academic attention to our work facilitating collaborations and even helping us win funding bids. She is a real Workie Ticket.

Bridgelight Media – We absolutely love these guys!  A young, female led, media company who create sublime work, and have been great supporters of Workie Ticket.  They created our short documentary which perfectly captures our process and the veteran’s voices.

Great North Museum granted us free rehearsal space when they learned of our project and were a great host for our Rehearsed Reading event. It’s interesting to be able to playact in such a beautiful space with so much weight. It’s pretty rad to know that on the other side of your workshop space there are dinosaurs!

JoJo – Even my sister was involved, Dr Jenna Kirtley as she is a psychologist who specialises in working with veterans. She was there to offer support and advice.

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Tell me about the creative team behind it Women Warriors?

Lindsay – We have employed 4 incredible local playwrights to capture the stories and deliver them into short plays that explore issues the veterans raised in our workshops.

JoJo – Olivia Hannah has written an incredible play about being a mother after years of training as a soldier and the impact that has.  When we first read the play, we both cried.  Juliana Mensah writes about mental health within the military and when I watched it for the first time, I had goose bumps; such a clever piece of writing. Rebecca Glendenning-Laycock- whose piece explores homophobia in the Army has written a play that gives us hope. She worked with one particularly amazing female veteran who rang me out of the blue and said….please tell my story.

Our play is about a group of women who meet in a women’s veteran group and ask the question-what about female veterans? They also like to eat a lot of cake! I have also written all of the interlinking scenes which were the veterans’ real responses to particular questions we asked them questions like what it means to be a “woman warrior”?

Why did you chose The Exchange in North Shields as your venue?

JoJo – When I first started Workie Ticket, nobody knew me and I was finding a lot of closed doors from all the main theatre houses in Newcastle, which is standard. The Exchange was not one of them. Karen and Mike who run the Exchange were lovely and have always made me feel welcome. My sons come with me to a lot of meetings and now, they hang out there and go to their drama club. I genuinely feel like The Exchange is a lush place and I wish they were supported more.

Lindsay – We have a great relationship with The Exchange – they are very supportive. The venue is gorgeous and interesting and great theatre does happen outside the city centre believe it or not…;)

What does it feel like to give voices and opportunities to unheard and often overlooked folks? Why is it so important to you?

JoJo– It’s important because we’re living in a World where we need to speak up and speak out. It’s 2019 and I am still having the same argument about women’s rights as I did twenty years ago. I guess I don’t want to grow old (older…) and wonder why I let so many things happen without saying something.

Lindsay – It is really humbling when people share their stories with you – a great deal of responsibility goes into listening with sensitivity and then holding those stories with great care. It becomes your duty to bring awareness to these people’s experiences or struggles and it can be quite the challenge to make sure you are presenting it with the right respect, clarity and compassion. It’s important to us because it’s our way of fighting, our activism, to make these voices heard and to engage people into listening to them. By hosting and engaging people in these conversations we are on the first step of looking at affecting social change.  Theatre is a great tool for empathy.

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Tell me a bit about the previous project “Hear her Roar”?

JoJo – The HEAR HER ROAR project highlighted Tyneside women’s real stories and raised awareness of women’s issues such as domestic violence, working mothers, abortion, sexual assault and sexuality.

HEAR HER ROAR was our first major project, which celebrated the talents of North East women, collaborated with community groups and charities such as Newcastle Women’s Aid and promoted equality within the theatre industry. HEAR HER ROAR was successfully launched above the Bridge Hotel Pub in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, on 10th November 2017 as a night of script-in-hand performance of new short plays to give a flavour of our work and to highlight the specific themes.

We sold out.

We developed a network of creatives and we were even featured in The Guardian’s Readers’ Favourite theatre of 2017. I couldn’t believe it! In January 2018, we received funding from the People’s Postcode Lottery and the Catherine Cookson Trust, respectfully to deliver our February to September educational programme which included a full-scale theatre performance of our plays for International Women’s Day at The Exchange in North Shields, on 10th March 2018 and was part of celebrating 100 years of Women’s suffrage.

Again, completely sold out!

We also collaborated with the Red Box Project to collect sanitary products for local schools and collected for Newcastle Women’s Aid. In total, we have raised over £1300 for Newcastle Women’s Aid.

Are you a real life Workie Tickets?

JoJo – Without a doubt. My Grandad Joe used to call me a workie ticket when I argued back with him and that’s where the name came from too. He was a bold man who I adored and a workie ticket himself. I am a trouble maker but for all the right reasons. People need to be challenged.

What does being a feminist in 2019 mean to you?

Lindsay – NECESSARY.

In 2019 I think now the responsibility is educating people about Feminism because there’s too much toxic language and attitudes towards it. Educating people that feminism doesn’t mean the reversal of power, “women taking over” – It’s equal rights, it’s women being safe, being heard.

There’s not any ‘one way’ to be a feminist or define feminism.  You have agency – I think people forget that, when they hear language of feminism, many people and communities do it their way, everyone can be a feminist in their own way. I may not conform to some women’s idea of Feminism but I take responsibility to empower women and I am making that my work. For Workie Ticket it has always been about giving women a voice, levelling out the playing field, pointing out injustices and inequality and advising or indeed leading conversations and actions on how to make a fairer society for everyone.

Sometimes feminism is nurturing my male friends when they have been victims of toxic masculinity and reminding them that they don’t have to be oppressed by or conform to harmful male stereotypes.  Feminism is the pursuit of freedom – for everyone.

JoJo – I have been a feminist since I was 10 years old. Things have only slightly changed and I am now 38. I read recently that Apple originally made Siri to deflect questions about feminism and the #metoo movement. That says it all for me. It’s like the modern day way that women are being silenced and written out of history! So, the fight for equality must go on. Only feminism in 2019 must be intersectional, otherwise, what’s the point?

What’s next for Workie Ticket after this?

Lindsay – We are currently in chats about taking Women Warriors to NATO annual conference in Brussels next year…which is scary and huge but also really necessary for us to speak truth to power. To have the opportunity to be starting to believe your practice could have the power to become Legislative Theatre is just incredible!  We are looking at touring the production and we will be crafting our drama for wellbeing programme so we will get to continue working with loads of other lovely communities.

JoJo – I would like a decent nights’ sleep and a spa break…with some rum.

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Thank you Lindsay and JoJo! YES……it’s so important that independents like Workie Ticket exist. It’s important to the women in the North, the talent in the region, community minded folks and proof that yes indeed, exciting new theatre exist in venues outside of the city centres – in fact some of the best theatre I’ve seen recently, is at venues like The Exchange.

So fellow Culture Vultures, two bits of advice:

  1. Join me, on 9th October at The Exchange for Women Warriors – there are still tickets available to purchase.
  2. Embrace your inner Workie Ticket….we all need to be workie tickets in today’s society to make the changes we want to see.

Over and Out.

Calling all rebels this International Women’s Day!?

After Eurovision (which is like my own personal Christmas), there is only one annual celebration that gets me super excited….. and that’s International Women’s Day. An opportunity to toast some of my favourite #lasses, recognise achievement and those who have supported the journey towards equality.

And this year, I’m throwing a proper party with Thought Foundation & Durham Distillery called Rebel Disco – I’ve wanted to throw a party for years and with The Culture Vulture thriving and vibing with so many lush megababes in my network, it seemed like the perfect time. Rebel Disco is an opportunity to get glittered up (we’ve got an eco- glitter bar!), dance to an amazing female DJ who is going to DJ some diva cracker tunes with projection, creative shenanigans for you to have a go at, food on offer, “tit-tails” and more. It’s this coming Friday and tickets are £12… why not join me, bring your rebel tribe and disco tits and get ready a corker of a party in the name of International Women’s Day….

Tickets are £12 and available from HERE.

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IWD is celebrated on 8th March annually and is a focal point in the movement for women’s rights. After the Socialist Party of America organised a Women’s Day on February 28, 1909 in New York, the 1910 International Socialist Woman’s Conference suggested a Women’s Day be held annually. After women gained suffrage in Soviet Russia in 1917, March 8 became a national holiday there. The day was then predominantly celebrated by the socialist movement and communist countries until it was adopted in 1975 by the United Nations.

Today, International Women’s Day is an International day of recognition; in some countries it’s celebrated as a day that championing people who identify as female and womanhood, in others it’s a day of protest and sadly, still in many places it’s ignored.

International Women’s Day is sometimes perceived as quite contentious or a day of “feminism”….. but I think it’s a beautiful celebratory day and at the heart of it, is about recognising the history of women and suffrage alongside championing the achievements of female identifying wonderful humans and an opportunity to have a discussion about the issues that exist in the present.

This year’s theme is right up my street too…. Totally recognising that IWD is not Men verses Women (I don’t believe in two genders for the record); it’s about celebrating wonderful people and striving for equality. This year’s campaign theme is #BalanceforBetter – focusing on forging a more gender-balanced world and trying to secure equality. I’m totally against any form of bias including preferential treatment (quotas on a business board – please! I either am the right candidate or I’m not – I don’t want my place to tick a box.).

So really excited for this year’s IWD and Rebel Disco; this party is going to be mega and it’s all about celebrating women and dancing the night away whilst enjoying “tit” tails made with Durham Gin (one of my FAVE gins by the way). I bet you’re wondering what a “tit tail’ is.. good question….basically we’ve taken the “cock” out of cocktail and swapped it for “tit” and then devised a LUSH Durham Distillery gin cocktail! Simple as that!

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However, I’m not the only one doing something MINT for this year’s International Women’s Day – actually this year feels like a bit of a festival of IWD happenings. So I thought this was a good opportunity to do some Culture Vulture IWD suggestions and recommendations for events I think you should be aware of and checking out!

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Film Screening: Kusama: Infinity (12A)

Gosforth Civic Theatre, Tuesday 5 March, 7.30pm

Insightful documentary about #kween of polka dots Yayoi Kusama, and her journey against the odds to become an internationally renowned brilliant artist. Yayoi is an absolute ray of light in the arts world.

Tickets are £5 and available from HERE!

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Hear My Voice: A Working Woman’s Fight For The Vote

Caedmon Hall, Gateshead Central Library, Thursday 7 March, 6.30pm

Mark, IWD with Meridith Towne; she will lead you on a march through history to discover the determined women who sparked “The Cause” through to the Edwardian militants who refused to take “no” for an answer. This is a brilliant lively and informative talk about women who were inspired to go forth with “Deeds not Words”. I’ve seen Meridith many times before – and she’s excellent!

Tickets are £5 and available from HERE!

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Stupid

Northern Stage, Thursday 7 March, 8pm

A “not-just-me-then” tale of one woman figuring life out. We meet Stupid on her first day as a supply teacher and follow her quest to piece herself together, one school (and life) lesson at a time. New writing by an extraordinary megababe – a hilariously honest story about adulthood and whether it will ever really make sense?

I’ve seen the show and it was fantastic – written by Sian Armstrong and directed by Anna Ryder; two of my favourite humans.

Tickets are £10 and available from HERE!

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Period Positivity Event

Newcastle City Library/Grey’s Monument, Friday 8 March, 10am

This event is all about raising awareness surrounding period poverty and promoting period positivity. Starting at Newcastle City Library, you will have the opportunity to make red pompoms before taking them to Grey’s Monument to make it red. There will also be a flash-mob choir performing.

You will also be able to drop by and donate to Red Box and Streetwise.

Tickets are free – but you can register your interest HERE!

International Women’s Day Story Time

Seven Stories The National Centre for Children’s Books, Friday 8 March, 10.30am, 1pm & 3.30pm

Awesome stories about inspirational super-women shared all day in celebration of International Women’s Day. Dress up as your favourite independent woman and tag us in on Instagram #IWD2019.

Storytime is free with general Seven Stories admission.

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International Women’s Day at City Space with Sister Shack

City Space, Sunderland University, Friday 8 March, 11am-7pm

Sister Shack will be showcasing stalls, activity and workshops with a creative, entrepreneurial and artistic background. This event will have a focus on the wellbeing of women by the way of specialist stalls, speakers, workshops and performers.

Entry is free and no need for tickets – but visit the website to find out more about the schedule of activity.

Sister Shack is also running an event the next day at Tyne Bank Brewery, so if you can’t make the Sunderland event – check out the Newcastle one!

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Reclaim The Frame presents The Kindergarten Teacher

Tyneside Cinema, Sunday 10 March, 3pm

This screening is part of the fantastic Birds’ Eye View’s Reclaim The Frame project; a mission to bring ever greater audiences to films by women, to build a more balanced film future.

Maggie Gyllenhaal stars as Lisa Spinelli, a kindergarten teacher and poet fed up with her career, her oblivious husband and teenage kids who largely ignore her. When she discovers that a five-year-old in her class may be a poetic prodigy, Lisa becomes fascinated and tries to protect him from neglectful parents.

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There will be a post screening panel discussion hosted by Mia Bays who runs Birds’ Eye View, the charitable pathfinder for films by women and network for those who make, show, release and watch them. She is an Oscar-winning producer of documentaries and fiction.

Tickets are £7.25-£10.75 and available HERE.

Tyneside Cinema are running a whole season of International Women’s Day inspired films.

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Newcastle Fuck Up Night (in collaboration with Women of Tyneside)

Ampersand Inventions CIC, 39 Pilgrim Street, Tuesday 12 March, 7pm

An evening of all-female line up of artists, writers, business people and entrepreneurs who are set to tell their stories – this evening is all about celebrating the mistakes, the “whoops”, the blind faith moments, the moment it all went tits up – yep the fuck ups…. These moments are learning opportunities and often the making of us – this event celebrates and shares them.

Tickets are free but pre-bookable – available HERE.

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Other lush events coming up to note:

Women of Tyneside Festival

Across Newcastle & Gateshead, March – June

I was lucky to catch up with one of the project co-ordinators Gemma Ashby to find out about the festival and it sounds fantastic. A wide programme of collaborative events and TWAM led events celebrating women in Tyneside and exploring the representation of women in Museum collections.

Festival information and programme of events can be found HERE.

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Women are Mint Festival

Cobalt Studios, 10-12 May

Women Are Mint Festival is a three day event showcasing the best of local female talent including Culture Vulture megababes Becca James, The Cornshed Sisters, Ladies of Midnight Blue and Lady Annabella. Women are absolutely MINT, but we already knew that.

Festival information and tickets can be found HERE.

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And if you can’t wait to see Lady Annabella…well guess what? She’s DJing Rebel Disco, so come and sample a tit-tail with me on Friday and get your Rebel Disco tickets!

I have a feeling I’m going to be raising a lot of glasses full of gin across the week at all these IWD events, toasting lots of megababes….

That’s all for now Culture Vultures! xx

Zara Worth – Online/Offline: Art, Academia & Instagram

Ok I admit it – I’ve recently lost my blogging mojo and it’s been a while since I’ve posted – my head has been full of projects and events…..well after some time out away – I’m back and I’ve lined up some cracking posts and some brilliant interviews with artists.

So first up is an interview with the wonderful Zara Worth. Zara has been an artist on my radar for a while – someone who has kept popping up in either my news feed or connected to various projects. So I was delighted when she emailed me about a year ago – introducing herself and her projects. It’s so lovely to have artists actually reach out and tell me about their work (So why not do the same!?)….

I became really interested in the fact she is a post graduate student – as someone who has always been in love with academia, research and what I’d like to call intellectual adventuring – I’m extremely hungry for knowledge and challenging it. I’ve always been interested in an artist/creative, something we assume is inherently practical actually engaging in PhD research. And there are lots of artists and performers out there doing just that – I really enjoy the process of reading their research/papers whilst simultaneously enjoying their pieces of work or performances. For me it adds often an additional socio-dynamic or element of political/self-expression.

Zara explores many themes in her work – but the ones I’m currently captivated by; living your life both off line and online and the effect that has on your mental health and self-identity. As an introvert who has made a living building a brand and identity online – I find it an interesting topic especially when I consider the impact of living my life as The Culture Vulture visibly and how that sits at odds with the fact I’m actually a very private person and one, that whilst I knows a lot of people – I only have a certain amount of really meaningful friendships. Secondly, how people perceive me after getting to know me online – their construction of who I am, my personality, how I will interact in “real” life – the fact via social media we build up snap shots of people via what their shareable content and Instagram feed. Which leads onto questions about mental health – especially in the North East where there have been several recent suicides of people many would consider “influencers” on social media and who presented a very happy, exciting and often successful life…..img-0796_orig

Screenshot of ‘Economics of the Kitchen (an A to Z)’ appearing in Instagram feed (Zara Worth 2018) [performance to video for Instagram]

Zara has recently ran a workshop with discussion at Vane in which she invited participants to explore social media and self-identity…. Whilst I couldn’t attend (booo to working every weekend over the Summer and missing some ace events!) – I heard some fantastic things and I’m delighted that she’s running another version as part of the Gateshead Live programme in October for young people and adults alike. Attendees will use collage as the medium to patch together social media identities – a bit like an Instagram feed. So whilst it’s an opportunity to explore the creation of social media themes, styles, visuals and making them as impactful and engaging as possible – it’s also an opportunity to reflect on how social media imagery prompts us to feel, trigger us to behave and influences our mind set.

You can find out more about the upcoming workshop by following the link

So I’ve told you why I’m super interested in Zara and her work …. But now it’s time to hear from Zara herself. So Culture Vultures…. Who is Zara Worth when she’s both online and offline?

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Zara Worth

Hi Zara – thank you for agreeing to be my blog subject! I first discovered your work when I was researching Northern artists about a year ago – so it’s so brilliant to finally connect – we have so many mutual creative interests. Can you tell my readers about your work?

Lovely to be discovered! My work at this moment feels to be a type of contemporary religious art; I’ve been reflecting a lot on what connects my current practice with the work I’ve made in the past and I’ve realised I am drawn towards belief systems and ideological communities.

In terms of how I make work, currently I’m exploring developing a practice which mirrors our current condition of living life simultaneously on- and off-line: so nearly all of the works I’ve been making since 2016 have an online element – usually on Instagram on the @zara_worth account – and also have an offline aspect – so drawing, or perhaps an object. I’ve also started using the same title for works with connected on- and off-line elements, to further conflate this relationship between them.

Instagram has been a key source of interest since 2014; and its prevalence as a theme within my work has led my practice to be described as ‘swipe-specific’: a term which I also really align with.

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‘The Artist’s Presence’ (Zara Worth – 2018) [Chairs and AR app] made with kind support from Ian Truelove and Field Design

Swipe-specific is something I really align with too – everything is so in the moment, instantly discovereable but equally immediately forgettable….

Everyone has a really interesting story of how they got involved in the arts….so tell me about your journey?

I suppose my journey is fairly typical; being an artist always felt inevitable, and I feel very fortunate to have been able to pursue it. One thing I always find interesting, particularly at this stage in my life, is how hard people find understanding that you identify as something – an artist – which isn’t necessarily your primary or only source of income. I used to think that I would be satisfied with just helping other people with their creative projects – working in film or for other artists – I very quickly realised that I was miserable if I wasn’t making my own work.

The origins of my interest in belief systems is perhaps more interesting than my story as an artist so far. Whilst puzzling over why I have these aesthetic preferences starting my PhD it dawned upon me the impact that my Granny’s faith had on me. At this point it is important to note that my Granny seemingly inexplicably became a devout follower of the Russian Orthodox Church. It’s also worth noting that my family is in no way Russian and to this day I have no idea why this was the particular strand of Christianity that she was drawn to.

Living in Congleton, Cheshire, funnily enough there wasn’t anywhere specifically Russian Orthodox to worship, so being pragmatic she bought a large shed from B&Q and started a Russian Orthodox church in her back garden, complete with papier-mâché onion dome (later replaced with a fiberglass one when the first one melted in the rain). So growing up, when I went to Granny’s house I was surrounded by religious icons, and I used to love trotting down to the back of the garden and lighting candles and incense in the church. She died when I was 17 and I never properly spoke to her about her faith, and I suppose a lot of my work is trying to make sense of its significance.

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‘QR Codes’ (Zara Worth/Vane – 2018) [QR codes on rice paper]

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‘Void Fill’ (Zara Worth/Vane 2018) [void fill strip curtain]

I have aspirations of one day returning into academia and education at some point – I’d certainly like to do a postgraduate in 2019 – something around people and behaviour and also a coaching qualification  – I know you’re doing your PhD…… how does that compliment or effect your arts practice?

Someone recently asked me if starting a PhD had caused me to hate my art practice and that completely horrified me. I’m just starting my third year of a part-time PhD (six years in total) and my experience so far has been brilliant; studying at Leeds Beckett University has already opened up so many doors and I’ve worked in collaboration with some really fantastic academics, so it has been a very productive time already. My practice is driven by ideas, so I’m not forcing an academic framework on my practice.

I would also say to anyone thinking about doing a PhD to try to make sure you work well with your Director of Studies and your Supervisor(s); I already knew my Director of Studies, Professor Simon Morris and really landed on my feet with my Supervisor, Dr Jill Gibbon, but I’m aware of other people at other institutions who do not have great relationships with theirs and it’s been hell for them.

I’ve really been enjoying studying part-time; I was a full-time Masters student when I was at Goldsmiths and the whole thing felt like a mad sprint and I don’t feel I really had time to get the most out of the experience. I feel very fortunate to have received a part-time studentship as it’s allowed me to pursue other experiences alongside study, which would have been inconceivable if I was a full-time student, plus it supports the development of a sustainable practice in the long run – as the reality is I am unlikely to have the luxury of practising art full-time in the immediate future.

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 ‘Quotations I, III, II’ (Zara Worth/Vane – 2018) [23.5 carat gold leaf on paper]

I agree with that – becoming sustainable in the creative and cultural sector is a strategic process – very similar to building a business. Back to your work – what mediums do you use?

The medium is the message. I like my work to be loaded, so the materials should be working ideologically as well as be visually interesting. As I’ve mentioned, my recent works have on- and off-line lives, the online aspects have been predominantly performance to video for Instagram, and Instagram collages; though recently I created a piece involving Augmented Reality.

As for the off-line aspects of the work, mediums include celery; void fill (packing peanuts); and 23.5 carat gold, all chosen for the significance that they carry.

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‘A drawing made by cutting up my body weight in celery’ (Zara Worth/Vane – 2016-17) [celery and kitchen knife on paper]

We are going into the latter part of the year – it’s insane how quickly this year has gone by. Consequently, this question seems crazily appropriate – what’s been your highlight of 2018 so far?

Opening my first solo-exhibition, ‘FEED’, at Vane, this August. The Directors at Vane, Chirs Yeats and Paul Stone, have been incredibly supportive and I’ve had such an amazing response from visitors and everyone who has participated in the events running alongside; it’s been quite overwhelming. In the same month I also installed Matty Bovan’s exhibition for the London Design Biennale – I was Project Manager and it has been brilliant to be a part of; quite a crazy summer.

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‘A drawing made by cutting up my body weight in celery’ (Zara Worth/Vane – 2016-17) [performance to video for Instagram]

Going forward into 2019 – what do you have planned?

I’m joining The Newbridge Project’s Collective Studio programme, which is a nine-month studio residency and development programme for emerging artists, so by 2019 I’ll be immersed in the programme.

I’m in the early stages of planning an exhibition with Carol Sommer looking particularly at the use of language on Instagram, and in early 2019, if not sooner, the issue of The Journal of Writing in Creative Practice, which I’ve been guest-editing, should be published! I’m also wanting to focus on moving my writing forward with my PhD, up until now, everything has been very practice-led; as a practice-led PhD should be, but I’m really looking forward to spending some time digging down into the work I’ve been making.

You seem to have connections with mental health with projects and are passionate about the project area (as am I!) – can you tell me a bit more?

I work part-time at Gateshead College and was fortunate enough to receive a Level 1 qualification in Mental Health Awareness through an ESF course provided by the College. It really drew my attention to the importance of caring for our mental health and I started drafting ideas for a mindfulness workshop with input from a friend who is a professional art therapist.

During the collage workshop, ‘DisCONTENTed Dining’, which I ran at Vane to coincide with my exhibition, we were making collages in reference to social media, and something which came up was how much pressure people feel under after looking at social media, but how calming it was just taking time to participate in a creative activity. I’ll be running a similar workshop very soon in Gateshead and in early 2019 will deliver ‘Still Life, Still Mind’: a mindfulness drawing workshop designed to encourage positive mental health using creative drawing exercises which participants can replicate at home. My research does make me concerned about the negative impact social media has on our mental health, so I hope that these activities and exhibitions offer some small ways to resist against that and also help us reflect on our own behaviours when we are online.

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Screenshot of ‘Economics of the Kitchen (an A to Z)’ appearing in Instagram feed (Zara Worth – 2018) [performance to video for Instagram]

Well thank you Zara and good luck with your Newbridge residency – excited to see how that pans out! Extremely excited to see more of Zara’s work and how the mental health and social media element further entertwine and develop.

I am beginning to work on the very beginnings of a mental health event for 2019 for freelancers, self-employed and creatives and I sense some real synergy here! If you’d like to meet Zara – as she mentioned, she’s running another social media workshop called “Who am I, when I’m online?” in Gateshead….. you’ll have the opportunity to explore Instagram as a channel, use collage techniques to consider how we present ourselves online and think/reflect on the difference between online and offline identities…. So come along and do something creative on 6th October and join what is sure to be some really interesting discussion!