Interview with Workie Ticket Theatre & Dr Alice Cree; Magnolia Walls, military lives and theatre as a means to amplify voices and demand change. #BeAWorkieTicket

Working with and celebrating unashamedly bold, brave and brilliant folks is one the reasons I set up The Culture Vulture and it’s what gets me out of bed in the morning with a spring in my step. Strong empowered women, empower women and my favourite empowered women are ones that use their power to enable, platform and amplify unheard voices. For me, it’s all about building that type of community – ecosystem over egosystem every day of the week.

One of the theatre companies that I connected with early on in my Culture Vulture journey is Workie Ticket Theatre. They caught my eye for the name Workie Ticket – being a workie ticket in the North-East means you misbehave, but progressively it’s been a really positive term that alludes to the fact you disrupt the norm, challenge convention and not afraid to speak your mind; absolutely all about that. Workie Ticket Theatre are just that – an extremely talented bunch of workie tickets, enabling stories of unheard women and their (often) everyday forms of social activism to be heard. And they continued to do just that across the pandemic, through a project Womxn Up! (more on that later!).

Ahead of Workie Ticket Theatre’s new show – Magnolia Walls at Northern Stage 24th – 25th June, I thought it was time for another Culture Vulture interview – as you all need to know about this theatre company, their ethos and amazing work – especially the Artistic Director JoJo; she’s not only a brilliantly talented human, she’s also grown into a gorgeous friend of mine.

Magnolia Walls shines a light on the impact of war and military life, based on research by Newcastle University. Set in Northumberland, this play follows the tumultuous lives of Roxie and Pen, two military wives who form an unlikely ‘Thelma and Louise’ style friendship. Drawing on interviews, focus groups, and a series of theatre-based workshops with a group of 35 military partners, ex-partners, and widows from across the country, the research sheds a light on the long-term consequences of war and military service on personal relationships between armed forces personnel and their spouses and families.

As you’d expect, the play tackles important topics such as domestic abuse, trauma, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), suicide, and racism. It also exposes the isolation and lack of community support experienced by many military spouses and partners, most of whom are women. But it does this in a very real human way, there is light within that darkness.

‘Magnolia Walls’ is based on research by Newcastle University’s Dr Alice Cree and Dr Hannah West, in collaboration with Workie Ticket Theatre CIC and funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.

It is hoped ‘Magnolia Walls’ will help start a conversation about what it really means to be a military spouse in 2022. And that is what really interested with this project – the idea that academic research, can be used to underpin a theatre show that shares the real-life experiences of military wives. Theatre becomes the creative tool to communicate and bring to life real academic research, making it meaningful, more accessible and a powerful vehicle for social change.

I can’t wait to see Magnolia Wallsthere are limited tickets left ; get them HERE – read on to hear more from Team Magnolia Walls – Artistic Director JoJo Kirtley and Dr Alice Cree from Newcastle University……

Workie Ticket Theatre Artistic Director JoJo Kirtley and Dr Alice Cree from Newcastle University

Hi both, first up – can you introduce yourself for my fellow Culture Vultures….

JoJo- I’m JoJo Kirtley, the artistic director of Workie Ticket Theatre. I write and produce plays, facilitate workshops and I’m a mam to three little workie tickets! Workie Ticket is a female-led, Tyneside-based theatre company. We provide a platform for women to have their say through drama and amplifies unheard voices and stories. My own work has been performed at big venues such as The Lowry but you can’t beat working in community centres and putting on plays above pubs.

Alice– I’m Alice Cree, I’m a researcher at Newcastle University based in the School of Geography, Politics and Sociology. My work focuses on gender and the military, particularly the use of creative methods in military research. I’m the research lead for the Conflict & Intimacy project which our play Magnolia Walls is part of.

Artistic Director JoJo Kirtley and Dr Alice Cree from Newcastle University //
photography credit: Denise Kidger

What does being a “workie ticket” mean in 2022?

JoJo – Being a ‘Workie Ticket’ in 2022 is very different to what it was when I first set up Workie Ticket in 2017. Lots has happened and the World has changed. My World has changed too; I was a mam of boys then and now I have a little girl too. I guess seeing the #MeToo movement unfold in different industries, the pandemic’s impact on women, Reclaim the Streets etc… changes everything. Seeing all that has made me want to push harder, not give up and definitely not shut up. My Grandad Joe used to call me a ‘Workie Ticket’ so I adopted this as the name to reflect the fact that I wanted to shake things up a bit; but now…. I want to shake things up A LOT.

I loved your project Womxn Up – it was such an important project and you all can access the audio plays and recordings now HERE! For those that don’t know – What was Womxn Up? and how did it come about?

JoJo – Womxn Up? was such an immense project and I am so proud of it and grateful that we got to create during the pandemic. Womxn Up? was our response to pandemic, it highlighted North-East women’s stories through a series of audio plays and real-life interviews. We also made a film called ‘Her Primal Scream’ – you can watch that HERE.

For this project, we explored the impact the pandemic has had on women at home, work, in the community, on our mental health and on our bodies. Our Womxn Up? Project consisted of three, brand-new audio response plays all inspired by our research which were written, performed, directed and produced by women from the North-East. My play was about my Nana. I wanted to explore how it must have felt for our elderly watching the World fall apart but also questioning what was going on too.

What did you learn through the Womxn Up? project and listening to the experience of all those women?

JoJo – I learned how broken we all have become because of the pandemic. Me included. I don’t think it will ever be the same again.

Although (and sadly) I expected the bullshit misogyny and the massive impact it had on women; the Handmaid’s Tale horror stories but I underestimated how tough and rough it would be for so many. That kind of broke me…

I remember interviewing these sex workers in South Shields with Lauren (Workie Ticket producer and Womxn Up? editor) and we both came out shaking our heads in disgust; these women had been treated terribly and taken advantage of by men during the pandemic.

Whilst there were many terribly sad and tragic stories that came out of our research but there were actually some lovely positives; like socially-isolated, lonely women finding connections with others online and real community champions who worked tirelessly to support others. One story, I loved, was a couple who fell in love with each other again because they got a chance to spend time together and re-engage with each other.

Well that makes my heart sing – Womxn Up? has been submitted into a museum archive – you’ve enabled these stories to have a life and place forever….

JoJo – This is going to happen this Autumn with the Feminist Archive in London which is at the Bishopgate Library. It’s exciting. I love how they don’t just want to archive our transcripts or recordings; they’re also after notebooks, photos, workshop sessions and a branded T’shirt!

A little team of Workie Tickets will be heading down South to accession the project and all that we have learned about the pandemic and its impact on women in the North-East. This will be preserved so in hundreds of years’ time…our ancestors will learn about the pandemic through our stories, Herstories.

In your opinion, how do you think the pandemic impacted womxn?

JoJo – Globally, an increase in domestic violence and sexual exploitation occurred during the pandemic …women were denied access to maternity appointments, labouring on their own, some being forced to wear masks whilst doing so. Women were being forced to miscarry on their own…just horrible situations. Family courts were taking place in homes via Zoom.  I don’t know what genius thought this was acceptable when survivors of abuse were having to zoom their abusers into their own living rooms with their children next door, most likely listening but it happened and shouldn’t have.

We heard stories from women denied contraception and sexual health appointments…they were juggling parenting, home-schooling, adapting to working from home without support in the form of childcare. Health including mental health was sacrificed while prioritising their children and family needs, loss of income, employment, wages, prospects and increased extra caring responsibilities…

It was a big step backwards for women and I think it’s only the beginning of what is to come.

The world is a difficult shit show for women’s rights at the moment – you have a little girl – what do you hope for her future?

JoJo – I hope Luna turns out to be a ‘workie ticket’ just like her Mam and gets to be who she wants to be. Most importantly, I want Luna and her friends to be able to do what they want with their bodies, without being dictated to; that would be my ideal future for them all.

Workie Ticket Luna

Tell me about Magnolia Walls – what is the piece of theatre/story?

Alice‘Magnolia Walls’ is based on 2 years’ worth of research by myself and Hannah West at Newcastle University as part of the ‘Conflict & Intimacy’ project, with funding from the Economic and Social Research Council. What we’ve been trying to do is look at the military home as a site of military violence. Exploring the question: ‘how does war impact home life and intimate relationships?’ So, what are some of the unseen, positive but also maybe not-so-positive impacts of military service on their families? What does it really mean to be the partner of someone in the forces today?

‘Magnolia Walls’ is a way of telling some of those stories and asking us to rethink some of our assumptions about military family life.

JoJo ‘Magnolia Walls’ challenges the stereotypes of the military partner and explores how home life and personal relationships are impacted by war. We wanted to set the play in the North-East so it’s set in different areas such as Blyth beach. We also wanted to create characters that represented our real military partners and came up with Roxie and Pen who form a ‘Thelma and Louise’ style friendship.

Roxie is this rocker, a self-proclaimed ‘Geordie’ Stevie Nicks and she instantly bonds with Pen the wanna-be writer, veteran and naval officer’s wife. Both have supported their husbands in their careers and choices, but now it’s time for them to shine…or rebel! We love a female rebellion!

Professional actors – Alex Tahnee and Rachel Brownstein //
photography credit: Denise Kidger

Why military partners? What is it about their voices and experience you want to explore and share?

Alice – People have always been interested in war stories, but we don’t often hear from the perspective of their military families. And when we do, those stories are very heavily politicised and geared around narratives of heroism and sacrifice. We wanted to shed a light on the kinds of experiences that we don’t usually hear about, ones that perhaps challenge or complicate our understanding of life in a military family.

I think something that is often not recognised is that militaries absolutely rely on the unpaid labour of military spouses. So that’s stuff like childcare, looking after the house and the home, but also the emotional labour of providing love and support during difficult periods of deployment.

And, because of the make-up of the armed forces, that labour is mostly undertaken by women (although of course, not exclusively!) Plus, spouses are at the very ‘front line’ when it comes to providing support for mental health problems experienced by a lot of veterans and serving members of the armed forces. Without all of that work, the military wouldn’t be able to do what they do. Effectively you’ve got this massive, complex institution that is all about state power and security, but at the root of it all, holding it all together are the (mostly) women who do it because they love their partners. Which is really interesting.

Something that I hope will come through when watching Magnolia Walls, is the diversity of experiences that our participants have had. This ranges from struggling with the expectations of being a ‘military wife’ when they have chronic health problems or disabilities, to navigating the constant presence of the military in their homes, their sex lives, their relationships with their children.

They are an amazing group of people and I really hope we have done them justice!

What do you want the audience to take away?

JoJo – I generally think they’re going to take away a lot of warmth and love from this play. But the audience will also be shocked at some of the themes we are exploring. I think you’ll all genuinely fall in love with the women who we have worked with. Essentially Magnolia Walls is a sort of love letter to them, thanking them for being so courageous when sharing their stories with us.

How are you feeling about staging the play, the first for several years due to the pandemic?

JoJo – Lucky to have the opportunity. Nervous. Fingers crossed for me.

Can you tell me about the research element of the project?

Alice – This has been a big piece of research involving nearly 40 participants who we have worked with quite intensively since the project officially started in August 2020. Hannah and I conducted 1:1 interviews with everyone, and then we had a series of about 20 theatre-based, discussion-based, and writing-based workshops that were facilitated by Workie Ticket Theatre Company.

By the end of the process, we had a HUGE amount of material; we will probably spend the next ten years publishing! The biggest piece of learning that came out of the research was that the military often has a controlling and even violent presence in the lives of military spouses – and in ways you might not immediately expect.

But you’ll have to see the play to hear more!

What is it like being a military partner in 2022 – what resources and services are available for support?

Alice – In many ways, it is the same as it has always been; very few institutions change as slowly as the military! Much of the support for partners and families is provided by charities. There is still a lot of work to be done in making sure folks can get the kind of support they really need.

JoJo – The problem is, where the funding is going and if the right organisations are receiving it. That has to be addressed too.

Tell me about the characters Roxie and Pen and their relationship? How did those characters develop?

JoJo – I was really interested in exploring female friendships as a whole and also what it was like to have friendships, that you had to give up suddenly because your family was being posted somewhere else. I remember when Alice and I had our first writing meeting and I said…we need two characters that embody the women we’ve been working with; one of them needs to kick-arse and the other one learns how to kick-arse like Thelma and Louise, so we created Roxie and Pen.

Team Magnolia Walls // photography credit: Denise Kidger

Tell me about the chorus element of the show?

JoJo – The chorus are a pre-recorded element of Magnolia Walls and are made up of our real military wives (and a husband!). Originally, the idea was for them to perform on stage but the pandemic stopped that, so we decided to fuse film and theatre together. They’re very excited to be part of the show and have spent some time rehearsing and learning performance skills. They’ve been amazing and I am so proud of them.

Alice – They are people who have been involved in the project since the beginning; people who have been so honest and brave in sharing their experiences with us. So, it’s been really amazing to see them use their own voices to tell those stories. It is very powerful.

Team Magnolia Walls & chorus // photography credit: Denise Kidger

Tell me about the creative team behind Magnolia Walls?

JoJo – We have a lush creative team and I am so proud of them.  We did the usual auditioning and recruitment.

When we appointed Corinne as Director, I was so happy. I’ve worked with her a few times before and she is one of the best directors in the North-East. There is no BS with Corinne, she cracks on and gets things done. Just the way I like it.

I also had to take on extra producers to assist me -Ashlea Sanderson and Lauren Sanderson who have been ace. We have a consultant Helen-Marie who is a real military wife too. We have Simon Cole designing our lights and film-wise we’ve been working with the Young Women’s Film Academy.

Our professional actors are Alex Tahnee and Rachel Brownstein who came to an audition we held in April. There was a spark between them, so I knew they had to be our Pen and Rox. We are also really excited to be working with The Set Guise who are creating our ‘magnolia wall’.

Team Magnolia Walls // photography credit: Denise Kidger

What do you hope happens as a result of the show? What do you want the legacy of this work to be?

JoJo – I want the women to feel empowered and listened to. I hope we can turn this into a film and maybe tour the play. We’ve also talked about a festival…

Alice – We also ultimately want people in positions of power and influence to sit up and listen. Military partners and spouses put up with a lot of shit, and they are not getting the support that they need. I hope that the play will help move that conversation forward.

Team Magnolia Walls // photography credit: Denise Kidger

This piece digs into military home lives and the impact of war and being in the military has on the day to day. Across the pandemic and lockdowns, we can all relate to feeling that work and the impact of pandemic stress, impacted our homelives – like a pressure cooker. That’s how I imagine, it must feel all the time for military partners – rollercoaster of emotions, trying to do your fucking best and hold the shit together, feeling isolated but stuck together at moments of stress and so much more. This makes this piece relatable and relevant to all.

Alice – I think that’s absolutely right. Our participants also said a few times that the pandemic forced people to get comfortable with plans being changed or cancelled at the last minute – something that military spouses are very familiar with! What’s also really interesting is that in the pandemic, we’ve seen the ‘front line’ take a different shape, and suddenly it became doctors, nurses, paramedics, hospital cleaners and so on who were the ones risking their lives to keep us safe. And I think our research and the play both potentially raise really interesting questions about what the long-term impacts of that might be for NHS workers and their families. Our participants talked not only about how their partners changed after traumatic military experiences, but also their own lingering kind of ‘PTSD’ attached to difficult periods of deployment or their spouses going off to war. Is that going to be the same for the families of doctors and nurses?

Time will tell, I suppose.

You hinted at an upcoming project you got a small pot of funding for – can you tell us more?

JoJo – We have two new projects. One of them is an extension of the Womxn Up? project. It’s called #AllMenCan and aims to engage boys and men to fight against VAWG.

And the other is our ‘Drama for Wellbeing’ programme which I started in 2019; pre-pandemic and delivered a lovely session to a group of female veterans. It’s a fusion of a programme I delivered years ago for Manchester Adult Education, a self -care course and drama activities. Our launch is in my hairdressers- All That Sass. Bringing drama to people in unexpected places. I want to show how you can use drama to support better mental health and self-care.

Then what’s next for you and Workie Ticket – do you have another project on the horizon?

JoJo – Always! We hope to maybe look at the female veteran project again and we’re working on another bid to explore what it means to be a ‘Geordie’ woman in 2022.

Anything else you want to tell me about?

JoJo – I am really proud of Magnolia Walls and the work we have done to make it happen. It’s been an immensely tough year for me personally and to get to this point is very overwhelming. I promised myself during the pandemic that I’d never take this job for granted so I’m happy at whatever outcome. I’m lucky to have had this opportunity and can’t thank Alice enough for being so encouraging and supportive throughout this process.

Thank you JoJo and Alice – fascinating interview and I can’t wait to see it. There are still some limited tickets for Magnolia Walls at Northern Stage – you can nab them via: https://northernstage.co.uk/whats-on/magnolia-walls/ Friday 24th June, Newcastle University welcomes the audience to a Q & A after the performance. Friday show is live captioned and Saturday show has BSL interpreter.

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!