I don’t say much on this blog about my client work because most of it is confidential. But I’m delighted to have permission from one of my lovely clients to tell you about a project I’ve been helping them with over the last couple of years.
The Mothership Project is based in the Republic of Ireland and is a network of parenting artists run by four awesome artist mothers: Leah Hilliard, Michelle Browne, Seoidín O’Sullivan and Tara Kennedy. It was founded in 2013 as a result of Seoidín O’Sullivan’s frustration at struggling to retain her arts practice after becoming a mother. She fired off an email to a few friends who shared her concerns and set up a working group of volunteers. They organised workshops and discussions, show-and-tell events and reading groups, focusing on issues facing parenting artists such as visibility, time, money and precarity. Despite the name it is not gender-specific or even parent-specific but welcomes all artists who are primary carers of children.
In 2017 the Mothership Project made a successful application to the Irish Arts Council for funding to build on this work with a research project to find out what would help parents most, a pilot programme of artists’ residencies tailored for parent artists, and a publication of their findings.
The first I heard of any of this was a message from Leah Hilliard which came via this website in December 2017, asking if I could help advise them about the research. We spoke on Skype and I agreed to help. The Mothership team had drafted a questionnaire and wanted some feedback. We spoke again in January and, as luck would have it, I was doing some speaking and teaching in Dublin in March so I was able to meet three of the team in person – Leah, Michelle, and Tara, plus Tara’s six-week-old daughter Kim!
They piloted the questionnaire before it was finalised, put onto SurveyMonkey, and circulated the link as widely as they could. The questionnaire was quite detailed, asking questions about respondents’ art practice, their parenting experience, workspaces, childcare, financial situation, experience of artists’ residencies, and a final ‘is there anything else you would like to tell us?’ question. By the end of July 2018 there were 145 responses. I analysed those in August, using descriptive statistics for numeric answers and basic qualitative analytic techniques for text answers. This involved separating out the answers to each question and grouping similar ones together into categories, then writing about the categories and the number of responses in each category. Some of the responses to the final question were really positive about the questionnaire itself and the work of the Mothership Project.
My lovely clients were pleased with the analysis I sent them. They held their pilot residencies in the autumn for 15 parent-artists, and conducted an exit questionnaire which I was also able to help them analyse. The responses were overwhelmingly positive. Then they set to work to prepare their publication. They brought me over to Ireland to spend a day with them working on this. I learned that artists take a very different approach from writers to making a book. When I want to create a book, I sit down at my computer and write words onto a screen. When these women want to create a book, they start by figuring out how many pages it will be. Then they put a page of A4 for each page of the book up on a studio wall, and write and draw on Post-Its and on the pages of A4 while talking together to work out how to make the book they want.
The team were keen that the publication should be accessible, visually engaging and would act as an advocacy tool in the future. They wanted to have a two-page centre spread setting out the findings and recommendations which would be easy for the reader to find and reproduce. This focus on making the research visible and visual, and easy to use by other people, was paramount in the planning stage.
And a very fine book it is too, fulfilling all those aims. It was launched on 16 May in Dublin – I was working in Dublin again at the time, but unfortunately couldn’t make it to the launch as I was in an all-day workshop with another client at Dublin City University. So frustrating!
As an independent researcher, I don’t often hear about what happens as a result of research I’ve worked on, so I was delighted when Michelle got back in touch last week to update me. The research was covered in the Irish Times and is being taken seriously by policy-makers in Ireland, which is great news. Only last Friday she presented the methodology and findings at a conference called Measuring Equality in the Arts Sector at University College Cork. This was run by an organisation of the same name, known as MEAS, which was set up last year, with support from the Irish Research Council to monitor and report on representational inequalities in the arts in Ireland. It’s great to know that this kind of work is going on, and that my experience and skills have been able to make a tiny contribution.
Creative people frequently amaze me by what they achieve in the world, and the Mothership Project team are a great example. It was a real pleasure to work with them.
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