Prior to the life we learned as lockdown, the before time, I’d applied to be part of what I thought was an artist’s group with HOME, which was supported and facilitated by Nicola Miles-Wildin and Victoria Howarth (along with Maddy Coster in the first half of the project).
Having neglected to realise that the group was for disabled people, luckily, I met the criteria and was pleased HOME actively listened and removed access barriers for us all to attend by making the group virtual and providing us with exactly what we needed to connect and experience new work and ideas.
A new creative collective was unexpected and the absolute opposite of what the group had come together for. Meeting people I’d not met before was a sparkling change. It invigorated an isolated practice. We were motivated by the work we were exposed to and the conversations that followed.
Art is a powerful tool for positive change and forms part of the connective tissue in our society. It colours the grey of the city. It offers a voice where there isn’t one and I had missed it during the lockdown. Deeply. This project replaced what had vanished for me in that time and gave me the courage to ask for access elsewhere. An artist’s diet is space, inspiration and funding and we were afforded those creative nutrients to thrive in this project.
We talked about how mediocre middle-class art can be a propeller for working class minority artists to do better themselves, with less. How failure can be fertile for growth. How spite can be a great tool for action, for example when we see art we think is pretentious, it actually makes us want to produce something to challenge it. It enabled us to dream bigger.
I enjoyed hearing about our different perspectives and interpretations of the art we shared. I loved how we disagreed safely and respectfully because we could. We were gifted space to connect and think and see and make new work. I enjoyed the digital revolution and my own digital heritage. Sometimes I felt people were watching a different film to me. However, that’s often my experience of life and it was good to feel heard instead of judged.
I had to remind myself when we eventually met members of the group in the flesh, we hadn’t physically met before. Undoubtedly, we will continue to creatively collide and collaborate in the future. The group has been a creative lifeline for me and has kept me focused on what makes art accessible and where we have witnessed a void and how to challenge that with respect.
The group at HOME have supported me to feel the tangible spaces, where I sought creative comfort and inspiration prior to lockdown, were still virtually open and helped me feel less isolated from other creators and ideas. It was the stimulation I craved. I thought it was just another zoom, but it was far beyond that. It was part of Manchester’s circuit board of creativity.
On the strength of the time and support we were offered, I’ve produced an album over the past year with Brighter Sound, supported by Arts Council England which I’ll release early this year. I’ve also been developing a script with Box of Tricks Theatre. My writing buddy James Harker from their Pen Pals scheme and I have continued to develop work together from a distance. It’s just easier to develop work when people believe in you and vice versa.
Since this group started, I have become an equality and diversity inclusion consultant focusing on LGBTQ+ disabled and neurodiverse access needs. At the moment I’m making music with women in Ukraine with Brighter Sound for ‘She Makes Music’ in association with the British Council and Music UP Ukraine. We have had help from Steeling Sheep and have formed a band called Mushroom Cow. Our first release ‘turn it up’ is out now in all good virtual music stores on my new label Pearls. I started the label because women, non binary and queer people are underrepresented in the music industry, specifically the North West. If we want equality, we must take it ourselves.
None of this would have happened if it wasn’t for ‘Home is Where the Art Is’ and the Zooms we shared together. HOME and the art that is housed there in all its glorious live and sensational forms, really is home to me. It’s part of my city diet. The last live thing I’d seen before lockdown was ‘Insane Animals’ with my friend and fellow performer David Hon Man Chu aka Eva Serration. The first drag queen I ever fell in art love with. We met in a choir singing a composition by Nico Muhly and Anohni together for Caryl Churchill’s Skriker at the Royal Exchange Theatre.
I missed everything about theatre and HOME and audiences and being in a room with people responding to what they see and hear and feel together. I even missed sitting in the wind tunnel outside in winter with a knot in my neck smoking, complaining about the lack of heaters whilst pretending I live an al fresco lifestyle in a wintered city renowned for rain and cranes. The time we had together in ‘Home Is Where The Art is’ helped me adapt and process the loss.
Within the group we were given the time to think about the life of performance and art without an audience or witness or sources of inspiration. Having an ‘invisible’ disability means things aren’t always accessible to me. Art gives me life though. It is a necessity. A sprinkle of serotonin. It should be there all the time, for everyone. It isn’t elite. It’s the absolute opposite. It’s probably innate, in all of us in various forms but the world has tried to iron it out. Being an artist and performer is hard when it isn’t valued. If you don’t value your work nobody else will. HOME has valued us and allowed us to value each other again.
The group led me through a kind and safe practice philosophy that has enriched my life and creative actions and approach to access. We spoke about what has dissolved those ideals for us and what upheld them. Does art lose it’s worth if it can’t be seen or heard or touched or accessed in any way?
Living in a city polluted by light means I feel disconnected from the sky at night and our place in things. When the group was in full swing, I found much comfort in the star people I found there rather than the stars I knew were there but couldn’t see.
Is a painting or person worth anything if it’s locked away?
I don’t usually get starstruck, but I do experience something similar in art and nature. That awe which is hard to find in a fifteen minute walk. I imagined Mona Lisa languishing in the Louvre. Whether she preferred it with the peace. Or the people in Renoir’s parties having a better time than most of us. Frozen in memories of lives without masks and reproductions on glossy papers in a shop that cannot sell them to put on the wall of a cafe without coffee or grease.
Virtually through this, I realised art and experience, shared collectively and equally is my favourite kind. I can create more clearly when given the permission to think quietly, so I appreciated being able to stay up and sculpt all night during the lockdown lulls but it was enhanced with the motivation, equilibrium and gentle sensibility of the collective spurring me on. Balance is best. I have been lucky to have that with artists I’m proud to call friends.
I’ve also learned procrastination is part of the creative process. Toxic productivity isn’t helpful. We can’t expect art if we aren’t willing to support it. Knowing artists I respect, who want me to do well, are watching and cheering me on helped me to focus and deliver something they might enjoy too has accelerated my physical and digital practice. Securing a queer Homemakers commission gave me and many other queers in Manchester the privilege of pride when the protest was cancelled. That was the cherry on a delicious cake of a creative collective with my art family at HOME.
A selection of Clare’s work and projects:
Sick of the Fringe
MIF Creative Lab Artist
Superbia Shoots: Off Piste – Eta Carina
Homemakers Commission Our Pride: Reclaiming the Rainbow
Comedy ‘curl up and dye’ live at the library with Tom Halls and streamed on Oldham library theatre’s Facebook page
Mushroom Cow ‘s song Turn it up