I wish I lived in Manchester. The Manchester Mothers Who Make are having their December meeting today. Manchester is the only place in the country where the Mothers Who Make model is currently working as well as it should. Why? Aside from the dedication of the fantastic Manchester mums, it is in large part due to the brilliant support of Home, the venue behind them. Home are the only venue so far to have come fully on board to champion the venture. In other places where a group has grown it has been artist-led. A mother has got in touch with me, saying she wants to start a group near her. Then we have had to go round knocking on doors to try to find a suitable and supportive arts-related venue – this process can take a while. It is vital to the aims of Mothers Who Make, and to the quality of the conversations we support that meetings do not take place in social, public spaces – not in cafes or foyers. I want the participants to have the rare experience of being welcomed by a professional, creative space in their role as a mother and with their children, not only as an artist. Spaces in which we are visible and valued in our dual roles of mother and maker are hard to find. Meetings are also not social gatherings – we are trying to hold space for creative research and exchange, so we need to be given the same status as we would for a rehearsal or workshop.
Invariably however venues initially try to put us in their foyers. Even if we do find a venue that is happy to host us and give us a proper space, it feels as if they are doing us a big favour, rather than us, in fact, also bringing something from which the venue can greatly benefit. In Manchester the venue initiated the group. Kevin Jamieson, the Artistic Director, having heard about the group, invited and paid for me to travel from London to set up a Manchester branch. That was in Jan ’15. Since then the group has gone from strength to strength, enriching everyone involved – participants and venue alike.
Why is this the exception rather than the rule? In part it is because, as I have found on this crowdfunding campaign, it is difficult to explain to people what Mothers Who Make is and why it is so valuable. It is not a sexy show. It is not a box-ticking community project. It is a kind of participant workshop but not the usual kind. And mostly, when things don’t fit into a category neatly, they get marginalised. Manchester’s Home, to their credit, had the vision to recognise the group as a worthwhile initiative even though it doesn’t fit into the pre-existent categories. They provide a monthly space, include the group in their programme, are responsive to its growth and changing needs, publish a monthly blog from the participants. The result is a strong, creative, committed community of support.
Shortly, I am going to hand over to the Manchester group themselves to tell you more about what is working so well there. My hope is that through this campaign and with our Arts Council award, we will gain the status to enable every Mothers Who Make group round the country to be as strong and vibrant as the Manchester group. Go here to make it happen: https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/mothers-who-make
Venue producer Jodie Ratcliffe at HOME says:
When we first heard about Mothers Who Make we just knew that we needed HOME to be involved in it in some way, although we didn’t really know then the positive impact that it would have 12 months down the line. As an organisation it’s wonderful to be able to open our doors to creative Mothers and their children, bringing spaces to life in a way that doesn’t happen often enough. The Mothers are so talented and inspiring and although I do not sit in on the sessions I can see from their feedback and minutes that they each leave the session feeling a little bit more motivated to continue their creative practice. It’s not hard to facilitate these sessions; we simply block a space out for 2hours per month, and have a regular volunteer (a Mother) to help set up the chairs, tables, tea and coffee. It’s also really rewarding for me as I am able to let the Mothers know about opportunities in our building, whether that’s a baby friendly screening, a workshop or an upcoming production. Mothers Who Make Manchester is a vital and encouraging community and we are in no rush to stop it.
What the participants say…..
Once a month, at HOME, a truly fantastic group of talented women come, some with their children in their arms, and talk about what it is to be creative and a mother, what they want, why they want it. Every session leaves me feeling encouraged and supported and galvanised to dig deeper and keep making in anyway I can.
- Felicity Goodman
That’s why I think the Mother Who Make groups are important. They allow us to interrogate these notions. To question the pictures we are given of perfect mothers or of selfish artists in their studios who are feted with great success but are monsters in their personal lives. I think meeting and talking to people who are neither perfect nor monstrous but can still claim to be mothers and artists will help break these images into pieces.
- Lucy Tomlinson
I heard about Mothers Who Make through a friend, an actor who’d been to one of the previous Manchester sessions. I thought it was an excellent idea for a movement because the relationship between artistic practices and motherhood seems, to me, to be a very fraught one, both in terms of practicalities (time, money) and in terms of how mothers, especially mothers who make, are positioned in (and often judged by) society. …. And so, the idea of finding a peer network of people who were trying to negotiate the same territory was very exciting. The Mothers Who Make sessions have been truly inspiring: having these conversations about expectations and assumptions and problems, and hearing about other people’s practices and ambitions and coping mechanisms, has been an overwhelmingly positive and galvanizing experience. Writing, as a career, can be quite solitary, so the opportunity to build a network of like-minded people, even if we’re working in different fields, is stimulating – we’re all facing broadly the same challenges, and it’s fascinating to get to know how we’re each doing it.
- Valerie O'Riordan
Since joining Mothers Who Make in the Spring of 2016, I’ve been able to share some of that excitement again, and to become excited about other people’s creative epiphanies. Creativity is contagious. And I don’t need to over-explain the challenges of being an artist and a parent. It’s a given, a common understanding, a shared frustration, a grief even, for a part of us that can so easily become lost in the day to day. …
Through the support of MWM I have gathered up enough confidence and momentum to go for a number of writing opportunities and even manage to hit some deadlines.
- Crystal Stewart
Support us here: https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/mothers-who-make