29 May Interview: Artist Genevieve Rudd during lockdown
Genevieve Rudd is an artist who works across Community Arts & Arts Project Development. Like most people, she has had to adapt her work and deliver from a distance. I got in contact with her to find out how her work has been adapted and what she has learnt from these new processes.
Tell me about your work.
I’m a Community Artist based in Great Yarmouth on the Norfolk coast. I’ve coordinated and led visual arts projects with groups of people since 2011. My work takes me to lots of different places, such as libraries, galleries, museums, schools and in outdoor public spaces, including in parks or on the beach. My training was originally in art photography plus I also use drawing, textiles and found or recycled materials in my work. I typically work around themes rather then specialising in working with a particular medium. The projects I lead look at the people and places around us, considering heritage, cultural and environmental themes.
Alongside my freelance arts engagement work, I’m the Chair/Programme Coordinator of Waveney & Blyth Arts (W&BA). At W&BA, our aim is to create opportunities for people to
experience the environment, habitats and species in our patch — the rivers along the Norfolk/Suffolk border — through the arts. This includes an annual sculpture event in the summer, a creative walks programme, and events led in collaboration with artists, poets, ecologists, historians and local enthusiasts. This year the organisation is 10 years old.
In November last year, I co-founded Artist Educator Social Network. A space for East Anglian-based artists to meet, share best practice and develop their professional skills through a peer-led network. We host meet-ups every other month and connect between the meetings in our Facebook group.
How has the current situation changed your work?
My self-employed work is centred around being in a room with a group of people. The projects I deliver are all driven forward through creative collaborations and, as a practitioner, I use my skills to respond to the dynamics in the room. Needless to say, my ‘usual’ work can’t happen!
In response to the current situation, I have been commissioned by organisations that I regularly work with to produce videos or remote resources for groups. This includes Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, Suffolk Artlink, Norfolk Museums Service, Making Waves Together and Norwich University of the Arts. Each organisation has a different audience focus, so I’ve been developing resources for a range of groups, such as primary school children, adults with learning disabilities and students.
With W&BA, so far we’ve cancelled the first half of the annual May-October ‘Celebrate’ programme, and we’re yet to decide on the second half due to happen in the autumn, depending on government guidelines. All of our events take place with groups of people at other people’s venues or in outdoor public spaces. We’ve had a significant loss of income due to COVID-19, so we’ve been applying for funding to bridge the gap. One of the cancelled events was Sculpture in the Valley 2020, our annual sculpture event, which would’ve been happening for the 7th year, this year curated by Suffolk-based David Baldry.
To adapt our programme at W&BA, we’ve been thinking of ways to engage our members and supporters at home and online. We came up with the Early Bird Sound Map project, where we asked people to record the dawn chorus on Sunday 3rd May, which was International Dawn Chorus Day and would’ve been our first event of the annual ‘Celebrate’ programme. We’ve been really impressed by the recordings, and other creative things are members have been up to, so our fortnightly newsletter is always full to bursting despite no events happening!
I have been really interested seeing the resources you have been creating. (Such as the primary school art pack) What has it been like creating these resources?
It’s been great to be commissioned to make resources for people to do at home. It’s a new area for me, as I’d usually always be working face-to-face with groups. I’ve had to challenge the way I communicate but I think in the long run, these are skills I’ll keep using.
Have you found any positives from working this way? (And other ways you have been working – i.e. workshops over zoom etc)
I’ve always been dismissive when anyone has suggested me running online workshops or tutorials – I’m now eating my words! It’s definitely opened up an way of engaging with groups. There is no piece of technology which can replicate connecting face-to-face with a group, however, running video workshops and making resources is so beneficial in supporting people to keep creative. I’ve also signed up to take part in a couple of video workshops since lockdown too. It’s been really enjoyable to have the time to participate and not lead, and to keep creatively connected with what other facilitators are up to.
What are the difficulties?
There are a number of challenges with delivering community arts and arts engagement projects online or through resource packs. The first is communication. When I’ve been producing resources, I’m not with the person when they’re responding or engaging with the information. This includes when I’m running live video workshops, where safeguarding means individuals don’t use audio or video. My instructions need to be really clear, but also open-ended and imaginative enough so that they are genuinely enjoyable to do.
Another challenge to remote resource making is choosing an activity which can work when people have very limited resources. When I lead community arts projects face-to-face, I’d usually turn up with my own kit or there is a budget for materials to source equipment for the group to work with. I’m very lucky as I have lots of art-making tools which I use for work, but appreciate this is not the case for most people. The resources I’m making are for people to do at home in whatever situation they’re in. I’ve really enjoyed the challenge of how to pare down the activity so that the imaginative idea shines through, without an over-reliance on a fancy bit of kit.
Do you have any advice for other artists?
There are two pieces of advice I’d give to other artists: take a breath and check your finances.
This situation has been massively overwhelming. Whether you’ve been directly affected by the virus or not, we’re in an international state of anxiety. As we were discussing earlier this week at the Artist Educator Social Network meeting (now on Zoom!), in the first couple of weeks of lockdown the internet was flooded with arts organisations pushing out content because they felt they had to show they were doing ‘something’. I’ve tried to take a different approach, to be slow and considered, where possible. This situation isn’t going to suddenly sort itself out in the next few weeks or months, so I think it’s really important to take your time to recognise where you are now (which might be different to someone else), think carefully and find your own pace. This way, we wont run the risk of burning out early doors. Your mind/body will thank you.
My second piece of advice is about making sure your business, as a freelancer, is financially sustainable. We’ve all taken a massive hit to our incomes – unless you’re the shareholders of Zoom! – so the next few months are going to be extremely tough. Keep an eye on opportunities for commissions for remote projects and check if you’re eligible for the government’s self-employment package which has now started being paid out. If you receive the government support, you can still work as a freelancer. If not, it would be worth seeing what artist hardship funds are available to tide you over. I’m a member of Artists’ Union England who are campaigning to the government for a review in the support packages available, which disproportionately disadvantage artists whose work is typically made up of partly-freelance and partly-employed work such as zero hours and part-time contracts.
Thank you so much to Genevieve for taking the time to answer my questions and for her advice to others. There is so much here that will help other freelancers who have found themselves in difficult spaces or having to adapt their work. If you find yourself needing advice or support at this time please use the resources listed above. Make sure to find out what you are eligible for.
I would like to finish this post by highlighting the advice Genevieve shares above:
“…be slow and considered, where possible. This situation isn’t going to suddenly sort itself out in the next few weeks or months, so I think it’s really important to take your time to recognise where you are now (which might be different to someone else), think carefully and find your own pace. This way, we wont run the risk of burning out early doors. Your mind/body will thank you.”
Please keep this in mind. Be kind, take time.
If you would like to find out more about Genevieve’s work as an artist visit her website to find out more.
If you are continuing your work at this time and need support then please do get in contact.