Finding Our Voice: Loudspeaker Conference 27/11/15

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Photos courtesy of UrBenmedia.com

On Friday 27 November 2015 we welcomed over 80 delegates to Nottingham Contemporary to be part of the ‘Finding Our Voice: Loudspeaker Conference’. This was an opportunity to celebrate the achievements and legacy of Loudspeaker, and share learning from the project with partners from across the creative, voluntary, education, health and criminal justice sectors.

Chaired by Ciara Smyth from Changing Lives, ‘Finding Our Voice’ focussed on a number of keynote speeches by leading professionals working to raise women’s voices, including artist Polly Brannan (who devised the ‘Letters to the City’ project), Chris Cutland (Deputy Police Commissioner for Nottingham), Claire Brown (Women’s Equality Party), Kerry Whiting (Robin Hood School) and Melanie Jeffs (Centre Manager at Nottingham Women’s Centre).

Associate Artists Gillian Brent and Jo Dacombe recounted their own experiences of leading the workshop programme for Loudspeaker. They also devised creative activities for delegates to develop conversations and analysis that were similar to those used in the Loudspeaker workshops.

A number of the participants joined us as guests and spoke informally about their experiences of Loudspeaker with other delegates. Eight women who had participated at different times over the past three years collaborated with Jo, Gill and film maker Ben Harriott to create a ‘Loudspeaker film’, which was premièred throughout the day.

You can watch the film here:

The conference was also an opportunity to listen as well as share. Each table of delegates (supported by facilitators from the University of Nottingham and Nottingham Women’s Centre) gathered together ideas to include in a ‘manifesto for change’.  This manifesto will be presented to key partners, the aim being to further raise the voices of women in Nottingham by influencing policy.

Finding Our Voice was a fitting final chapter in the story of Loudspeaker so far. For me personally, it’s been an honour to be part of such a special project, which for the past three years has helped over 70 women to take positive steps through being creative together. Loudspeaker has been a challenging, rewarding experience and we’ve learnt so much about how vital this work is. We fully intend to continue to innovate in supporting women through creative opportunities here at Nottingham Contemporary.

Thank you to our funders Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, Nottingham City Council and Arts Council England, and the Loudspeaker team (Ciara, Kay, Jo, Gill, Lynn, Debs, Helen T, Polly, Lisa) and all the women who have taken part.

Jason McCormack

Community Programmer – Nottingham Contemporary

 

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Being part of Loudspeaker has given Emma more confidence and determination.

“Loudspeaker has opened a door of determination for me to make myself heard and present myself to the maximum ability and be proud to be me. Being part of Loudspeaker has been an amazing experience. I really wish I wasn’t on the last one and wish there was more to come. I experience anxiety and it has been tamed to a degree and the more I’ve been attending loudspeaker the more I’m feeling normal. Thank you for the loudspeaker group this last session. Love to you all. Xx”

Emma wrote this poem inspired by her time as part of the Loudspeaker project:

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Willow’s Story

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Why am I taking part in this project? I am already confident about my mark making, my ability with composition, wielding a pencil etc. etc. I have an art degree. So why am I here? Because I also suffer with social anxiety and depression, I have a label of BPD. I’m good at looking ‘normal’, so it’s not obvious with me. Well I don’t think so! But I came on this project to counteract my isolation, to create some kind of balance between time on my own and time with others. Time on my own is time spent recovering from time with others. But time with others has to be a certain type of time; time with people who will understand, if you’re not feeling very good emotionally, time with people who just accept me as I am. I also don’t want to just be with people for the sake of being with people, adding art to the mix makes it quality time to me, a chance to do what I love with people who are supportive.

Each Loudspeaker Project relates to whatever exhibition is going on in the galleries upstairs. The exhibition we are bouncing ideas off is called ‘Rights of Nature, Art and Ecology in the Americas’. One of the pieces we looked at during one of the sessions was a journey, walking and buses, taken by an artist called Paulo Nazareth, retracing the footsteps of history and documenting his journey along the way. This related totally to my own work at home and I felt that I was doing this project in parallel and expanding my own artwork. Today we walked around St Ann’s Community allotments and I documented our visit. Through the camera’s lens I see compositions in miniature. Searching for images where nature meets humanity. We are halfway through the project as I write this.

I love the way each session is a series of small steps. These steps helping us to think and create something, connecting to various aspects of the subject, without it being threatening. There is a whole mix of women at various creative places, from not having done art since a child, to people like myself. We’re all mixed in together, with our troubled personal lives in common, all creating and growing and finding ourselves. It’s inspirational.

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Women from the Loudspeaker project write ‘Letters to the City’ of Nottingham.

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Hello, my name is Jason McCormack. I’m the recently appointed Community Programmer here at Nottingham Contemporary. One of the first pieces of work I’ve been involved with since I started was helping to facilitate the ‘Letters to the City’ celebration event on 7 December. It was lots of hard work, but proved to be a poignant legacy for Loudspeaker and I was very proud to be involved.

In 2013 Nottingham Contemporary invited artist Polly Brannan to join Loudspeaker to develop a piece of work that would extend the project into the city, bringing the women’s voices to the wider public. The results of this collaboration were ten beautifully powerful and poignant ‘Letters to the City’, written by the Loudspeaker participants.

On Sunday 7 December 2014, the general public and Loudspeaker participants joined Polly, walking together from Nottingham Contemporary to Speakers’ Corner in Nottingham city centre to read each letter aloud. Speakers’ Corner plays an important part in campaigns for individual freedom and social justice – it’s an open space in the heart of the city where people can freely share their opinions and stories, so it felt like a very fitting place to read the letters. Polly invited people to recite the letters with her if they felt confident enough to join in…

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Personally, it felt really special to be part of a group reading the letters aloud together on this unique occasion. I had a sense that what we were doing was almost like reciting a mantra to the city of Nottingham. Indeed, having spoken to Polly about how she came up with the idea for the project, my experience on the day was very similar to one which  inspired her to devise ‘Letters to the City’ in the first place.

After the readings, the group was invited back to Nottingham Contemporary for a celebration to acknowledge their support and individual contributions to the project.

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Between 2 and 16 December 2014, two of these letters were circulated across Nottingham city centre on billboard posters, which could be read by people walking, driving by or from public transport.

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All ten letters have been compiled into a limited edition of 300 printed booklets, some of which were donated to the Local Studies collection at Nottingham Central Library. Others were donated to the Nottingham Museum and Galleries Service archive (some of these will also be placed in their ‘Access Archives’ resource boxes – collections of artefacts which can be freely borrowed by community groups and organisations to encourage learning and provoke discussion). The letters will provide a unique insight in to the lives and experience of women in Nottingham 2014 for generations to come….

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You can find out more about the Letters to the City by visiting the project website here: http://letterstothecity.com/

You can also read an iNewspaper Article and interview with Lynn Chippendale (Loudspeaker participant and mentor), Maxine Dickinson (Loudspeaker participant), artist Polly Brannan and Ciara Smyth (from Changing Lives, our project partner) on the Letters to the City project and Loudspeaker here:

http://www.nottinghampost.com/Women-struggles-powerful-letters-Nottingham/story-25366667-detail/story.html

More info on artist Polly Brannan here: http://avantgardening.org/about/

All photographs courtesy of Vika Nightingale: vika.nightingale@gmail.com

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Lynn explains what it’s like being a Loudspeaker mentor…

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I am pleased to say once again we had another great collection of people in this group for Loudspeaker. The project was all about two artist named Raphael Hefti & Agnieska Polska, and the sessions ran from 18th October 2014 – 9th January. Once again, I was invited back as a mentor, which is what I really enjoy doing. I saw a lot of great progress in the women taking part and I have to say there was a lot of great work done by the women. This gives me a lot of happiness in myself and I love the opportunity to keep coming back and being able to help others. We also had a small group of women who wrote Letters to the City of Nottingham. I was interviewed on BBC Radio Nottingham and also asked about my experiences by the Evening Post. When I do this I feel I can be very helpful in speaking out about the benefits of the Loudspeaker project. This project is a great support for women who need help to talk and get their lives back. I have come a long way with it since I became part of the course, and I have been part of the group as a mentor ever since. I hope Loudspeaker continues for years to come, as I feel it would be a great loss for the many women who need support in Nottingham.

You can hear Lynn and Nottingham Contemporary’s Head of Learning Kay Hardiman talking about Loudspeaker on Verity Cowley’s BBC Radio Nottingham show here: http://letterstothecity.com/assets/audio/radio-bbc-1204.mp3

Lynn and Ciara Smyth (from Changing Lives, our partners in the project) were also interviewed by the Nottingham Evening Post. They discuss Loudspeaker and the ‘Letters to the City’ project – you can read the article here: http://www.nottinghampost.com/Women-struggles-powerful-letters-Nottingham/story-25366667-detail/story.html

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Johanna: how being part of Loudspeaker helped me….

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The Loudspeaker course gave me the chance to meet other women who, like myself, have battled through heartbreaking situations. The safe space created by the workshop gave everyone the opportunity to speak freely and express themselves. Focusing on personal identity, self esteem and confidence, it was evident that the mutual support from the group aided individuals to make sustainable, life changing decisions and find inspiration and direction for the future. The exhibition was the first time some of us had shown our artistic inspiration to anyone. It was heart warming to see these achievements, in the finished art exhibits and also written on our smiling faces.

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A Letter of Thanks

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