Editor Helen Carnac, 2011, A Shared View, Stitching Together Ideas in Time. Greenlab, Laboratory for Sustainable Design Strategies, Berlin, Germany. 192 pages. ISBN 978-3- 9814373-2-4
Editor Helen Carnac, 2009, Taking Time: Craft and the Slow Revolution. Craftspace, Birmingham, 48 pages UK ISBN-10: 0952683296
Editors Helen Carnac and Ruth Rushby, 2007, Process Works. Site Publications, London. ISBN 13 978—0-9554379-1-5
Articles and chapters in edited books
Carnac, H, 2014, Is There Ever a First Time Visit and How Will We Remember it in The Future?, Unravelling Uppark, Ed: Polly Harknett, Caitlin Heffernan, Matt Smith, Unravelled Arts and National Trust, UK. p58 – 63 ISBN: – 978-0-9572476-2-8
Carnac, H, 2013, Moving Things Around…Collaboration and Dynamic Change. In Collaboration Through Craft, Ed: Amanda Ravetz, Alice Kettle & Helen Felcey. Bloomsbury. London. p31 – 41 ISBN: HB: 978-0-8578-5391-2, PB: 978-0-8578-5392-9
Carnac, H, 2013, Thinking Process: On Contemporary Jewelry and the Relational Turn. In Contemporary Jewelry in Perspective, Editor Damian Skinner, Lark Books, USA. p234 – 239. ISBN HB 978-1-4547-0277-1
2010 ‘Into the Unknown’ A reflection on fellowship in Cultural Leadership in the Arts, published by Cultural Leadership Programme,2011
2010 ‘Making Time’ ‘Studio; Craft and Design in Canada’, Crafts Council of Canada. Fall/Winter 2010, pp38-42
2010 ‘House of Words’ Journal of Modern Craft: Exhibition Review Volume 3, Number 2, July 2010, pp. 253-256(4)
2010 ‘Stitching it Together in Time’ Essay Contribution to Upcycling Textiles: Adding Value through Design
2009 ‘Handmade is Favourite’ Paratus Communication: Consultancy and written report on Handmade to support International press campaign for Costa Coffee.
Artist Practitioner Placements: Into the unknown…2011
Take a large piece of paper, cut concentric circles, almost round but still joined
together, and pull the centre of the circle up. What happens?
The Cultural Leadership Programme (CLP) has done much work in determining how
leadership in the arts can develop. The Artist Leadership development placements and
the Method and Independents development programmes were set up in the words of
CLP ‘as action research to better understand how we support artists to lead in the
current climate’. Piloting models that are more specifically about artist – practitioner
leadership, offering bespoke leadership development such as mentoring, coaching and
action learning sets, placements or other models of leadership delivery. The outcomes
are used reflectively to develop more provision.
The artist leadership development placements were set up with the aim of ‘supporting
the leadership development of artists/ practitioners who have aspirations to lead
through practice, and wish to gain experience through working within organisations on
creative projects’ and where ‘artists can proceed from a shadowing to leadership
Three artists were chosen through an application and interview process to take on
these six month opportunities: Helen Carnac, Nina Edge and Kate Fox were placed with
three organisations: Craftspace; FACT and New Writing North respectively. Although
the placements were originally advertised as six months in length, each artist
negotiated a longer period of a year. In reality the placements may have lasted even
longer than this and reflection on the whole process may take considerably longer.
This essay is a short reflection on the placements, which began in March 2009, written
by Helen Carnac, it draws on conversations between the three artists and a panel
discussion that they took part in July 2010 with David Jubb, Artistic Director of
Battersea Arts Centre and Nicola Turner, Assistant Director of CLP.
Artist as leader in the cultural context
Information and research that comes from independent sites of practice is a necessary
and relevant addition to institutional and organisational models that currently exist in
developing leadership in today’s changing economy and working landscape.
Good research has taken place previously on this subject, for example by the Artists
Information Company, in the research paper Leading Through Practice, edited by Anne
Douglas and Chris Fremantle in 2007 ii. It was this research that helped me to formulate my initial thinkingabout my placement and action research models such as those developed by CLP offer a tangible way to test and develop new models.
It has been evident from the placements and from reading around the subject, that
many who think about leadership from the position of artist, have a discomfort and
seeming ambivalence with the words that have been used to construct and form today’s
leadership models. In particular, terms such as ‘leader’ can imply position or power,
which can feel alien. Is this because these words do not or cannot fully describe what
an artist does or are they just wrong, having too many already fixed meanings?
Can leading through practice be more transient, can it offer the ability to ask open
questions from different sites, which in turn open up more questions, whilst not trying to
fix or make things immovable? Not necessarily assuming a front position and not one
where the positioning comes before the action.
‘Artists are great at ringing alarm bells when it comes to jargon, rhetoric and
dogma. We could all learn that skill’iii
It is often this questioning and enquiry that is so important. How many times have I
been in a room where there seem to be important questions missing? And when they
are not raised, are they left unanswered? Perhaps then, these difficult questions may
offer insight into why I find this a challenging subject to write on, and although I have
thought about it thoroughly, back and forward in my mind trying to understand what this
leadership thing looks like, I still have many more questions to ask.
One important aspect that I have recognised through this experience and by talking to
Nina and Kate about the placements is that we all took them on in some shape or form
of our current practice. I am a visual artist and my practice is principally concerned with
process, and understanding the traces of making and material in a back and forward
process of exploration. Nina examines power values and through direct action or by
making interventions or commentary about situations, both big and small, elicits
change. Whilst Kate’s practice is about writing and finding a way to speak up and out
through her comedy and poetry. So the way we approach our day-to-day practices
formulated our individual approaches to the challenge of taking on the placement.
With their support we can lead?
As professional artists we have our own working methodologies and experiences of
working in ‘non organisational’ ways and yet in ‘shadowing’ leaders of organisations
perhaps the idea was that we the artists would learn from the leaders. Were we to learn
about leading as an artist or as an organisation and how would they learn about leading
from us and how could that be beneficial in the longer term?
Our initial experiences seemed to elicit fear and we ranged from being alarmed that we
may have to ‘join the world of arts administration’, to disliking the notion of ‘host and
placement’ which could be seen to be ‘setting up a power duality’.
‘Being connected to the organisation but not entirely of it’ iv
seemed to be a clearer way orward and certainly one that Kate, Nina and I seemed to adopt.
However whether we
worked from the organisations’ offices or away, shared a desk or worked alone at our
own desks the placements provided an intriguing way to learn something unknown and
to react to territory that we were clearly uncomfortable in. In conversations between
Nina, Kate and myself some of the words and phrases we discussed may directly
acknowledge this discomfort: equity and control; differencing; status and power; in and
out; them and us; professionalising and monetising; style and content; value and trust.
It is this discomfort that I think is important to acknowledge. In places the discomfort led
to more discomfort and in my case it was sometimes difficult to address. At times I felt I
was kept out, as if I may cause trouble if I was let in to really have a look around, but I
was also reticent and did not want to get drawn in. I did not necessarily want to follow
organisational models, but I was curious and whilst not wanting to act as though I was
the ‘leader’ of something, I was discovering something about leading through this
process. It is here that CLP were able to help me and through coaching I was able to
reappraise, have a look at things from a slightly different direction and think about what
this might look like from an organisation’s point of view.
How can we work in relationships where the objective or methodologies are so different
and not lose the essence or importance of what we all have to offer in a more
conversational, two-way process?
Artists who accept the relevance of leading through practice seem to have an
ambivalent relationship with power v
Not wanting to lead or to be led
It’s opened up a lot of questions for me about how things could be done
Whilst thinking about these issues over the last year or so the political landscape has
changed radically and we are more aware than ever of the huge impact that the UK’s
budget deficit will have on all public funding, including the Arts. At recent meetings I
have attended about the future of arts funding there has been a real fear of the
unknown emanating from arts organisations, but is there a way to develop with these
‘unknowns’ as a positive driving factor?
As an artist working with a process driven practice, I begin somewhere, but I do not
necessarily know where I am going, in fact I do not want to know where I am going. It is
the process of going into the unknown that actually elicits learning and future projects.
Within this I may not know how I am going to fund the work that I do and I have to find a
way through by negotiating, making alliances and thinking on my feet. I am actually
unlikely to think ‘ah I’ll apply for some Arts Council funding’ but I do have to find the
resources to work and mostly I do. Some of the reticence in applying for funding is that
it can assume a position of reliance and it is often linked to discernible outputs, which
can be difficult to acknowledge at the beginning of a process that you are working
through and certainly in the case where the work’s importance is primarily qualitative
and not necessarily quantitative.
If you’re applying for funding – sometimes you have to tick the boxes before
you’ve done the job and sometimes this strips out the creativity from the
Open and closed
In hindsight I do question whether the idea of shadowing small arts organisations could
achieve a progressive understanding of artist leadership. Did we learn more about how
we didn’t want to do things in the process? Was this too much about managing and
making strategic alliances and not about thinking creatively? Would the learning have
been greater if the placements had been in contiguous fields, in the private sector or if
the organisations had been placed with the artists? If we had started on an open
playing field and discussed what we all brought to the process, could it have been more
interesting and therefore would the learning have been greater?
Engaging in the placement, which has been refreshingly open in places and
disappointingly closed in others, the learning for me has come from questioning
perceptions and experiences in projects that I have been involved in over the last year
through a leadership lens. The opportunity to have this period of focus and being able
to assess, relate and be reflective in my experiences through this time, may have
developed and changed the way that I think, which I acknowledge as being something
really exceptional. Although I don’t have the answers, there have been tangible benefits
and developments to my thinking by being part of a longitudinal research project.
Finally I would like to come to a question that I keep asking. Although we often talk
about how ‘creative’ the Arts are, are they always so?
Lots of cultural organisations are run in a very industrial, top down way…too
many layers of management for example and we need to address that viii
There may be a perception that flat management structures and systems exist in the
Arts and in particular in smaller organisations, I would like to question this and ask
others to do so too. The reality of this can be that a small, creative organisation can
also construct inner hierarchies and can pass these working relationships to others that
work with them, indeed sometimes assuming that their way of doing is better than any
other way or perhaps putting a need to position themselves ahead of more collaborative
Arguably, the cultural sector has pioneered the leadership practices needed in
the wider knowledge economy. Practices like creativity, collaboration, reflection
and sharing ideas underpin the work of the cultural sector. The best leaders in
the cultural sector know that people cannot create inspiring work in silo
So how do we test whether we really are creative, collaborative, reflective and sharing
and do independent artists do this better?
One of the compelling things about artists working together is the joy of being
equal but different, the working situation never seems to assume that a power
structure or level of command needs constructing beyond the practicalities of
ascribing tasks that need to be done. It is about an exchange – giving and taking
and learning from others x
CLP programmes in artist development such as The Independents led by Battersea
Arts Centre have started to explore new territory, creating bespoke programmes for
groups of artists who want to test out their leadership through their artistic practice.
Using peer support, building on networks, connecting groups and exchanging ideas,
they utilise flat systems of exchange where subjects can be explored in a cross disciplinary context.
It is this ‘hybridity – trying to find areas of work for artists that are completely unfamiliar to their practices, maybe where they feel uncomfortable…seeing your world from a completely different perspective’ xi that has so much to offer for the future.
Recent thinking on leadership has talked at considerable length about hierarchical
systems needing to change, that a top down approach does not work and that flat
systems of thinking from the centre may be more appropriate – but what happens
when you pull the centre upwards? Are you back in a hierarchy, at the centre but
now at the top, centre or bottom of the heap?
Imagining another kind of leadership may be useful: at the outer edge, with a long view,
contiguous, embracing the unknown, the unimaginable or the seemingly unachievable.
Perhaps asking difficult questions and acknowledging them also, listening and not
shouting, not jostling for position, but actually going through the process in a thoughtful,
concise and reflective way, trying to reach into other areas and thinking about the
barriers that have been installed melting away. Giving space for things to happen and
real time for thinking.
Being able to visualise these thoughts may be something that an artist can bring to a
process with another or alternate view and curiosity, making unknown links and
certainly opening wider contexts for this type of thinking and doing. Kicking out old
habits and assumptions and trying to see things in another way is something that we all
need to do.
After all ‘what do you get more leadership out of: cultural leadership or cultural
Though I am not asserting that we should all work in the same way, understanding each
others’ working processes and differences may go some way to bringing much needed
change, whilst giving the time and space to think this through and put things into action.
Then perhaps instead of ticking boxes we might begin to unpack them.6
i Turner, N. 2010. Artist Practitioner panel discussion at CLP re:freshers, Wellcome Trust, London.
ii Douglas, A and Fremantle, C. 2007. Leading Through Practice, an publications.
iii Jubb, D. 2010. Artist Practitioner panel discussion at CLP re:freshers, Wellcome Trust, London.
iv Fox, K. 2010. Artist Practitioner panel discussion at CLP re:freshers, Wellcome Trust, London.
v Douglas, A and Fremantle, C. 2007. Leading Through Practice, an publications, p.4.
vi Carnac, H. 2010. Artist Practitioner panel discussion at CLP re:freshers, Wellcome Trust, London.
vii Carnac, H. 2010. Artist Practitioner panel discussion at CLP re:freshers, Wellcome Trust, London.
viii Jubb, D. 2010. Artist Practitioner panel discussion at CLP re:freshers, Wellcome Trust, London.
ix Pyke, L. 2010. New models for emotionally intelligent leadership. A cultural leadership reader @ Creative Choices
x Gates, D. 2010. Intelligent Trouble in conversation, London.
xi Jubb, D. 2010. Artist Practitioner panel discussion at CLP re:freshers, Wellcome Trust, London.
xii Edge, N. 2010. Artist Practitioner panel discussion at CLP re:freshers, Wellcome Trust, London.
A sense of Place
(A piece written about Jilly Edwards, the Tapestry artist)
In his 1911, Introduction to Science J. Arthur Thomson wrote:
‘When we work long at a thing and come to know it up and down, in and out, through and through, it becomes in quite a remarkable way translucent’[i]
Jilly Edwards has made journeying her life’s work. From the physical journeys she has made criss-crossing the UK, Japan and Australia to the more process-led and sometimes metaphysical journeying of making her work as a tapestry weaver. It is here, in this process and in her works, that she captures and condenses all she has imbibed: the pictures, notes, experiences and colours that she gathers on her travels and here also that she finds her grounding and makes sense and meaning of a world that she has so eagerly traversed. Edwards’ life journey seems at one with the process of her work as a tapestry weaver and the calm exterior of her work reveals a window into what she sees and has seen. For her this is a process of understanding, which ultimately forms her sense of place and belonging.
‘…The lovely moments of realisation that I felt while travelling on the big journeys, which were spectacular…showed to me that in the end I wanted to do things about me – where I lived and about who I was in that’ [ii]
It is at High Cross that Edwards has found a fitting place to develop and show a new body of work about her current journeying. In choosing this place she has created an opportunity to reflect on her relationship to it and with it. It is a place that is grounding for her and it has a past significance in her life and work. A place that has and holds memory for the artist: of people met, of work made, of her dear husband and son, of music, of students, of kindness received and given and of journeys and journeying.
Over the past year Edwards has spent time here, travelling from her home and studio in Exeter to High Cross on the Dartington Estate. On the way she has recorded her experiences through drawing, writing and noting observations and memories. When I met with Edwards in February 2010 she talked of how she gathers both physical and metaphysical memories. From walking the River Dart and collecting evidence of the plants and life that she encounters, by sketching and drawing, to remembering the actuality of the walking through jottings, written thoughts and the words of the poet Alice Oswald:
‘in walking boots, with twenty pounds on my back: spare socks, compass, map, water purifier so I can drink from streams, seeing the cold floating spread out above the morning,
tent, torch, chocolate not much else’[iii].
Alongside this Edwards has also gathered information from the archive at High Cross where she was able to share in other peoples’ memories of journeys to Dartington recorded in correspondence, letters and documents from the past.
Through this back and forward process involving collecting, walking and thinking, making these samplers on the loom, Edwards begins another journey within the processes of making, interpreting and translating her findings into materiality. The size is important, working on a small scale with these samples she is able to build up a body of work that constitutes her findings over time – going out gathering information, coming back and intuitively forming a response…again and again, building like the process of making a tapestry itself.
Looking at these samples it is their colour, the words written and the train tickets used as material that at once bring to view the journeys. Scratch the surface, look harder and feel the materiality of the tapestry and what comes to view is the process of this sampling: the building of these surfaces through the weaving, the silent work and language of the artist and this window to her life. Somehow here the work indeed becomes ‘translucent’ and revealing of the time spent, the making process and of the memory contained of this journeying.
‘It takes long hours to engage with the work, it is built from the bottom, line by line, you work in areas but not like building a brick wall… It is whilst you are working this out and the actuality of the weaving that you can take time to contemplate where you have been and where you are hoping to go’[iv]
By layering her thoughts into this work and by physically engaging with the environment, installing her works at High Cross, Edwards hopes to achieve a temporary space through which the viewer may understand not just something of her and her work but something of themselves and others that have passed through here. And with that places visited, the shared and individual journeys over time and a sense of place, here, now, before and beyond.
[i] Thomson, J. Arthur, (1911), in Ingold, T., 2007, Lines, Routledge, p.61
[ii] Oswald, A., (2002) Dart, Faber and Faber
[iii] Edwards, J., (2010) in conversation with Helen Carnac
[iv] Edwards, J., (2005)