• Katharine Wheeler

Re_finding a Creative Practice

Updated: May 26, 2019

A journey through my Artworks Fellowship...





I am still finding the words to describe my Artworks journey and learning over the past year in a way that I feel can pin it down and be useful for others.


At the very start we were asked to identify a line of enquiry. Mine was largely about individual practice within a community organisation, the challenges and dilemmas between the individual and collective that can entail.


The real journey however has very much been a process of identification in and of itself.

A Space to identify:

Who I am

What my relationship is to the work I do

and how that relates to others


The Stove and Me – This is a separation that did not really exist in terms of my every day work and in terms of my creative practice was something I have, and continue to find very hard to define. We are, at our heart, our ethos, and through the work we do – A Collective.


A Collective with artists

A Collective with communities

A Collective with other groups and organisations


Our pitch to Creative Scotland for the last round of RFO (Regular Funded Organisations) funding was to present ourselves as the "Town Artist" with the work we do as our "Practice". A Collective Practice made up if individual ideas and shared values.


However, recently we have grown dramatically, and with that has come some grown-up structures that challenge the circular, collective values at our core. Tensions between defined roles that we need to operate against the organic creative freelance roles which we need to stay responsive, agile and firmly grounded in our community as well as a significant resource, tool, for others to join, become a part of, shape.


So for my Artworks enquiry I wanted to really understand our work in communities and our relationships to our individual artists, what works and what doesn't and why. But I kept falling flat on my face – painfully.


It took me awhile – through really observing what was going on – to realise I had to extract myself from The Stove somehow – to really look at myself first before I could look at others, at the collective – who I am – what is my relationship – what is my work – what do I need – and that was a really vulnerable, quite lonely sometimes, experience.


However – I am lucky to have amazing people around me and a deeply supportive and safe space to be vulnerable within The Stove team – though it was lot of work pulling everything a part – and not just for me.


I went into all our closets and was like "Right – what's this, why is that in there, who's looking after this bit, how much are you getting paid, what's your role, what's our expectation, your expectation, are these the same?" It was intense at times – and not for everyone I imagine ;-D. I don't tend to do things by halves. And actually through this I discovered the importance of leaving some of it messy. As you grow and take on more responsibility there is a tendency to try to pin it all down but it is often the messy bits that keep us real, keep us relevant.


We had already begun to really look at the tensions and dilemmas between this Organisational identify and the Individual identity – but Artworks amplified that for me.

I came to see myself – my individuality within this Collective – and how that can sometimes fight against the needs of these new more structured/traditional positions – a little like a lab experiment.

Watching my process, my struggles through this lens of "Artworks". And it was quite transformational!


On a micro level this was a very personal experience and I was able to start to rediscover who I was, my importance and value and individual perspective within The Stove, claim, as an individual the projects we do as a collective.

To remember the importance of giving to yourself in this – that it is okay to go inward – in fact it is as vitally important as it is to go outward – the importance being the journey and constant path between the two and not to get stuck at one place for too long.


On a macro level – I was able to see how this is indeed a reflection of the work we do in communities, of participatory development, of socially engaged practice, if we loose track of this individuality then we can not really include other individuals in this work. We need to be able to see and remember the lenses we see things through, that even with no agenda there is an agenda, that even with the best intentions in the world we are over-powering, if we can remember that in the work we do in communities then we can be humble, honest, open in our processes enough to let go of it and let it truly be co-led. We need to sometimes let our vulnerabilities show because that is what leads to real human connection and real human connection is of utmost importance in ALL socially-engaged work.


As an organisation we can loose this sharing of vulnerability – mitigate and create systems that try to eliminate it entirely. But in that we loose the very thing that makes us relevant. I watched a Ted-talk recently by Brene Brown…if you haven’t seen it then look it up "The Power of Vulnerability".


And I quote:

"Vulnerability is the birthplace of Innovation, Creativity and Change"


So with that in mind, I wanted to challenge myself to be in this place of vulnerability. I wanted to do something completely different (for me) and out of my comfort zone. I decided to perform, a very personnel, spoken word event (spoken word, especially in serious performance terrifies me! as I can not fall back on humour). Through this event I presented my Artworks journey as a love affair, reading 7 letters to a public audience of 20 as a story of this – I'll put up more of this (when I find the courage) – there is a video but I have not looked at it yet!

Here's a snippet for now…


"I arrived home the other day and my children ran up to me – "Muma, you’re home, we've missed you, where have you been?"

Lost. A whirl-wind, places, ideas, people, a constant exploration. More, and more, and more, and more, almost an addiction (and I have been There before). I have pushed myself to every limit, fitting you in as pride of place amongst the other parts of me, my feet never quite touching the bottom and I search for times to take a breath and look around. I'm not quite sure I can keep up."


So, where did this get me, what am I now doing differently (we have been asked), what is next? Well I am really thinking of the importance of my individual needs as an artist, as a person, in order to be stronger within a collective. I am embarking on more of a making and collaborating journey. Continuing to really interrogate working processes along the way, keep exploring the learning needed to work better with people as co-creators in public spaces. My Artworks journey has given me the permission to bring all my skills into that work, as an individual artist, a producer within a collective, a vulnerable human. And I think I will ultimately be more useful in the work I do.


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© 2017 Katharine Wheeler .  Site by Samuel Sparrow