Sourdough and Self Care

I knew I needed to do something. Over the past couple of years I’d slipped into that freelance whirlwind where you say yestoo often and nonot often enough. I’d also noticed that this awful little tendency to over worry about what people thought of me had crept in. I also needed a clear head to work on the report associated with the scholarship that this blog was originally written for!
I first wrote about an experience I’d had while speaking at a conference on the Huffington Post  blog a couple of years ago. It came to the part of the event where I took questions and from deep in the audience came the one I always avoid, ‘What do you do for your own self-care?’ Boom! I tried the usual ‘Well, what do you do?’ but to no avail, so I fudged something about good sleep and walking and sat down knowing I hadn’t really answered the question.
Then this year over Christmas and New Year I felt like the past two years were catching up with me and I was exhausted. A couple of important things happened that meant that I’d fallen into #SelfCareJanuary. Firstly, I was accidentally vegan for 24 hours when the recipe for veggie tagine I was making one evening turned out not just to be vegetarian but actually vegan, to boot! – definite health brownie points there. The second thing was that my brother-in-law came to stay with us from Denmark. As we caught up we talked about lots of things: work, life, kids and eventually, and I’m not quite sure how or why, our conversation turned to bread making and just how therapeutic it can be.
Now, for me, self care has to have a pretty swift outcome. I know that’s probably shallow, but it’s also true. I can’t run for miles day after day waiting to feel the benefit. I’ve tried the gym and felt the same way about that. I can talk about other people’s artwork all day, but definitely lack the artistic prowess to create work myself, so that’s out. All in all, I thought that starting something and seeing…and eating…the fruits of my labour within 24 hours sounded like a good self care fit for me.
My brother-in-law offered to show me how to make a sourdough ‘starter’, the flour and water mixture that develops naturally to provide the yeast element in sourdough baking. Sounds simple, but I had to overcome the fact that having anything living AND growing in the kitchen made me feel a little bit sick. The responsibility of ‘feeding’ the starter and keeping it warm also filled me with dread.
All of that aside, I thought I’d give it a go and later that day Steven the Starter was born. Mixing the right amount of flour and water together in a jar, my very kind brother-in-law taught me how and when to feed the starter after he had left to return home. Most importantly he bought me a sourdough bible. This was such a lovely parting gift, although I think he probably did that so I wasn’t asking him questions every five minutes!
In the days that followed I had to keep Steven the baby starter alive and warm and fed. The pride I felt as those little bubbles of CO2 appeared! I can’t tell you the joy! By day 5 and Steven the baby starter was ready to grow up and we were ready to make dough!

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Steven the Sourdough Starter
I went for a light rye loaf for my first bake. I actually had no idea if this was easy or difficult, but it was the first in the book that included the flour I had so I went for it. I knew the process would be important because, with only 4 ingredients, flour, water, salt – and Steven the Starter – I had to make the magic happen for those little holes to appear inside the finished loaf. I diligently followed the recipe to the letter, for fear of either killing Steven or feeling the disappointment of efforts wasted.
For the next 8 hours I mixed and weighed and kneaded and folded, turning each page of the sourdough book and comparing my dough with the one pictured in the baker’s bowl. Mine didn’t look exactly the same, but the fact that it was similar and it was starting to smell like real bread was miraculous in itself.

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First attempt at proving dough
Another remarkable thing was that while I was concentrating on bringing the ingredients together I didn’t have the head space to think or indeed worry about anything else. It was marvellous. Physically handling the flour and kneading the dough also meant that I couldn’t type or answer my phone or even reply to the messages that I could see and hear coming through. In one youtube video I watched it said that in order to get the best results from your kneading you should picture someone who you really dislike and let all your frustration out through the dough. Well, I did say I was going to follow the instructions to the letter…so, I did that part too!

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First Sourdough loaf fresh from the oven
My first loaf cost around £75 to make. Everyone was so excited that I was doing something that was the closest they’d seen to domesticity that every time friends came to the house they brought more equipment and ingredients: small bowl, larger bowl, proving bowl, thermometer, special dough scrapers, sieve, books, ‘artisan’ flour, etc.
The bug has well and truly bitten and so far I’ve baked 9 loaves in 19 days. 
…and as I type I have number 10 cold proving (I’m even using the sourdough jargon now) ready to bake tomorrow morning.

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Steven the Starter has worked his magic and the sourdough has holes
So, if you happen to be in the audience the next time I’m speaking feel absolutely free to ask the ‘What do you do for your own self-care?’ question, but be prepared for a long answer about warm proving, cold proving and how to get a good rise from rye.

Letting It All Sink In

So, here I am sitting in my office at home, almost a week after arriving back from my Winston Churchill Scholarship Travels, and I’ll be really honest with you… I’m finding it all a little difficult to process! Maybe it’s the sign of an incredible adventure, that you can’t just arrive home and slot right back in to loading the dishwasher and making small talk with strangers in the supermarket.

When I first arrived in New York, back in the middle of January, I remember wondering how I was going to navigate the subway or how I was going to get used to eating on my own and generally spending time alone – the last 2 months are by far the longest I’ve ever spent travelling soloIMG_4885.jpg.

It was the same when I arrived in each new city. Were the people I had made arrangements to meet, months ago, going to even remember I existed? How was I going to manage to make the grant I’ve been given last throughout my trip? How was I going to get from A to B in the -15C temperatures in Chicago?

Now that I’ve begun to reflect, I realise that, actually, through the help of others along the way, I did manage to make it to all my meetings… well, almost all (except for having to make a skype call across the city because of the deep snow in Chicago); and I didn’t get lost, well, not to the point of panicking (losing my iphone in Kyoto was an exception – but I got it back!). This morning I spoke to one of the Fellows who’d inspired me to apply for my Scholarship, Sharon McDonnell, and the first thing she said to me was “You can’t believe you’ve done it can you? You worry before you go that you’re not going to manage to find your way around, or even find your hotel from the airport, but when you look back, you actually realise that yeah, you did it!”

…and she’s right! What a sense of achievement!

The people that I met, both before and during my travels, really did help make the trip successful. The last two months away, and the months of planning beforehand, are really an example of how things have always gone for me, in the sense that I couldn’t have done any of it alone.

For me, that was especially true in Japan – my good friend Minako, who I had met in Liverpool when I worked full time in the arts, has now relocated to her home in Tokyo, and I owe her a huge debt of gratitude. It was Minako that made possible my crazy plans to visit several cities in Japan. She also introduced me to others who made up the affectionately titled ‘Project Angie Team’ in Japan, namely Chiaki, Hitomi and Midori – what a team they were! They helped me by suggesting incredible places to visit for

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Outsider Art research; making the arrangements, including with arts ateliers, psychiatric hospitals and ministerial officers; and then translating/ interpreting during my meetings. I literally could not have done all that I did without them.

I’d like to thank everyone who gave me advice, either here or on twitter, about how to deal with jet lag. I did take all of your advice – I set my clock to UK time as soon as I started the journey home from Tokyo; stayed hydrated even when I was getting pop every five minutes on the plane; ate and slept at the right UK times on the trip back; and stayed awake when I arrived home until my normal bedtime…even though I was almost falling asleep standing up! All really great advice!

So, what’s next? Well, a really important part of receiving the Churchill Grant is formulating a plan for the dissemination of the information that you’ve gathered, and also writing a report.

The first thing I did was to catalogue all of the books and papers that I was very kindly given throughout my trip. It is amazing how quickly you forget what happened where and who gave you what. Secondly, I’ve started to review all of the notes that I made after each meeting. I would make my way to the nearest coffee shop and try and transfer my hurried scribbles from my note book onto the laptop. It was the only way that I could keep track of who said what.

Next, I have a series of meetings set up, the first of which is tomorrow at the Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester, with their Outsider Art Curator, Holly Grange. We met several times before I left on my trip, and Holly’s input and contacts were invaluable! Tomorrow we’ll have the chance for a post-trip debrief.

Over the coming weeks I’ll also meet with others who are keen to hear about my research including at the Wellcome Trust in London.

I’d also like to say thank you to everyone who’s taken the time to read and follow this blog. I’m wondering if I should keep the blog running, just so I can share my report here, when I’ve submitted it, and also to let people know when I’ll start to talk about my research in public? I know I wrote about some meetings here, but others, like my visit to Hirakawa Hospital, Tokyo, will take a little time to think through before I share fully. Please let me know what you think (comment below) …

Anyway, thank you so much again for reading this and for sharing my journey 🙂

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Zen and the Art of Losing Your Phone

My first 24 hours in Kyoto began with a visit to the beautiful Ryoan-ji Temple. I’d wanted to visit since James Fox featured the Zen rock garden at the Temple in his BBC series ‘The Art of Japanese life’. My friend Minako reminded me that actually the Temple was in Kyoto.

The journey meant taking the bus all the way to the end of the line, which is always really nice, isn’t it, without any concern for missing your stop, because you can just relax until, well, you reach the terminus, Which is exactly what I did.

The gardens and fifteen very carefully placed Zen rocks didn’t disappoint. It was such a beautiful place and exactly what I needed to let all the thoughts and conversations I’ve had across two continents sink in a little.IMG_6704

Now, I’d love to share my pictures with you at this point, but actually I’ve had to use someone else’s photographs from the Internet to illustrate this because I was obviously a little too relaxed after the Zen garden visit, as I promptly got off the bus close to my hotel near Kyoto station and left my phone on the seat!

There I was having a lovely time browsing the many, many restaurants inside Kyoto station to find somewhere to have dinner and as soon as I sat down I realised that it was over an hour since I got of the bus and I’d left my phone on it!

My contract is with O2 and they wanted to charge me £4.99 a day to use my phone abroad, which sounds ok until you realise you’re away for 2 months. Yes, because of that my phone was on airplane mode, uncontactable through ‘Find my Phone’, and was probably out of battery by now. Gutted.

So far, my stay in Japan has been pretty perfect; great friends old and new, really positive and productive meetings, incredible hospitality. Maybe that’s the easy bit – when everything is great, it’s easy to be welcoming and hospitable and pretty amazing, but now I was in a spot of bother, would it continue?!

Luckily I’d been through Kyoto’s vast station a few times so knew where the information desk for the buses was located. Once I got there it became really clear that each bus line, of which there are hundreds, all have their own lost property office, and unless I knew which bus I was on, it was going to be an up hill struggle to locate my phone. All I remember is that I’d just ran for a bus that said Kyoto Station on the front – I hadn’t looked at the number!

The really helpful Kyoto bus station team rang around a few places, but nothing. I think they would have carried on trying all night, but they were just about to close. They wrote me a big long note in Japanese and told me to take it to the police station, which I did.

The staff in the police station were brilliant! They also started calling around the other local stations to see if anyone had handed my phone in, but nothing. At one point a policeman came out from the back with a phone, but it wasn’t mine…but they literally tried everything to help me, included getting out a map so I could retrace my steps!

I knew I couldn’t do any more because everywhere was closing, so I made my way to the hotel. Passing through reception, they asked if I had a good day and I think my face probably said it all. When I explained what had happened, they all gathered around, producing maps and phone directories and google searches for lost property numbers. It was amazing! Ok…so all the calls and the maps and the smiles didn’t bring my phone back, but what a lovely feeling to be so far away from home and to feel so looked after and cared for.

After a pretty restless night, during which I went to the bad place – you know the one, where you start looking in impossible places for what you’ve lost – places that it physically wouldn’t fit?!

I had an appointment to go back to the bus information team at 9am – by then I’d written a document through google translate from English to Japanese, with pictures of the bus stop on, so we could try and find out which bus I had actually been on. I know the document was hilarious/ desperate because the person behind the desk actually laughed out load when I opened my computer to reveal my work. “You’ve been working very hard” she said 🙂

So, know we realised that I’d been on the number 205 bus. That’s one hurdle out the way. A phone call later and still no phone. Nothing’s been handed in, but at least we’d had a laugh together at my rubbish document.

Back to the police station and the same staff were on duty. Several more phone calls and several phones later, mine was still elusive.

It’s now midday day here and I’m due back at the bus information centre at 2pm…let’s see what happens then.

In short, yes, when things are great the people here are great, but when things were not so wonderful, the people here just upped their game and have taken care of me and tried to be as helpful as humanly possible.

I might have lost a phone, but what I’ve gained is an opportunity for a glimpse into the best of Japan and its people and a valuable lesson to pass onto other travellers to Japan…always know the number of the bus you’re on!!!!

But, you know, I don’t think it’s a real lone traveller adventure unless something goes wrong. No one got hurt…except my pride a little, but it’s another story to tell when I get back!

UPDATE! YES….I got my phone back complete with the ticket that the lovely bus driver had written when she found my phone 5 minutes after I got off the bus!

 

 

 

 

Just in case you were wondering…

The Composition of the Garden

The garden has a rectangular shape with a size of 248 square meters. While the temple itself was founded in 1450, the precise date of when the garden was built is unknown. Although, some claim it was made during the 15th century as well. The garden primarily consists of 15 stones in different sizes. These have been carefully grouped into five with 5 stones in one group, 3 stones in two groups and 2 stones in another two groups. These groups of stones are surrounded by white gravel which is maintained by the monks living in the temple. To make the garden look tidy, they have to rake the gravel daily.
It is said that the garden was meant to be viewed from the hojo, the head priest’s former residence. The stones have been positioned in such a way that they cannot be viewed immediately from the veranda so only 14 out of the 15 boulders can be seen at one time. It is said that you can only see the 15th boulder if you attain enlightenment.

The Garden’s Meaning
The garden is particularly significant for some artists and historians who have drawn inspiration from it. Though the garden doesn’t necessarily represent anything openly, interpretations or scientific research of the garden are welcomed. Some people believe it to be a simple, abstract composition of natural objects. Others think that it represents a tiger carrying its cubs across islands in the sea. It is sometimes connected to the rules of equilibrium or theories on geometry. There are many other theories that observers, historians and garden enthusiasts have come up with regarding the garden’s representation even stretching to more mythical concepts.
Ryoan-ji Temple’s Rock Garden is absolutely a quintessential place for people to find peace with nature. The garden may have several different meanings but what matters most is the visitor’s personal thought of its quiet natural order.

Konnichiwa from Tokyo!

After a whirlwind week in San Francisco, I travelled across continents, and the Pacific Ocean, to Tokyo, with a short stop-over in Taipei. The flight was surprisingly okay considering I left San Francisco at 8pm on Sunday night and arrived at 4pm Tuesday afternoon here in Tokyo 🙂

Screen Shot 2018-02-22 at 14.08.05Thanks to directions from my good friends, Ian and Minako Jackson, here in in Tokyo, I found my hotel quite easily by only following signs for the ‘South Exit’ at Shinjuku station. There are so many exits at Shinjuku station that I could have quite easily taken the ‘New South Exit’ or any other of the 200 exits, and still be wandering the streets of Tokyo right now!

Actually, by resisting the urge to follow any other South exit, I exited at the correct place which enabled me to find my hotel with less than a 5 minute walk away. The warmest of welcomes awaited me, which was just as well, as I think by that point I was beginning to look like I had actually travelled every minute of the 44 hours time difference. My actual travelling time was 27 hours, but because we had crossed the meridian, the time difference advanced my clock by a further 17 hours!

I was shown to my room on the 14th floor of the JR Blossom Hotel in Shinjuku, which had the most spectacular view across the city.

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Though I was really starting to flag, after asking Twitter to send me advice on the best way to beat jet lag, I decided to get a quick shower, change my clothes and to explore Tokyo by heading out into the bright neon lights, but more importantly, to try and stay awake.

It worked. After a couple of hours exploring and eating some fresh noodles I felt fine, although I noticed that even when I was standing still I felt like I was swaying.

Back at the hotel, I discovered a washing machine and a dryer! At this point in my trip, having been travelling for 5 weeks through the sun, rain and snow, and even though in that time I’d washed some clothes by hand, I have to admit that I’ve never been so happy to see a washing machine and have never loaded one so quickly!

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A couple of hours later I was in bed and thanks to the advice from Twitter friends, I actually slept right through from 10pm until 5:30am, which felt great!

The following day, I met up with my good friends Ian and Minako – it was so good to see them!

We walked and talked and ate ‘ethical noodles’ and took me to visit my first shrine. Such a wonderful afternoon.

The noodle place was fantastic. Would definitely recommend searching it out. They even provide elastic bands to tie your hair back while eating!

Later that day we met with other people who had been helping to organise my itinerary – a group of amazing people affectionately known as ‘Angie’s Project Team’. It was so nice to put faces to names.

We looked at the plan for the next 3 weeks and almost immediately I felt a couple of disappointments. I had really wanted to visit the studio of artist Shinichi

Terrecotta figuresSawada, whose work I have followed since I first saw it at the Wellcome Trust’s Souzou outsider art exhibition, Unfortunately, my request was declined because there are too many requests from people wishing to visit his studio. Whilst I was naturally disappointed to hear the news, maybe it’s a good sign that the artist is being well cared for and protected from overt intrusion into his studio time?

The second disappointment came as another of my meeting requests was also declined. This time it was a meeting that I had asked for with the Clinical Director at the Seiwa Hospital, Tokyo. I’d asked for the meeting to try and understand the culture shift within the hospital that allows artist Yayoi Kusama to electively live in the Hospital. From everything I’d read, this decision is a departure from the Hospital’s usual policy and I wanted to meet with staff to find out how and why this exception, if indeed it is an exception, had been made. Alas, it appears that I’m not going to get the chance to ask now.

That said, I have got a whole series of other exciting meetings scheduled, the first of which happens tomorrow in Kyoto.

I promise I’ll find time to update this blog as I go!

From the Snow into the Sun

Hello from San Francisco! In the space of just four hours I found myself transported from 2ft of snow in Chicago to the warmth of the west coast of America. I feel that the climate here in California suits me much better.

Yesterday, Monday, I checked into the hotel and immediately wanted to go out and walk in the sun. The Chicago weather had meant that I could not just wander from place to place, so the pull of the coast meant that I was in and out of my hotel within an hour.

The draw of my English accent really came to the fore when, on the way back from a walking for a couple of hours along the coast, a woman, hearing my accent, came and sat next to me on the bus. She also had a British accent, was originally from London, and had come to San Francisco to visit her husband, who was working here temporarily, and never left. That was over 3 decades ago.

I had to get off at the next stop, so in typical friendly San Francisco style, she got off with me and we spent the next 2 hours in a café talking about the arts here in SF, and about how she had started playing football at forty, a pursuit which continued for over 20 years, until her achilles tendon ruptured and put a stop to her semi-professional career.

It was such a lovely, unexpected first afternoon here! We’re meeting on my last day, Sunday afternoon, for a leaving ice-cream in sunny San Francisco.

Today, Tuesday, I’m in SF MOMA looking at the Robert Rauschenberg exhibition. I’ve always been intrigued by his work, and of course his links with Agnes Martin. They lived in the same studio down on the Slip that I visited in New York earlier in my trip. I think this exhibition has travelled from Tate?

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I’ve requested a meeting with a curator here to talk about Outsider Art within the MOMA collection. Trina, the amazing MOMA information assistant, is going to pass my request to the right person, so hopefully that will happen, if not today, then at some other point during my stay.

On Wednesday, I’m spending Valentine’s day at Creativity Explored, which I’m really looking forward to.

1354160374LOVE_white_on_red‘Creativity Explored exists to provide people with developmental disabilities the opportunity to express themselves through the creation of art. Additionally, we provide studio artists the opportunity to earn income from the sale of their artwork and to pursue a livelihood as a visual artist to the fullest extent possible.

A key focus of Creativity Explored’s services is to support those individuals with developmental disabilities who wish to become self-employed artists in creating and operating fully viable and profitable businesses.’

On Thursday, I’ll be travelling a little further afield to Oakland to spend the day with Sarah Galender Meyer, the Gallery and Exhibitions Manager and her team at the Creative Growth Arts Centre.

William-Scott_Acrylic-on-paper_22x30_2016‘Creative Growth Art Center is a non-profit that serves artists with developmental, mental and physical disabilities, providing a professional studio environment for artistic development, gallery exhibition and representation and a social atmosphere among peers.’ (www.creativegrowth.org)

I’m meeting artist Lisa Sebastian on Friday, but I’ve also tried to keep some time free in case I get the opportunity to meet with someone from MOMA.

Saturday and Sunday will be spent exploring, but also putting final preparations in place for the flight to Tokyo and making sure that all the appointments and meeting arrangements are in place for the final leg of my trip!

To Share Lived Experience Or Not? This Free Course Can Help You Decide.

So, this post isn’t strictly to do with my Churchill Scholarship, but it is about something that’s very important to me. I hope it’s useful!
Sharing lived experience can be a lonely game. There’s no getting away from it.
Every time you give an interview. Every time you step onto a stage. Every time you tell a colleague, or a new friend, or someone in the supermarket about your lived experience, you’re allowing those listening to have a glimpse into the darkest, most personal time in your life.
And after you dip into the dark recess that you’d much rather didn’t exist…you make your way back home or to a hotel room alone, trying to lift your way out of the place that you’ve just allowed yourself to go to… again.
I don’t think the forum matters. It can feel the same in a support group. After a while people with a crude understanding of why you might be attending the group, ask why you keep attending, long after the event? Some have likened it to picking at a scar that then starts hurting again. Well, I suppose the news is that for people like me, like us, the scar never heals. You can reopen a wound that gets better, yes, but it never heals in that true sense of not being there anymore.
It’s always there, and part of its undesirable power is that people like me can dip back into the intensity of it at a moment’s notice. Isn’t that what makes lived experience valuable? Allowing those who’ve never walked our path, seen what we’ve seen, a momentary glimpse of what we’ve felt and what we’ve learnt, from a safe distance.
After our film Life After Suicide aired on BBC 1, lots of people got in touch to offer to share their lived experience with the wider public, which was a welcome response to a film that was trying, in a small way, to address the stigma around suicide. However, I always found myself advising caution when deciding whether or not to share lived experience, because it’s something that needs some really careful consideration – something that I had to do myself when agreeing to make the documentary. What I have recently discovered is that there is actually a structured programme that can guide people through such decision making.
Yesterday, I spent a fascinating day here in Chicago with Patrick Corrigan, Distinguished Professor of Psychology at the Illinois Institute of Technology. Currently, he is principal investigator of the National Consortium for Stigma and Empowerment and his team, who specialise in stigma and discrimination experienced by people with health conditions and disabilities.
After years of research and sharing of lived experience, Patrick and his team have designed The Honest, Open and Proud (HOP) programme. The rationale behind the programme is that research shows that those who disclose aspects of their lived experience and mental health issues report a subsequent sense of personal empowerment and an increase in confidence to seek and achieve individual goals.
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The HOP program is a peer-led program used to help people with mental health issues make decisions regarding the disclosure of their condition.  The curriculum includes three parts —evaluating the pros and cons of disclosing in specific settings; identifying people who may be more receptive to the conversation; and crafting a disclosure story. 
Using a community-based participatory research approach, the team comprises researchers, people who have attempted suicide or have family members who have attempted suicide, and people who provide suicide prevention services. They have created, developed, and tested the curriculum for the HOP program with the goal of seeing positive changes in psychiatric symptoms, relationships, quality of life, and help-seeking, especially in suicide attempt survivors.
Sitting in a Skype meeting, as an observer, with Patrick in his office in Chicago and colleagues beamed in from across the globe, I wish that everyone had a chance to do the programme and work through the potential positive and negative aspects of sharing lived experience – but I wish I’d known about it years ago! No, it wouldn’t have changed my decision to make the film, but surely taking control of that process can only be a positive thing?

The Windy…and Snowy City

On Monday I left New York, for the second leg of my Winston Churchill Travel Scholarship research trip to Chicago, which meant that I took the first of two internal USA flights.

It was a little bit like getting on the train to London to be honest, including the fact that people are allowed to travel with cats and dogs! Apparently up to seven cats and dogs are allowed on each flight. Who knew?!

Two hours and 20 minutes after leaving New York I landed at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport and decided to share a shuttle taxi to the hotel. I found myself in the middle of a group of people heading to a Postal Convention!

As soon as I left the relative warmth of the Arrival hall, the cold air of Chicago hit me and there was snow as far as I could see. In the shuttle car, the temperature display read -10 degrees.

My 8 fellow passengers, plus the driver and I, hit the highway to downtown Chicago. The roads were really busy because it was rush hour, but everyone was really friendly and completely fascinated by the fact of my Scholarship. In no time I arrived at the hotel and back into the warmth.

After being shown to my room, I opened the curtains to find a wall as my view – a very nice wall, but still a wall. A week of looking at that wasn’t going to be ok, so I paid $20 and upgraded to a front view. As my fourth week of travelling starts, I’ve come to realise that a sense of what’s outside is really important, otherwise you can actually start to feel quite isolated, something I hadn’t actually considered when selecting the hotels for this trip.

So, where and what am I doing during this second leg of my trip? Well, more of the same really – still researching Outsider Art practice and looking at the 5 key areas, although other interesting elements are creeping in, especially the conversations I’ve had about bodies of artwork that are discovered posthumously.

On Wednesday and Saturday, I’m spending the day at Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art, with curators and artists discussing the approach of the Centre, which was established in 1991, and houses ‘a legendary collection of Outsider art’ including the work of artist Henry Darger.

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Henry Darger’s The Vivian Girls

I’m spending part of Wednesday at the Chicago Health Disparities Centre talking about stigma with Patrick Corrigan, who is Distinguished Professor of Psychology at the Illinois Institute of Technology.  Currently, he is principal investigator of the National Consortium for Stigma and Empowerment. I think it will be a fascinating discussion!

On Friday, snow permitting, I’m spending the afternoon with John Maloof, who made the Oscar nominated documentary Finding Vivian Maier. I’m sure our conversation will include works discovered after an artist dies.

‘Finding Vivian Maier is the critically acclaimed documentary about a mysterious nanny, who secretly took over 100,000 photographs that were hidden in storage lockers and, discovered decades later, is now among the 20th century’s greatest photographers. Directed by John Maloof and Charlie Siskel, Maier’s strange and riveting life and art are revealed through never before seen photographs, films, and interviews with dozens who thought they knew her.

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‘Maier’s massive body of work would come to light when in 2007 her work was discovered at a local thrift auction house on Chicago’s Northwest Side. From there, it would eventually impact the world over and change the life of the man who championed her work and brought it to the public eye, John Maloof.
Currently, Vivian Maier’s body of work is being archived and cataloged for the enjoyment of others and for future generations. John Maloof is at the core of this project after reconstructing most of the archive, having been previously dispersed to the various buyers attending that auction. Now, with roughly 90% of her archive reconstructed, Vivian’s work is part of a renaissance in interest in the art of Street Photography’. [http://findingvivianmaier.com]

Sunday will probably be spent trying to squeeze my ever-growing possessions into my case ready for the flight to San Francisco on Monday morning. Leaving New York, at the check in desk, my case was half a kilo over and I had to, embarrassingly, quickly remove some things and put them in my hand luggage!

I’ll update this blog as this week’s meeting end encounters take place.

The Living Museum; A Spot In Paradise

Thursday was a really special day that I had been trying to arrange for a while, but with persistence and after a call out on twitter, bingo – the arrangements were made for me to visit the Living Museum.

Directed by the brilliant Dr Janos Marton, the Living Museum is part of Creedmoor Psychiatric Centre, which takes some getting to from Manhattan! First you take a train into Queens, almost to the end of the line, and after a 45 minute bus ride and several kind strangers later, I arrive at the vast, sprawling Creedmoor site with huge buildings as far as the eye can see.

Once home to more than 7,000 in-patients, the Creedmoor Psychiatric Centre now has 1,600 in-patient beds alongside day patients. Others attend on a less frequent, long-term appointment basis, as well as receiving support in the satellite clinic across New York. Notable patients treated at Creedmoor include Lou Reed and jazz pianist Bud Powell. Legendary folksinger Woody Guthrie, who had been institutionalised for many years while suffering from Huntington’s disease, was transferred to Creedmoor in June 1966 and died there in October 1967.

After witnessing the commercial side of the Outsider Art world at the Fair in Manhattan, I was anticipating to experience the antidote to that, but as soon as I enter the Museum an artist make a beeline for me and offers me her painting for $20. Everyone laughs and she’s half joking, but only half.
I couldn’t have had a warmer welcome into a place that Dr Marton describes as ‘a spot in paradise’ and I have to say it’s hard to disagree with him.
Run by Dr Marton and a group of dedicated volunteers, patients at Creedmoor are able to use the space from 10am -12pm and 2pm – 4pm Monday to Thursday. All the art materials are provided and the space is a safe space where artists, both trained and self-taught, are free to create and express themselves as they wish.

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Walking in, Dr Marton’s desk is in an open space… no door or walls, and people are free to approach him with questions or queries and they frequently do. On his desk is a sprawling collection of cheerful pictures and papers. Opposite is a paper star with pencils and pastel chalks in bowls for artists to use as they wish. One artist is sitting at a table reading one of the many books that are free to use. This room leads to the main ground floor space, with smaller, studio spaces leading from it.

It’s not long before I find myself sitting at a table with three artists who are keen to show me their work and share their stories. The work is brilliant! One artist is known as The Bic Man because he creates intricate designs using just black Bic pens. Drew, as he prefers to be called, had what he calls ‘a regular job’ as a boiler maker, until his depression overwhelmed him and he started to attend Creedmoor. We talk about the importance of his artwork and the space he works in, and he describes feeling exhausted when he leaves after a day at The Living Museum. He compares it to the heavy, lack of motivation he experiences with his depression, “it’s like being up to your neck in mud. When I leave here after a good day I feel exhausted, but it’s the right type of exhausted.’
Nyla works in oils and acrylics and shows me her floral painting. The standard of work is impressive to say the least. Trained at art school, Nyla uses the main room space as much as she can, and there’s real commercial interest in her work.

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We drink tea together and the artists and Dr Marton are keen to hear more about Winston Churchill as an artist and quick-as-you-like Churchill’s watercolours are searched for on a smartphone. The artists like his style and think he would have loved it here.
Dr Marton gives me a tour of the upper floor, and as we walk and talk, the word ‘family’ comes up more than once, and I think that’s it. The atmosphere here is one of respect, dignity and creativity – some of the best traits of a family.
The Garden Room, with Billie Holliday’s image among the undergrowth; the Battle Ground, which is a series of whole room installations, and the sewing room where an artist sits embroidering, all bring a feeling of calm creativity, as well as endless possibilities.

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I wonder how this space can be replicated in the UK? Would our health and safety rules prohibit the scissors and the pencils and the embroidery needles? Would the relative freedom that the artists enjoy be smothered in paperwork or a need to fill out satisfaction surveys, or would this approach have possibilities and find a home?

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All of the artists I have spoken to have talked about the importance of this space in their recovery, but it’s not always plain sailing for some. One of the most impressive spaces in the Living Museum belongs to an artist whose circumstances has meant that he has returned to Creedmoor as an in-patient, which prevents him from using the creative space at the moment. Unlike other spaces, his work isn’t packed away to make space for another artist. Instead, it’s left exactly as it was the last time he painted there, awaiting his return.

Overwhelmed

Firstly, I’d like to apologise for being so quiet, but basically I’ve been completely and utterly overwhelmed. I’m not sure how I anticipated I would feel after almost 3 weeks in New York researching a subject that’s preoccupied me for years, but the cumulative effect of this experience so far has been both fantastic and yes, overwhelming.

Today I’m having a ‘letting it all sink in’ day. Other Winston Churchill Fellows, with the benefit of experience, told me that I’d need days like this to absorb the experience and to make sense of everything that I’ve heard and seen.

After last weekend spent walking over 40 New York City miles sightseeing with the gorgeous Benjamin (17), my youngest boy, and my ever-brilliant sister, Helen, I had a whole series of visits, meetings and follow-up conversations this week.

On Monday I met with Becca Hoffman, the Director of the Outsider Art Fair both in Paris and here in New York. My first weekend here was spent at the Fair, which Becca tells me, was double the size of the Paris event, which I can quite believe. Now in its 25th year, this year’s Fair was spread across one floor of the Metropolitan Pavilion, there were almost 80 booths, with most selling artworks.

Of course, my conversation with Becca came around to the term “Outsider Art’. We both agreed that we don’t think it’s either the right term or indeed a useful label, but until there is an alternative that can be collectively agreed upon, the Outsider Art Fair will still, well, be called the Outsider Art Fair.

I was interested to hear that the Fair is run pretty much in the same way as every other fair. There is a definite commercial aspect, with a vetting process for those coveted booths and the price for each stand is again, probably a similar cost as it is for every other fair. I was relieved in a way to hear that. I was afraid that allowances were being made and that a patronising virtual pat on the [Outsider] artist’s head was coming…but it wasn’t the case. This is a commercial operation carried out with respect and a great critical eye.

Later that evening I met with Arthur Fournier, an independent dealer of books, serials, manuscripts, and archives, specialising in primary source materials related to the transformative cultural movements of the late 20th century; modern conflicts, disruptive technologies, music and the visual arts. We first met at the film screening on the opening night of the Fair and we agreed to follow-up. I was interested in his thoughts on bodies of work that are discovered posthumously, as this seems to be an aspect of Outsider Art that keeps surfacing in my conversations.

We talk about my research and Arthur tells me that he was currently trying to place an archive of amazing Outsider Art research. We talk about the importance of keeping archived material together as a source of knowledge for future generations with different reasons to revisit the work.

As for work that may be discovered after an artist passes away, we agreed that, as in all fields, this can be an absolute nightmare of litigation. By the very nature of Outsider Art practice, the work is often kept secret, a private retreat, rather than work intended for public consumption. Arthur tells me that in his experience of working with archives, there’s always a rightful owner or custodian if the lawyers look hard enough. Another factor is of course that how such works are viewed, like most artwork, will change over time, and the significance and value, both financially and otherwise, can change enormously.

Arthur brings a different perspective again. We talk about the philosophical aspect of ‘Outsider Art’. I told him that I think the term makes me feel uncomfortable because it focuses on the individual rather than the formal qualities of the artwork. I’m relieved to hear that he agrees.

The following day I attended an event at the Tenement Museum to discuss Ai Wei Wei’s latest work in the public realm here in New York. Ai’s Good Fences Make Good Neighbors project includes over 300 works and installations, at least one of which sits quietly in the shadow of one of the Trump Towers.

 

IMG_5385.jpgThe discussion is powerful and moving and there is consensus that art has the power to express and move us even at the darkest of moments, when migrant communities both here in the US and across the globe are surrounded by a virtual wall of hate-filled rhetoric.

…and it’s only THURSDAY.

Why I’m Here in New York

I can’t believe it’s almost a year since I wrote this blog post for the Huffington Post describing the areas of Outsider Art that I’m hoping to look at during my time in the US and Japan.

Things have developed since then, but the basic premise is still the same.

A Letter From Winston Churchill

15/03/2017 10:40 GMT | Updated 15/03/2017 10:40 GMT

It seemed to take forever for the letter to arrive, but when it did it was worth the wait: “Dear Angela, I am delighted to let you know that you have been awarded a 2017 Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship. Very many congratulations. 2017-03-13-1489417885-6761645-IMG_9371.JPG

 

Those words mark the start of an exciting adventure! The letter went on to invite me to attend a seminar just a few weeks later, during which I would meet the other successful recipients along with Churchill Fellows who had completed their travels this past year.

Weeks before, as I sat waiting to be called into my final Churchill interview, I met one of my fellow applicants who was also waiting to be called in. Despite our nerves, we started talking about our projects and right there and then. I remember thinking ‘If I don’t get my project funding I really hope she does’. Her project was to travel to the USA to research culturally appropriate services for black women with multiple complex needs. You can imagine the smile on my face when I walked into the seminar for successful applicants to see her familiar face as I walked in. It was her – Geraldine Esdailee.

The Winston Churchill Memorial Trust states that it funds individuals from the UK to “Travel to learn – return to inspire. We fund British citizens to investigate inspiring practice in other countries, and return with innovative ideas for the benefit of people across the UK”. This year has awarded 150 Travelling Fellowships across the UK totalling £1.4 million. The Fellows will be travelling to 49 countries between them, across six continents, where they will carry out a wide range of projects, designed to benefit their communities and professions in the UK. The average length of a Fellowship is six weeks, but I will probably be away for closer to eight.

My project will bring together my experience of working both in mental health and the Arts as I visit New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Tokyo to look at Outsider Art practice. The definition of Outsider Art is often subject to debate as discussed by Priscilla Frank in What Is The Meaning Of Outsider Art? The Genre With A Story, Not A Style. First used in 1972 by Roger Cardinal as the title of his book, Outsider Art was an exact translation of the term ‘Art Brut’ used to describe artwork produced by untrained artists since 1948.

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Some have argued that the term Outsider Art is itself exclusive and not inclusive, serving as a divisive term rather than a useful label. Outsider Art is often viewed as work produced not only by formally untrained artists, but also by those who often face physical or mental health challenges.

As you can imagine, it would be impossible to thoroughly investigate all Outsider Art in just 7 weeks, so the scope of my work will specifically look at Outsider Artists with mental health challenges, exploring 5 specific aspects;

1. Is the label Outsider Art useful? Does it help us to navigate the complex intersections between health and creativity, work and wellbeing, mainstream and marginality?

2. How is Outsider Art best curated? Should convention mean diagnosis/biographical details are included on labels and interpretation?

3. What are the ethical and moral considerations of exhibiting Outsider Art, especially in a commercial setting, managing finances, the expectations of the artist and the gallery?

4. What are the clinical and therapeutic implications of Outsider Art? What is the source of the tension between formal art therapy and facilitating Outsider Art. Should we in the UK adopt a non-interventionist approach?

5. Should Outsider Art be more closely aligned with public health services in the UK as it is in Japan? How/should we make this happen?

…and so my journey begins, almost 10 months before my first plane takes off in January 2018. It will be almost a year filled with forging links in the places I’ll visit; talking to artists, curators and mental health professionals working in the field in the UK and making sure I can share what I witness in the USA and Japan when I return.