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  • Writer's pictureClaire Venus

In Conversation with two Northumberland Artists Chloe and Fran

Following on from our recent Culture Northumberland network meeting where artist Chloe Smith spoke about her practise and her new ACE funded project, I wanted to further explore the theme of how artists have pivoted their work and practise during 2020.

Chloe is based in Berwick upon Tweed and Fran in Morpeth in Northumberland.

After finding out two artists Fran Arnold and Chloe Smith had connected for virtual coffee after the meeting, I asked them to write a joint piece about their multi-hyphenate approach to their work and making art.

Here are their responses.

  1. Can you tell us a little about your artistic practice?

Fran - I’m an artist and Creative Producer. My practice encompasses commissioning, producing and facilitating people’s engagement with creative projects, and screen printing original, limited edition prints available at print fairs, exhibitions and

Currently, I’m exhibiting prints at Woolwich Contemporary Print Fair, BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art and Leicester Print Fair.

Fran Arnold at Northern Print (c)

Chloë - I am an artist and all year round sea swimmer. I make work that sits at the edge of dance; somewhere between theatre, live performance and movement. I'm always always unsure what form her next work will take, allowing fluidity and inviting a questioning of disciplines. My practice is firmly routed in the body and its connection to the landscape and other people. Working across art forms and settings, I've worked in care homes, parks, empty buildings, studio spaces, galleries, schools, old shops, and on the beach. I love working with people and creating spaces that can begin conversation.

Chloe Smith (c)

2. How has your artistic practice changed since March 2020?

Chloe - Up until March 2020, I spent most of my time, and earnt most of my money, working on dance projects in various roles, but when all those projects suddenly came to an end I had time to re-evaluate my work and practice.

I realised that I wanted to move away from dance teaching, and focus on the more interdisciplinary nature of my practice. I’ve spent the past 8 months creating a small book of writings, beginning a new short film project and thinking a lot about the work I want to make.

My performance work almost always takes place in non-traditional spaces, often outside, and I’ve been thinking more about my connection with the landscape, particularly in a time of climate crisis, and how my work can reflect more on a relationship between body and place. I’ve been a regular sea swimmer for 2 years now, but in lockdown this became even more essential for me, and has become an integral part of my artistic practice.

Fran - I combine printmaking to create limited edition screen prints for sale at art fairs and exhibitions, with freelance work and a part-time contract in the arts sector. Since March 2020, I’ve invested significant time in up-skilling in marketing, producing projects remotely in collaboration with people and in facilitating sessions online.

Arts organisations’ adaptability to hosting online experiences has enabled me to continue selling prints. Northern Print, where I usually screen print, have been incredibly supportive, and with them I’ve created a new screen print for the 20:20 exhibition led by Hot Bed Press.

I’ve worked 3 days a week throughout the pandemic as a Creative Producer for Museums Northumberland bait. I’m currently working freelance for Beacon Films as a Volunteer & Placement Coordinator too. Both roles are online and remote working.

Now, almost all of my work is done from home in a make-shift studio with a desk, laptop, and my printmaking materials in boxes around me. We’re renovating our home ourselves too. The setting for all my work have merged into one!

3. What opportunities or new ways of working has 2020 shown you?

Chloe - I have often found myself feeling isolated as an artist working in performance and living in Berwick, with no-one else making similar work around, and would regularly find myself wondering if I should be living in a city, but 2020 has reaffirmed my decision that for now, this is where I want to be. My work often references community and place, and Berwick feels rooted in both of those things for me, and I have felt particularly lucky during lockdown to have access to such beautiful landscapes and the sea.

One of the joys of 2020 is that due to a shift in online working, suddenly remote collaborations feel possible. I was lucky enough to take part in a 2 week online residency back in June, with a selection of artists from across the North of England, and although we never met, we were in each other’s homes and found ways to digitally connect. Not only does this allow for collaborations both nationally and internationally (one of my current collaborators is in Australia at the moment) but it also brings a flexibility to working together, and for many people can provide more accessible ways of working together.

I’ve been reminded that to be an artist can often feel like an exhausting way to make a living, but it feels necessary to continue, I’m too stubborn to give up at this point. I’ve also started having weekends off, something I’d never managed before, but now that I spend so much time at my desk, it feels really important to get away from it and recharge.

Fran - I often feel that dis-connect Chloe describes living and working in Northumberland, away from cities. I found travelling to print fairs around the UK pre-pandemic and into Northern Print regularly was a great balance for me.

2020 has shown me a different balance that I can find living here between life, work and creativity. The landscape and nature is on my doorstep. Like Chloe, Northumberland’s vast landscapes are where I go now to get some exercise, relax, and find that endless source of creative inspiration.

The year has also been an opportunity to dig deep into social media and marketing, with so much of my day-to-day practice revolving around connecting with people online.

Chloe and I talked about that determination and resilience we have as artists earning a living in various ways through the creative sector in a rural county. This year has simultaneously shaken my sense of resilience and reaffirmed my outright stubbornness to keep going!

4. Where abouts do you usually work?

Fran - I usually work across a wide range of settings and locations, simply because I’m juggling lots of ways to pursue my creative practice. From community centres to market squares, offices to museums, town halls to print studios.

This year, I can name on one hand the places I’ve worked!

Since March, I’ve been working on my laptop from a desk in various rooms in our house as we renovate it. Like many people, online & my immediate environment is my new normal. Walking, cycling and horse riding close to where I live in Morpeth are my ways to take a break.

I miss the regularity of screenprinting at Northern Print. When I went back to their Ouseburn print studio to produce an edition of a new print earlier this year, life felt so ‘normal’ again!

Chloe - Before March I worked in Berwick, across Northumberland, East Lothian, the Borders, and even as far as South Shields, occasionally performing at a festival elsewhere in the UK. I worked in schools, care homes, theatres, empty shops, studios and community centres, but like Fran, since March I’ve been working on my laptop at a desk in my living room.

I’ve found working (and essentially living) in one room really tough at points, especially when I’m so used to working in a variety of places with a range of people, but I’ve been trying to get outside as much as I can.

5. Can you tell us about your sources of income?

Chloe - This changes every year, and often month by month, but pre March 2020 my income came mostly from dance teaching in various forms with occasional bits of childcare, or box office work. Since March I’ve been very fortunate to be in a position where financially I’ve been ok, thanks to a combination of payment for cancelled performance work, ACE Emergency Fund and the SEISS scheme. Had my circumstances been different I would certainly have had to find another job.

Currently I do admin for a local festival one day a week, work as a freelance Education Coordinator for Berwick Film and Media Arts Festival and I recently received ACE funding for 8 weeks research and development for a new project.

It’s taken me many years and many many jobs to get to a place where I can earn a living through my freelance work.

Fran - Listening to Chloe’s experiences of work in the creative sector whilst living in cities and in Northumberland over the years, I completely related to a portfolio career. I was inspired by the path she’s found through the pandemic away from that hectic balancing act. For me, this year has been a busy one in which I’ve relied on my combined skills as an Artist and Producer.

I’m employed and self-employed, splitting my time between many different paid roles and running my own creative business.

In the past, I’ve developed many artist-led and self-funded projects. This led to securing Arts Council England funding for a joint project between artists and curators in the UK and Sweden.

Shifting to a commercial, screen printing practice has enabled me to develop a new source of income from my creative and technical skills as an artist. It complements a part-time income from publicly-funded projects in which my roles are often as a producer and facilitator.

6. What are your goals and focuses for 2021?

Chloe - I’ve just begun the research and development phase of a new project: This Endless Sea, which will take me to the end of February 2021, so one of my goals is to carry on with that project further into 2021.

I’d like to focus some time on exploring a relationship between the body and the landscape through writing, photography, choreography and film, continuing to explore interdisciplinary ways of working.

Fran - In 2021, I’ll be focusing on creating a new body of prints.

One of the prints I created in 2020 will be on display in an exhibition, and available to purchase, at BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art until July 2021. I’ll also be at Saltaire Makers Fair 23 - 25 May 2021.

I’ll be overseeing a new creative commission in my role as a Creative Producer with Museums Northumberland bait, and continuing to work freelance in the arts sector too.

7. What advice would you have to your younger self in conversation 7 years ago?

Fran - I graduated from Newcastle University with a BA in Fine Art in 2009, so 7 years ago I was working part time in various freelance and employment roles in the North East arts sector, living in Newcastle and developing my artistic practice through self-initiated, site-specific projects.

I would say to my younger self, 7 years ago:

“Keep going, you’re doing the best that you can with what you have”

Chloe - 7 years ago I was living in the Peak District, working as a catering manager (with no catering experience!) at a youth hostel. I remember going on a course and someone commenting on my interesting career change, from choreographer to cook, and in that moment I knew I had to find a way to be an artist again.

So like Fran I would I would tell myself to keep going, that I can make it happen, but also that no-one is going to present you with any opportunities, it’s up to you to make the work happen.

Chloe Smith

Fran Arnold's Print

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