As we enter April 2023, it seems particularly timely for me to take a moment to reflect on my life with Chol as I come back to work after maternity leave and I enter my eleventh year working for the company. I’ve given myself a rare quiet hour of indulgent reflection time to see where the pen and my (slightly sleep deprived) mind takes me…
Today I am very proud to be one of seven Chol-Operative women leading Chol under the nurturing guidance of a very committed board of seven trustees. Over the last three years we have transitioned to working under a new, more democratic and inclusive company model called the Chol-Operative. It has taken a lot of commitment, energy, and drive as well as trust and patience from everyone involved to say that we now successfully operate a flat structure where we all work on equal pay and respect. We still of course have work to do in order to strengthen this model but as we officially re-enter Arts Council England’s National Portfolio of Organisations (NPO) I couldn’t be more certain that all of that work was worth it. The Chol-Operative was built on the hypothesis that sharing power does not dilute or divide it but multiples and strengthens it. We now have a powerhouse of a team, driving forward our programme of arts in education and in the community in South and West Yorkshire.
Personally, I believed in this hypothesis about power because I had already experienced it informally through my work with Chol since I joined the core team in 2012. I started work as lead artist on the Imaginary Communities programme in the Clifton family of schools in Rotherham. At the time I didn’t fully appreciate the importance of being surrounded by skilled and supportive women during these initial years as I moved from being an artist practitioner to learning how to manage arts education projects, carry out research, produce events, and eventually how to run a company. Amongst the team of women who I worked with at Chol between 2012-2020 power was shared in small ways through open conversation, opinions being listened to, local knowledge and culture being valued, and ideas finding spaces to grow into projects and programmes that continued to shape the company. Continuing our aim to move this implicit culture into a more explicit working company structure is one of many things I am genuinely excited about as we approach the next chapter of Chol.
My daughter Maeve is one of four Chol-Operative babies born in the last year, along with Mala, Maggie and Mirren. Despite the real challenges of multiple maternity leaves and working mums with small children, a conversation with one of our trustees Ally reminded me last night to dig deep into the Chol-Operative ethos and remember that this will strengthen our company and the work we do as long as we ensure we look after ourselves, each other and the company with kindness and generosity. Our strategy and programme planning, our artistic delivery and our aim to develop radically caring arts practices in school and communities is going to be stronger, more relevant, and more informed by my own and my colleagues life experiences.
So thank you Chol (past and present) and thank you Maeve, I am feeling fired up to be back!