After months of talking, planning and writing of applications (for ethics or funding), our arts workshop finally took place yesterday with eight social workers. To put it simply, it was amazing. I honestly didn’t think it would be as sensitive, emotive and as powerful as it was. I expect this is because when you are planning for a project you can get so tied up in the “making sure it goes right on the day” aspects that you can forget what your reasons for originally doing the project were. So to bring our aims back into perspective, I began the day explaining to our participants why this project was important to us.
The aim of our project was to give statutory social workers an opportunity to tell others of their lived experiences of ‘doing’ social work. Silenced by confidentiality social workers are often unable to report on the work that they do or discuss the struggles they face in trying to do their work. When their voices are heard it is often distorted through channels such as the media which favour the ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ narrative. Yesterday however participants were given a voice, a visual voice and with art they used that voice to tell their story of how it feels to be a social worker in this current climate.
The morning sessions were led by our visual methods practitioner Matt Morriss, who demonstrated to the participants how they could work with mono printing, wire work or clay. We thought that our social workers, being so used to working closely with less creative modes of expression such as ICS, might struggle at first to convey their feelings through art. We were wrong. They embraced every medium with such passion and energy that Matt was left stunned. In fact we all were. And rather than producing one final piece of artwork, many of our participants produced three!
This proved beneficial when it came to interviewing the social workers in the afternoon. Rather than talk about one experience in particular, participants talked about their lived experiences since qualification. All of the interviews were very moving as it became immediately apparent that all our social workers deeply valued and appreciated working with children, adults and their families. However, in many cases it became clear that actually accomplishing this part of their work was extremely difficult because of a large number of (in)visible barriers that those outside of the social work profession are not often made aware of.
The next few months will be spent transcribing their interviews, analysing their artwork and narratives and creating the display which will be exhibited at the People’s History Museum in Manchester from April 2017- June 2017. We hope that our participants’ visual stories provide the spectator with an insight into the complex world of doing social work. More information about this event will follow in due course.
In the meantime, I’d like to say a huge heartfelt thank you to all our participants who gave up their Saturday to spend the day with us doing this project. Here are some snippets of the busy hands at work yesterday: