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It’s been a while….

….since I last wrote for this website. The silence may have seemed strange for some and I can see why. There was a lot of noise about our exhibition at the People’s History Museum, Manchester, between April and June and then it all went quiet shortly after our last arts workshop with service users, carers, parents and children. Then the summer came….and went. Before we knew it, it was September again and we had to start preparing for our new students at our respective institutions.

But it’s now October and in a few weeks the Experiencing the Social Work World exhibition will be resurrected. This time in Sheffield at the Art House as part of the Festival of Social Science. All the artwork and sound recordings will be on display from the 30th of October until the 16th of November, 2017. If you’re in the area please visit. Come see what our participants created and tell us what you think.

If you can’t, however, make it to Sheffield, you might be able to go to Edinburgh where the exhibition will feature as part of the Edinburgh Festival of Social Science and their centenary celebrations. This exhibition will feature art created by social workers and our service users and carers but it will be held for one day only, Saturday 11th of November. For more details please contact Lisa for more information.

If you can’t make either of these events you might like to have a look at a little film we made during the People’s History Museum exhibition. Enjoy.

Dates of when the Experiencing the Social Work World exhibition will not be available

There will be some dates when the Engine Hall where the exhibition is located, is not available at the People’s History Museum because another party will have hired this space for a particular event. We, and the PHM, apologise for this inconvenience but hope we can prevent you from making a journey there by listing the dates of when this will happen. The following dates are, therefore, when the exhibition will not be available.

Dates when the exhibition will not be available

 Saturday 15th April

Thursday 20th April

Monday 24th April – Friday 28th April

Thursday 4th May

Friday 5th May  (morning only)

Saturday 13th May- Wednesday 17th May

Tuesday 23rd May

Thursday 25th May

Saturday 3rd June

Sunday 4th June

Monday 5th June

Wednesday 7th June

Thursday 8th June – Saturday 10th June

Exhibition Launch: Wednesday 12th of April

After months of waiting, the launch for the Experiencing the Social Work World exhibition finally took place at the People’s History Museum this week. We had managed, we think, to keep much of the artwork concealed from the public so that we could surprise our guests on the night. From the feedback we gathered that evening, we think this had been a good idea. The reviews have been much more positive that we had anticipated and we are pleased that the launch, and the exhibition, have, so far, been well received.

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We have been aware for some time that social workers are often unable to report on the practice that they have carried out with children and adults due to issues of confidentiality. Their voices are in effect missing from any kind of public debate. This gap has been filled by media agencies with a particular view of the profession and this has played an important part in creating and maintaining a hostile kind of discourse. As a result, the reputation and standing of the social work profession has deteriorated in recent years and we think that this has affected social workers’ practice and identity in a number of different ways. We hope that the artwork and aural narratives at the exhibition provide the public with a different perspective; a more sensitive insight into what social work means to those who do social work on a daily basis.

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However, something that we acknowledge is that social work is not an activity that is solely experienced by social workers. It is a practice that takes place between practitioners and the people they do social work with. While this exhibition has provided social workers with a space to tell their stories of their lived experiences of doing social work, the voices of service users are missing. We are pleased to announce therefore that we have recently been granted ethical approval to carry out a similar workshop with people who would like to use art to express their lived experiences of social work. To participate in this event, please click on the following link or look at the ‘Planned events’ link to register your interest.

27th of May: Arts Workshop with people who have had social work intervention

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The second stage of the project

A few weeks ago we learned that we had been successful in securing further funding for the second part of our Experiencing the Social Work World project. Obtaining this funding was important for us as we wanted to make sure that we created an exhibition that engaged more critically with members of the public. We realised that just exhibiting artwork alongside the narratives of the social workers who took part in the study limited the potential of the work our participants had produced. If we were going to seriously offer visitors the opportunity to experience what ‘being’ a social worker means and what ‘doing’ social work entails we realised that we needed to use the exhibition space more effectively.

Our further funding will be used therefore to do a range of different things which aim to develop the sensory and affective dimension of our participants’ visual narratives. So rather than simply tell the lived experiences of those who do social work, we want to take visitors on a journey into the social work world. To do this, we have lined up a number of events which we hope will generate more interaction between the exhbition, us and our audience. Not only will we (me, Lisa and Matt) be present on different days to give behind the scenes tours and to talk about our own experiences of doing this project/ social work but we have also invited different people from different backgrounds to come and talk about their experiences of social work and explore their views and interpretations of the artwork displayed. After each talk we hope to open up the discussion with visitors to the exhibition to debate the current issues in social work and to critically consider some of the themes that emerge as a result.

In the next few months, we will be planning and organising aspects of the exhibition so, if you are interested in learning more, do please keep an eye on this space. In the meantime make a note in your diary that exhibition starts 8th of April 2017 and ends 18th of June 2017.

Experiencing the social work world: The project has officially started

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:

Practice day of the Experiencing the Social Work World project

Yesterday me, Lisa and Matt met at our arts workshop venue to run through next week’s schedule and smooth out any potential issues. Next week is the time when 15 social workers will come together and use art to express how they feel they are viewed by others. Our 15 participants have already been recruited and are ready and eagerly waiting. The arts materials have been purchased and the venue has been booked. Everything is in place and we are prepared.

But after months of thinking, talking and planning, we realised that what we actually needed to do was understand how the participants would feel on the day. This was the purpose of yesterday, to go to the workshop and pretend to be the participants. The reason for doing this was to think about how they may feel as social work practitioners perhaps using arts materials for the first time, what kind of anxieties they may experience and how we, as project leads, could anticipate these, turn them around and make the whole day an enjoyable experience.

So with Matt (our artist) in role, Lisa and I became the participants. We watched carefully and listened attentively as Matt practised the art of teaching two amateurs how to use different but sensually very interesting materials. At first we were cautious, neither knowing what to do and feeling a little embarrassed about what we would produce. However, Matt was brilliant at reassuring us and reminding us what the day was about and that whatever we did produce it would be worthy of representing our perception of self.

The first arts medium was mono printing, a form of printmaking that involves making squiggles and swooshes, doing things like tapping and drawing shapes and lines. It basically involves the transfer of ink from a special type of paper, or canvas, to a paper surface that holds the work of art. It was dead straight forward to use and what I liked about it was how we could return to the artwork and make changes. Here is a link to our work: Monoprint artwork

The second arts medium we used was wire, which is very easy to use and with pliers you can turn a piece of wire into many different shapes. We learned quickly that you don’t have to be a professional artist to create things and within a few minutes we were producing all kinds of different artefacts: Wire artwork

The third, and final, arts medium we used was clay. There are many different kinds of clay to use but the one we have opted for is the easiest yet, in my opinion, the most dramatic. As Matt was talking Lisa and I were fiddling with it and couldn’t wait to get started. By this time, we had relaxed into the practice and were really enjoying ourselves so it didn’t take much encouragement from Matt for us to get started: Clay artwork.

We concluded the practice day on a big high and went home with smiles. It felt good to have chosen, what we think, are the right materials for our participants and it also felt good knowing that if we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves then hopefully so will our participants. Roll on next weekend.