Finally, it was 8th May 2017, the first day of the Fifth Size Book Adventure launch week at the City Library in Newcastle. It was time to meet the rest of my fellow explorers (having met two when we had our hour in the book stack, and knowing one already). There was an almost palpable air of excited anticipation as we entered the Bewick Room (named after the great Thomas Bewick).
Jane Shaw, who’s leading the project, started with a summary of the key components of the programme: professional development workshops, contributing artists, business support, bursaries, creation of new work, curation, exhibition with private view – and we participants, of course.
She suggested we start thinking who we would want to attend the private view. Since the exhibition will be 1st to 18th November, it seems like a long way ahead – especially when I hadn’t decided the theme of what I’ll create for it – but my past experience of events is that invitations to previews, launches and openings need to go out about 8 weeks before it.
What could the library get out of it?
Jane outlined how the City Library might benefit from the project. It could offer insights how public spaces and collections might provide enriching new cultural activities and experiences to their diverse audiences. It could raise awareness of previously unseen collections. I remember being very excited about 20 years ago to discover that the City Library had many of the 19th century books and illustrated periodicals that I needed for research.
Imagining 6 months ahead
Jane asked us to imagine a friend is talking about us to an acquaintance six months after the exhibition. He or she describes our successes as a consequence of participating in the programme. What would we like them to say about us?
It was an interesting prompt to imagine future success. Even the thought of sharing what I wrote down made me squirm as I worried people would think I was being foolish to hope for success. This probably means I ought to share at least most of what I recorded of an imaginary friend talking to an imaginary acquaintance of what I was doing in May 2018, 6 months after the end of the Fifth Size Book Adventure exhibition.
Acquaintance: “I haven’t seen Janet for ages! What’s she up to now?”
Friend: “She’s been very busy in the past 6 months since that exhibition in the City Library. She’s taken part in another couple of group shows in the past few months. After she’s finished the pieces she’s doing for the Great Exhibition of the North, she needs to start on a new series of work for a first solo show. And the funding has just come through for the project that’s a collaboration between her, a couple of other artists, and research scientists and will take place over the next year.”
Acquaintance: “I saw something in a magazine about an exhibition she took part in a few weeks ago. I hadn’t expected her to produce work like that.”
Friend: “She’s really grown in confidence since taking part in that professional development programme. Her work is much bolder than before – and better for that. Having a studio alongside other creatives and being part of a wider network suits her better than working in isolation.”
What this exercise told me was that self-confidence is still an issue. Jane also asked us to consider what we thought were the barriers to achieving success and to split them into internal and external barriers. I came up with four internal and three external. Three of the four internal barriers were rooted in self-doubt, lack of self-confidence – so that confirms what I need to work on in order to succeed. The external barriers seemed less daunting (two out of three were money-related).
Reflection on first part of the first day
I didn’t know what to expect but being asked to think about the end of the project and beyond at the very beginning was a surprise. I need to know what I need to overcome, and I thought that this was a good time to think about it.
Jane’s enthusiasm and energy is great and animates the room. It felt from the start that she was being very supportive and believed in what we could achieve. She has a decidedly ‘can-do’ attitude that’s encouraging.
The Fifth Size Book Adventure: A Professional Development Programme for Creative Practitioners is led by Jane Shaw of People Into Enterprise, and supported by Newcastle City Library and Arts Council for England.