When Alison Thompson and Sarah Cullen had children, they realized that art-making and parenting were a natural fit, but all too often caring for young children can be isolating in the art world. Artist parents struggle to make it to nighttime art openings and events, have precarious incomes, and intense short-term working periods that make accessing caregiving support difficult. That’s why they founded MOTHRA, a Toronto organization dedicated Pushing the boundaries surrounding attitudes towards childcare, artist-parents, and the inclusion of children. In advance of MOTHRA’s child inclusive artist residency at Artscape Gibraltar Point, we asked Sarah and Alison more about the MOTHRA mandate.
What makes MOTHRA’s artist residency different?
Sarah: MOTHRA is more than just “family friendly”. We are interested in how being with your child might change art. Parents might have different ideas of what “family friendly” means – to some this might mean your children are on site, but in a different location with childcare. MOTHRA’s focus is how our kids can take part in the creative lives of their parents and vise versa. MOTHRA’s ambitions are unique in this sense.
Children make art at Artscape Gibraltar Point’s Winter Island Fun Day.
What benefit does a community have for artist parents?
Sarah: MOTHRA’s emphasis is on relationships. We are curious about the aesthetics of an ethically driven art. We don’t have a solution to “How do I keep painting while my child is crying?”, but admitting to relationships moderates what you can do as an artist. This way of thinking coincides with a turn towards “care” in general in art theory and practice. I don’t have the answers to these questions, but these are the themes we are working with and the questions we are interested in asking ourselves, and those who come and join us.
Artist residencies can be so important for an artist’s practice in that they allow you to be more open and perceptive to coincidences, letting ideas unfold with no limit to where they might tumble. These things are often constrained back in our everyday lives.
What challenges do artist parents face in accessing artistic opportunities to further their practice?
Alison: MOTHRA’s ambition is to have a collective activity, collective action, collective response. This can run counter to contemporary art. In art schools we are trained to imagine ourselves working alone in our studios with no interruptions. Imagine if art school prepared us for an alternative ideal art making condition – living with others, having a family, and possibly being parents.
Why is it important to not separate children from the parents’ art practice?
Alison: We hope to break the old notions that ‘real artists are not parents’ or that ‘real artists don’t make work about the parenting experience’, which should already be dead ideologies however we see it/hear it often enough to recognize it as a barrier to the success of the parent artist.
While this issue affects women folk and gender equality in the arts, which is a priority for us, we also recognize that these notions impact male folk negatively as well. We wish to improve the situation by creating space and leading by example.
At the moment MOTHRA is working on connecting artist parents in the city via small scale meet ups as well as organizing these residencies.
Photo of Artscape Gibraltar Point: Revel Photography
What makes Artscape Gibraltar Point a suitable location for a child-inclusive residency?
Alison: Having an old school as our setting is exciting because the space was once designed and designated to children and now children are its inhabitants again. We are curious to see how the children impact this particular environment (converted school studio/arts building) that is typically used by adults. Kids reclaiming the space!!