Becoming a creative practitioner

We’ve just launched our open call for round 2 of our Creative Development Fellowships, an opportunity for independent creative practitioners, artists, producers and cultural or heritage organisations based in Sunderland to apply for a fellowship of up to £1000 to help them move to the next stage in their practice or organisational development.

So, in our first #CreativeCitySunderland blog post of 2021, it’s timely to hear from one of our first cohort of Creative Development Fellows, Steph Robson, who reflects on lessons learned during her own development as a creative practitioner.

Throughout my career, there has always been an undercurrent of activism around giving a platform and a voice for the Dwarfism community through my blog, Hello Little Lady. It wasn’t until the past few years, with the help and support from various people and organisations in Sunderland and the North that I was finally able to articulate and follow the path that would enable me to develop creative opportunities for Dwarf people.

Hello Little Lady profile photo

Historically, and in current times, people with Dwarfism are routinely mocked or objectified throughout arts and culture. My work seeks to redress the prejudice and ignorance that our bodies face through the vehicle that is participatory arts practice.

There have been many lessons that I have learnt on the journey to identifying as an artist and developing creative opportunities for my community.

Not all art is painting pictures

One of my many lightbulb moments over the past few years was when a fellow artist said ‘art was something you want to say’ while at an ArtWorks-U Support and Networking meeting for participatory artists at the University of Sunderland. Those who know me can attest that I certainly have had plenty to say over the course of my career about the subject matter and this was reflected in my first photographic exhibition, You’re Just Little, in 2018, which sought to reveal the challenges, obstacles and societal assumptions Dwarf people face on a daily basis.

Steph Robson (r), with workshop participant, Joanna, and an exhibition of photography, You’re Just Little

You need to give yourself time to develop as a creative practitioner

Failing is success in disguise – I’m sure that is a quote from somewhere, but the sentiment is true. The podcasting workshops I had planned to run as a recipient of one of the Sunderland Culture Creative Development Fellowships in 2019 didn’t exactly work out to plan. However, this fantastic opportunity enabled me to develop in confidence as a creative practitioner, build meaningful relationships within my community and take the wisdom learned onto the WayFinders project in 2020.

A huge thank you must go to Laura Brewis from Sunderland Culture for her support throughout the Fellowship and UNLOCK the City programme that has provided immeasurable support and training for artist and creatives in the City.

Not all the questions need answering straightaway – one of the co-facilitators, a wise man, said to me while on the year-long sector-based course, UNION, for activists and community artists in the North in 2019. You have to give the answers you are looking for the time to grow, and doing so has certainly made for an interesting path.

Trust in the creative process

What’s Your Story workshop at ChapelFM studios, Leeds

Even though there was only one participant at the ‘What’s Your Story’ workshop at ChapelFM in Leeds, and the second workshop at the University of Sunderland was cancelled due to low take-up at the start of the pandemic, it was a massive learning curve as a practitioner. That tension between wanting to achieve certain goals while respecting the barriers and reservations of a community that is, quite rightly, distrustful of the arts and culture sector, needs space to grow and develop at its own pace. While one project might not work out as planned, having the space (and funding) to experiment, and with that, the opportunity to clarify your own goals, is a must to becoming a more confident and assured practitioner.

Learn more about my practice:
● –
● You’re Just Little –
● What’s Your Story –
● UNION – The Northern School of Creativity and Activism – Profile –
● WayFinders –

Connect with Hello, Little Lady:

If you are a creative practitioner, organisation or business based in Sunderland and would be interested in having your work featured as part of #CreativeCitySunderland, please get in touch: [email protected].

Sunderland Creative Development Fellowships are supported through the Unlock strand of Sunderland Culture’s Great Place programme, supported by Arts Council England and National Lottery Heritage Fund, and funded by Coastal Communities Fund, a partnership with Sunderland City Council. For more information about eligibility, the application process and pre-application support workshops, visit Sunderland Culture’s Opportunities page.

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