Loudspeaker: Through Letterbox and Screen

Katy Culbard

Programme Manager, Loudspeaker

As programme manager for Loudspeaker since 2016, I’ve seen more change in the last 9 months that has felt like (and still feels like) wading through treacle. Somehow though, despite everything, we’re still getting it right with Loudspeaker – even if we’re doing it through letter boxes and screens.

Loudspeaker is a unique project that uses our exhibitions and creativity to make a crucial difference in women’s lives. We support women in difficult circumstances, drawing on an extensive network of referral partners to ensure we reach and support women. As a cultural partner, we use our unique position to demonstrate how galleries and creativity can help bring life-changing benefits.

Our ten-week programmes provide new environments and experiences for women to step outside their immediate and pressing concerns, connect and respond to our exhibitions, form friendships, have fun, share ideas and be creative - essential now more than ever.

We’re all changing how we live, work and connect with other people this year, and for the experienced Loudspeaker team, it’s meant re-thinking creative activities for both in-person and online possibilities: a true test of our creativity as arts professionals.

As staff we felt challenged at the start of this re-planning phase, by how to translate the essence of in-person activities into a new online format. Our solution was to reverse our approach by taking the gallery, us, the exhibitions and the activities to the women virtually. Hand in hand with running successful Zoom sessions, our artist Gillian Brent has been in posting packs of art materials and activity ideas to participants in between sessions that are then used during the Zoom activities.

Women try new approaches to making art when they don’t know the outcome, continue when things don’t go to plan, make discoveries and see things differently – including their own creativity and potential. By creating a safe online environment, women can be creative without fear of failure or judgement.

It’s been amazing to witness resilience in overcoming technical hurdles, in learning to communicate together on Zoom, and in trying totally new ways of seeing and making art in the home.

At the moment, the women are taking inspiration from the exhibitions Grace Before Jones: Camera, Disco, Studio and Jimmy Robert: Akimbo. We often talk in Loudspeaker about the way women are viewed, how we view ourselves, about gender equality and equality for people of colour, so we’ve explored how Grace and Jimmy disrupt and challenge assumptions through how they use their bodies in art.

After a recent workshop, participants said, “…at first I thought what the hell am I going to do, but then when we had the discussion on what each other decided what we were gonna make, I had to quickly think what I could do, but it worked out good and I really love it.”

“I’ve really enjoyed it… It’s been so nice to do something that’s mindful, and switch off from other things that are going on in the world which I think is really, really good, and yeah, I‘m having fun so that’s great.”

Based on the positive impacts we have on women, we’re thrilled that our long-running Loudspeaker programme was awarded Highly Commended in this year’s National Culture Health and Wellbeing Awards for Collective Power.

One of the judges, Moira Sinclair who is the Chief Executive of Paul Hamlyn Foundation, said, "This was a very good example of co-creation, enhancing wellbeing and minimising social isolation. Careful thought had been given to removing barriers to participation, and there was clear evidence of impact.”

Collaboration and co-creation are at the heart of Loudspeaker so it’s really wonderful to have this recognised.

Loudspeaker is part of the national Building Better Opportunities programme through the Opportunity and Change project which is funded by the European Social Fund and The National Lottery Community Fund.