Helen Cole, IBT’s CEO/Artistic Director, reflects on her experiences during her early career and the courageous women leading the way in the Live Art sector today…
“I’ve been thinking about the predatory behaviour of Weinstein, Stafford Clark and the countless senior male politicians: this outing of entitlement, these revelations of harassment & abuse. About the women speaking out from their hard earned positions of self-esteem. For each one there are thousands without a voice. Women (and men) excluded or refusing to conform to this twisted version of the world.
All these stories leave me with a sick-feeling of recognition. I’m left like so many with the need to name & reclaim. To reflect on my own journey and out the toll it has sometimes taken to find a footing in a career in the Arts.
My experiences began and continued throughout my early career. In my first job in the Arts way back in the late eighties the Deputy Director routinely tried to stick his hand up my skirt. He would choose the isolated corridor in which I worked, and the moments when everyone else had gone home to assault me. I was 22. I was grateful for this first opportunity in a city I loved. He was in his 50s. He targeted me. For 6 months I tried and sometimes failed to avoid the moments when I might risk being alone with him until I eventually got together my courage & complained. His all male senior colleagues knew. They were ineffective, embarrassed and irritated. There were no assurances, just a reluctant acceptance that I had brought it to their attention. In the end I moved on. Nothing acknowledged, no direct action, no apology.
In the same job, a fellow employee stalked me over a period of two months, following me home most nights in his car, hassling and propositioning me & waiting outside my flat. He was not a senior member of staff and his stalking took place after work. In the face of the response I had come to expect I did nothing. I toyed with calling the police but I did not trust anything would be done. I brazened it out. Tried to keep things light although inside I was livid and terrified. Eventually I left that job. Then I met him in the same city 20 years later driving the taxi I innocently got into. I was terrified all over again. That he would recognise me, and that I had accidentally given him my address.
I think about the Theatre Director who asked me to repeatedly stand in one position on stage under the lights. I was told afterwards that this enabled him & the rest of the all male cast and crew to see through my shirt.
About the countless artistic panels that continue into infinity in which straight white men fill the air with their voices.
About the many interviews in which the panels were entirely straight white men.
About the jobs missed, the voice lowered to a whisper.
I think about why I found Live Art as my place of safe mooring. About the women in this sector who use their bright minds & strong bodies to confront & confound these men in power.
Lauren Bari Holstein pissing gold coins from her remarkable vagina in Notorious. Flaunting her dead octopus hair. Hula hooping, hairy & dissembling. Daring, dirty, daunting, taunting. Reveling in her resplendent rotting rottenness. Tempting her sisters to give us excess. Willing us to become her sisters.
Lucy McCormick reclaiming Mary Magdalene in Triple Threat. Mary not as side kick but as three dimensional woman. Singing, dancing, fucking, leaking Nutella and glitter. Her body strong, her voice unwavering, her clothes worn or not worn just as she chooses. She chooses disarray. She chooses power. She chooses liberation. As she crowd surfs over our heads, she chooses life.
In the making of Salt, Selina Thompson spent painful weeks in the bowels of a container ship slowly tracking the slave routes of her heritage. Feeling every throb of the engine like a heart beat lost, Selina confronted our unspeakable history, smashing our apathy, storing up the tears and the sweat of her ancestors and handing it back to us in the form of raw sea salt.
The Live Art sector in the UK is led by women. I would argue this is no trick of coincidence but a deliberate political act perpetrated in the 80s and then perpetuated onwards by those that have followed. An act of emancipation; of community; a different way to make work without compromise and survive in the Arts.
I think about the live art producers, from the generation preceding mine, swimming against this tide of sexual misconduct at a time when it flowed at its strongest. All of them inspirational, uncompromising, fierce, passionate, powerful, wise. All of them refusing to be silenced or to conform: Lois Keidan, Catherine Ugwu, Judith Knight, Gill Lloyd, Nikki Millican, Lois Weaver, Stella Hall. I think of the women who have followed leading their own programmes, festivals and organisations. All of them courageous, committed, prolific, creative, persuasive: Jane Greenfield, Laura Godfrey Isaacs, Nicky Childs, Nikki Tomlinson, Helen Medland, Annie Lloyd, Tamsin Drury, Kate Ward, Jackie Wylie, Laura McDermott. And the emerging new generation of live art women producers: brave, alternative, ethical, collaborative, caring: Bean, Mary Osborn, Katy Baird, Abby Butcher, Hellen, Ira Brand, LJ Findlay-Walsh, Cathy Boyce, Sally Rose, Emma Beverley, Joon Lynn Goh, Season Butler, Afreena Islam, Salome Wagaine, Rosana Cade, Kim Simpson, Illana Mitchell.
By choosing to work in live art all of these women have chosen to work outside and against the Arts’ ruling structures. Beyond the mainstream & in some cases almost hidden from view. All of us are talented. All of us are leaders. We have become street fighters to survive in this world. Only an infinitesimally tiny number of us have ended up leading major venues, festivals or producing organisations, but some of us have set up our own to forge new ways of working.
Of course the live art sector benefits from some incredible male and trans colleagues. None of us adhering to this version of masculinity; this male dominated, fucked up version of the world. We have formed this live art sector. We could have chosen others yet this sector of challenge, of truth, of refusal, of community is the place we have decided to take a stance and produce our fight from.
And then I think about IBT. This company I have formed to never ever repeat this culture of entitlement for any woman who follows.
Be terrified Harvey Weinstein, Max Stafford Clarke and all those like you. Your time is numbered. Women are speaking out. Just as you objectified, harassed & talked us down, we are now taking you down. No longer passing as your fucked up fantasy. Getting there without you, despite all the barriers you put in our way. Bypassing your version of things. Getting somewhere else much more interesting on our own terms. Making art as it should be. Truthful, real, raucous, ribald, created, produced, directed, performed by women.
Go fuck yourself Weinstein and all who are like you. Your days of domination are over. We will take your gaze full in the face and throw it right back at you.
WOMEN ARE HERE…”
For my daughter Blue. The survivor. The warrior.
Helen Cole, IBT17 Programme Launch © Jack Offord