13 years and counting: deep relationships with artists
By Alice Booth, Creative Producer, Lancaster Arts
We are delighted to welcome Jenny Gaskell back to Lancaster to show her wonderful project, With My Ear to the Wall, at Lancaster University library.
Thinking back, we have worked with Jenny in different ways over many years. I first got to know Jenny as a student and then alumni of Lancaster University’s theatre department (she graduated in 2009). Straight out of university, she assistant produced a big symposium about the future of Touring called Getting it Out There, that we did at Lancaster. She worked as a producer for many years after that, including a two-year stint as a freelancer with us, on our regional touring project, Encounters. Jenny whizzed around the county siting extraordinary, playful, and collaborative projects at the heart of local communities across Lancashire.
Jenny was a great producer because she was intuitive, she really listened to artists and was able to get the best out of them. Perhaps an important transition into her making more of her own art practice was a micro-commission she did with us a couple of years later to gently explore the seed of a creative idea. In As We Go Along, Jenny took a few artists for a walk to talk about their artistic process and what they were doing next. She didn’t help them to write funding applications or tell them where to tour their work. She was a sounding board. She asked a few pertinent questions. I’d say the project took some of her producing skill into a more creative context.
It was a few years later (after a stint as a Sunday Assembly leader – a secular church that supported non-religious people to connect with each other) that Jenny came back to do a whacky project with us as part of the national DIY programme. This brought many of her interests and skills together. It was called, Have you tried screaming your heart out and pretending to be Cher? and was a weekend workshop for artists exploring secular ways to connect, using everyday rituals.
"I make performances and participatory art. I’m interested in connection, art that happens in everyday places and creating scenarios for people to take agency. My work involves hosting, listening, writing and gathering people together".
Jenny’s wild weekend with a small group of likeminded artists did just that in the heart of Morecambe.
With My Ear to the Wall is perhaps less whacky and definitely involved less singing and pretending to be Cher. It is a deceptively simple concept that really offers reverence to people’s stories; people that are not always heard. She connects with people and holds a space for people’s voices. And we, as audiences, are asked to sit with them for a while. And really listen.
I notice that alongside her connection with Lancaster Arts, Jenny has created a very distinctive practice. I’m just glad we were able to listen to her and support her enough through her own producing and creative journey.