I gave the below post as a keynote for a sector event which took place on 1st February 2021 online
Hello, my name is Katherina Radeva but most people call me Kat. I am a 38 year old woman, with short black hair and a mole right between my eyes as if it’s a visible third eye. My skin tone is light. I come from Bulgaria and more specifically from the Thracian Valley. The Thracian valley was and still is a geographic area where a few ethnic groups meet and co-exit. Sometimes there are tensions which are mostly prodded by politics rather than the people who reside there. My peoples were slaves for the Ottoman Empire for over 500 hundred years. English is my second language. I have no idea how you would describe my accent, those who don’t know sometimes say: You are not from around here, are you? I arrived in the UK aged 16, on my own. I had £50 in my pocket and two bags full of drawing materials, clothes and an orthodox icon. I would not describe myself as religious but I am a believer. I am neurodiverse and long term ill mental health is part of my everyday.
I am here to make a short offer around BUILD BACK BETTER.
I will approach this through my lived experience and my interdisciplinary approach to making work- some people call that a portfolio career, I just call it- I need to be good at many things to survive as an independent artist.
So, when I think of BUILDING BACK BETTER, I would like to translate this to
BUILD equals CARE
BACK equals CASH
BETTER equals COMMUNITY
Care, Cash, Community.
To build for me means to make something happen. More and more in my thinking I come with the question for myself – HOW am I making that something happen. And if I am jumping into someone else’s process- how they are making that thing happen.
So, the how, is really about care. What is the care I have put as a foundation upon which I make anything happen. And what is the care in place for me when I enter a team.
I suppose with this I am looking for less of a product driven outcome and more of a process driven outcome. If the process is juicy and caring, I trust that the outcome will be reflective of that. In here under the care bracket, I will also insert responsibility. What is my responsibility for the thing to happen with care and what is our collective responsibility to build this thing with care. Care is not one directional, care is multi directional.
So, I have changed BACK to CASH. Linguistically this is not an easy fit but I think it is actually a really important point whenever you think of making anything happen, wherever you are trying to build a thing.
I am going to talk about CASH through my own personal experience.
When I came to the UK aged 16, it was common knowledge of those around me, the few people around me that I had £50 in my pocket. I thought that was loads because that is what my parents gave me. But those around me took the collective responsibility to enlighten me that that it really wasn’t very much at all. They took it upon themselves to throw cleaning jobs, babysitting jobs, waitressing jobs, you name it jobs, my way. And I took it upon myself to view every one of those jobs as essential, vital to my survival. I am a good immigrant. Thankfully no one told me that having a cleaning job wasn’t cool, I personally thought that cleaning posh people’s homes was a good way to earn my living.
So, when it came to me trying to make it in the arts, I thought and still think to some extend, that being able at and quite good at sawing, carpentry, choreography, dramaturgy, drawing, painting, printmaking, image editing, administration, producing, fundraising, designing, sourcing, directing, writing, communication, translation, performing- I thought it was a good thing. This varied skill set has made it possible to get a foot into the arts in the UK and continue working in the arts to this point. Not one single one of these things would be able to cover my rent, bills and subsistence and that is the harsh reality.
This has been and still is my greatest challenge. People love a neat edge. They love a box – which you can tick and they can easily tick too. Ah, Kat the artist, Kat the writer, Kat the designer, Kat the performer, you get what I am alluding to.
I don’t blame the people, they are following a system. A well established machine which is broken but by quickly patching this bit or changing this clog, it restarts again. Trundling on and exacerbating the inequalities.
I am trying to challenge, nudge and ultimately change the system. It is going to take my lifetime. The system which currently does not recognise intersectionality, the system which privileges one or another point of view. A system which should be more inclusive. I am after a system which looks at creating or shape shifting space and a system which is not driven on fear of losing the little that we all persieve there is. There is money in the arts, let’s re-distribute where it goes. I would love to see a system which celebrates difference, spillage, mixity and inclusion especially around cross art-form pollination.
I am doing this challenging and nudging by choosing to engage in better practices and removing myself from situations that don’t put care and cash as a foundation of a fair exchange for my labour.
My understanding of community comes from childhood days in communist Bulgaria where my grandma pear tree fed the village and where in exchange for pears, we got potatoes, fish, plums, peas. For me, community is built on cooperation, not competition.
I am not alone, you are not alone, we are not alone. We are here because we care. We are a community. Like in a garden, when you water your plants you don’t just choose to water the carrots, you also want your tomatoes, cucumbers, apples and raspberries to do well. Well, I do. I want variety on my plate.
And I really want variety on the stages, in the parks, in the village halls, in the exhibition halls, on the library shelves.
I want Reggie and I want Jazz and I want contemporary classical and I am really after some heavy metal from time to time.
I am after poems, and autobiographies, I am after feminist literature, I want to see more contemporary eastern European writers translated.
I am interested in folklore cultures from Japan and Peru, Poland and Finland, to name a few.
I love a crisp sandwich and I am into my Haggis. I’d do anything for an Irish stew and my mum’s bean soup.
Variety is the spice of life but if we forever invest in middle class work by middle class artists, then you really are just watering your carrots. So, if you want change, you have to be that change and do that change and if you are a person with power or money- it starts with you because you have the resources to enable the change. And you do that by starting to invite those unlike you at the table and once they are there, you really need to listen to them.