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Faye at a Sync Intensives Workshop

Faye Stewart

Faye Stewart works for Arts Council England, South West, an interesting job to have at a difficult time for the creative sector in the UK. To balance this, she’s also an avid cyclist and an artist with her eye on the future. In this case study, Faye takes time out of her busy schedule to talk with Sarah Pickthall about her journey so far and share with us what she’s discovered about herself as a leader, finding the right balance to keep on track.

Faye is a Relationship Manager . She’s been in the post since July 2010 and is responsible for supporting and developing the arts in the South West region. In particular her role involves engagement and participation working with a range of partners. Before working at Arts Council England, she had eight years' experience in successful co-ordination of inclusion projects associated with the disability arts, the mainstream sector, educational and creative community settings. She was project coordinator for the Enterprise Office at the University of the West of England and before that, Outreach Manager for Art + Power in Bristol.

Faye mid race cycling ahead of someone on a rural track

Starting line

If you start me up, if you start me up, i'll never stop ..... (Rolling Stones)

Faye is not new to challenge. She’s been challenging herself from the word go and her life has been a series of moves and manoeuvres to overcome the barriers that life throws up. I ask her when she first realised that she had to push herself in order to get where she wanted.

'I’ve always lived in a mainstream world and, with some friends getting straight A’s, I had to be determined and persevere to succeed. Being deaf didn’t stop me from wanting to be the best I could be. I first remember drawing at primary school and later recognised that it was my specialism; this was my skill, an area where I could shine to compensate for my ability in general. With my ambitions in art, I just knew I might have to do things differently to get where I wanted to be.'

'I have always pushed myself hard and not just at studies or work but in everything I do. I don’t accept the norm, I push the boundaries, I take risks, I move mostly out of my comfort zone, but in order to do this I do need the support of family and friends. One key to leadership is where everybody plays their part and this allows me to focus and maintain motivation and drive. Only with hindsight do I realise how much I appreciate support from people that helps me to move on. Imagine being at the starting line of a marathon with no crowd to cheer you on!'

a picture of someone attending to the bikes towards a smooth ride

Laying out the foundations

The road is long with many a winding turn .... (The Hollies)

In order for her to move ahead, Faye needs to ensure that those people around her adjust to who she is and how she does things.

‘At the Arts Council, I facilitated my first deaf awareness workshop for my team, to explain about deaf culture, how the interpreter and I work and about British Sign Language, so they feel more comfortable about working with me and we get it right.'

‘I know it’s strange, however, what a lot of disabled and Deaf people do is to “make things okay” for other people because non-disabled people sometimes find difference difficult; they have barriers themselves too. I’ve always done this and am fully aware of the range of possible responses, partly because I’ve been brought up in a mainstream environment. It needs flexibility and time to influence people so that they are comfortable and accept where I’m coming from. Ultimately it makes things easier for me in the long run, as well as for other deaf and disabled people. When people are at ease, it improves the situation all round and we are able to function equally. That was what I learnt from previous projects, leading the team by building a two way relationship and bringing out their strengths and capacity.’

I ask her whether this feels like she’s going beyond the call of duty?

‘I’m the only BSL user in Arts Council England at the moment and it’s important to make this work for me, and any other deaf person who relies on BSL and notetaking and doesn’t voice. My access to work budget means I have support pretty much all of the time. People need to understand how this works for me, on my terms. It is sad to see deaf friends and colleagues who shy away from getting the support they need to work really well, in an effort not to draw attention to themselves. It is important to know what you are worth and be the best you can be. Difference is good, it is part of your identity.’

A picture of a professional cyclist in a race being handed a water bottle

Tools and first aid bags

... pick yourself up, dust yourself off, start all over again (Frank Sinatra)

When Faye has to manage disappointment, she learns from each experience, although it has not been an easy journey:

‘You expect to work twice as hard as a non disabled person, because you know you have baggage. I am aware that mine is very expensive and heavy! So I focus on my abilities, not on what I can’t do. I see myself as successful but I’ve had my fair share, like anyone else, of being made redundant and difficult relationships with people. There are times when I struggle with many things: not having the hope to overcome the barriers, communication breakdown, patronising attitudes and especially with lack of access or access that does not address my needs.’

As with cycling or any other physical activity, two important ingredients for life are a tool kit to fix punctures and a first aid bag for when you get hurt and need time to heal. With these tools, you are fully prepared, mentally, emotionally and practically for whatever life throws at you. If you don’t want to carry them during the race, as it will slow you down, there‘s always a team member willing to support you. Lance Armstrong, an American road cyclist who won Tour de France races nine times, couldn’t have achieved this alone. His team included bikers with different specialisations, a manager, strategists, coaches, doctors, assistants and mechanics, who all helped to give him the best chance of winning.

Faye has created a core team. This includes a small group of interpreters with different skills, specialisms and background information; a supportive boyfriend and family and friends that strengthen her identity and help her shine. At the same time, she develops different relationships with colleagues and partners in different working environments that have changed over time.

a picture of Faye with a vantage point watching for potholes

Pot holes

I ask Faye how she feels she’s doing, with only seven months under her belt in this new position and all the pressures the job holds at this difficult time.

‘It’s the same as cycling, being in a race, for me at work, when I started there were quite a few gaps. When I start something, I keep quiet, watching like a hawk, surveying all that’s going on around me and then I spot the holes in my knowledge or experience and do everything I can to fill them with hard facts. If I don’t fill them, then I can lose balance and fall. My strategy at first is to stand back until I’m feeling confident. I’ve found my team at the Arts Council invaluable in helping me understand the work in hand so quickly. This has meant that I can build up speed, slowly but surely.’

a photo of FAye as a very young girl painting the wall

My little black book

You’re more than a number in my little black book (The Drifters)

For Faye, this is not about networks but about the balance that she gets when she remembers her artistic practice and the creativity in herself.

She may do an MA in textiles for instance and is joining a screen printmaking course at Spike Island. ‘I remind myself constantly that I am an artist and always have been from as far back as I can remember. This is one place of escape where I gain my strength. Somewhere that I don’t feel challenged by, with no barriers in sight, using art as communication.’

Whilst focusing on work with others, encouraging them to participate in and be transformed by art, it is easy to lose one’s personal creativity and become distracted. There is a need to find a balance between other’s art and one’s own; to focus inside, to be selfish almost, giving yourself time to reflect and develop new ideas.

Faye at the finishing line

Knowing when to stop

Stop right now, thank you very much, I need somebody with the human touch (Spice Girls)

You can push yourself, but you also need to know when to stop, when enough is enough. Faye is at that point now. Rather than worrying about climbing her next mountain, she recognises the need to ease off for a while.

It’s like preparing for a race and doing that race. Rest is as important as the race itself.

‘I need to get off, enjoy the view, relax, take some water and then look up and around at the hills about me, giving myself time for the vision to become clearer.’

a photo of Faye on a mountain pointing

The road ahead

Do you know where you're going to..? (Diana Ross)

So where is she going, what next….

Faye is riding her bike, carrying bags of experience on her journey, moving down a gear whilst she gets her breath back.

‘Over time, I have learnt about my identity, my strengths, weaknesses and the challenges I face. I use them as positive experiences to guide me on the journey. Still, there is more to learn and everyday is new. It has taken time to be comfortable with myself after focusing all my determination and effort into getting where I am.

It is easy to become addicted to the next big challenge because you are so used to facing them anytime, anywhere. Being surrounded by people who believe in you also helps to carry you on. However, I realise that it is up to me to decide which opportunities I want to fight for, which challenges to face and when to race onward in terms of my career. Then I also need to choose to stop for a while and say no if I want or need to. When I’m ready for my next challenge, I know that my team will be there to support me. I’m aware now that I have nothing to prove to anyone and that’s a really good place to be.’

With thanks to Gail Jenkinson for use of her photography

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