Mothers Who Make’s local hubs run peer-support groups, workshops, and gallery trips – and artists are always welcome to bring their children.
When Adele Mary Reed had her daughter five years ago, she did the rounds at mum-and-baby groups. But, like so many new mothers, she sometimes struggled to find the types of friends and conversations that she needed.
“You need to find your tribe when you become a mother,” says Reed (pictured above), an artist based in Coventry. “Sometimes if you just go to a [general] baby-group you all just end up talking about nappies and sleep patterns, because that’s what you have in common.”
In 2019, Reed and another local artist set up the Coventry chapter of Mothers Who Make, an international movement for artists who are mums. Reed organises peer-support sessions, workshops, talks, and gallery trips. Women are always welcome to bring their children along, in order to make the events as inclusive as possible. Interruptions are never frowned upon.
“Crucially, [we hold the peer-support sessions] in an institution, like a gallery or a theatre – somewhere where it might have seemed like an obstacle to come with your kids,” says Reed, who experiments with photography and videography in her artworks. “Because we need to make sure that we belong there, and feel comfortable and welcomed.”
Mothers Who Make was founded in 2014 by Matilda Leyser (pictured left), a UK-based artist who specialises in circus performances and physical theatre. When Leyser had her first child in London in 2012, she found herself yo-yo-ing between playgrounds where she was wholly seen as a mother, and rehearsal rooms where she was wholly seen as an artist. In the professional spaces, children weren’t even present.
“It made me realise how segregated space tends to be, into those two camps,” she says. “What seemed to be missing was a third kind of space, where I could be visible in both of my identities.”
So Leyser created that “third space” herself, by starting a local peer-support group where artist-mothers could both discuss their work and bring their children. Mothers Who Make now has 10 chapters in the UK, USA, France, and Australia, plus an online community of around 3,000 artists – virtual events began during the Covid pandemic and have remained popular.
“It’s grown in ways that I never anticipated, which is really glorious,” Leyser says. She provides support and advice for anyone who wants to set up a local chapter, and after that the hubs are autonomous.
For many working mothers and fathers, meeting fellow parents in their sector can be a source of practical tips and emotional support. In some sectors, independent organisations facilitate this – PiPA hosts regional forums for parents in the performing arts, while the Bar Council has a maternity mentoring scheme for barristers.
Many large employers, such as John Lewis and Vodafone, also run their own in-house staff networks for parents. Some employers even pair up staff members for one-to-one peer support – the construction company J Murphy & Sons is developing a “buddy” scheme for working parents this year.
In the coming months, Leyser wants to focus on expanding Mothers Who Make’s online events – this includes the core peer-support sessions, plus digital spaces for artists to show their work and discussion groups for mothers from marginalised communities. She has also set up an optional “Matronage” subscription scheme for online users, to help ensure that the project is financially sustainable.
The local hubs fund themselves independently. In Coventry, Reed won funding from the city’s biennial art festival last year, and she is awaiting confirmation about her next round of funding from them. Women across the city have formed vital relationships through her hub – boosting each other’s confidence, teaching each other artistic techniques, and sharing childcare when galleries have evening events.
“When I started going [to the hub], I was looking for a way back into my art after having my youngest child. It’s hard to keep your creative self going with kids,” says Polly Merredew (pictured above), a Coventry-based artist who creates bright geometric paintings, and a single mother with three children.
“For me, it’s been a lifeline…I met so many people who were going through the same thing.”
Picture credits: Photo of Matilda Leyser by Viola Depcik. All other photos by Shyamantha Asokan.