Case Study

“I felt that what I had to say was valued. I started to value what I had to say for myself.”

Date published: 2 Mar 2022

Posted by: Joe Pick

Honey Williams, standing in front of her work

Honey Williams is a creative powerhouse. She is a singer-songwriter, a visual artist and designer. Between April 2021 and October 2021, Honey was artist-in-residence at City Arts.

In 2020, in the wake of global Black Lives Matter protests, Bo Olawoye led a series of discussions looking at how City Arts could support Black artists. Honey was part of the steering group. This led to Saziso Phiri’s CATALYST project. Saziso invited Honey to be artist-in-residence as part of it. Supported by a grant from City Arts, the residency was designed to give Honey time and space to develop her artistic practices.

I was honoured to receive an arts residency from somewhere. That’s never happened to me before. I didn’t really have much experience of City Arts, but the little experience that I did have was positive, so I went with it. For a long time I didn’t know what City Arts did, but I get it now.

Before the residency, I’d just been working on my computer really, making graphic art, and doing smaller illustrations. That’s really cool and I enjoy it, but I wanted to make bigger, larger things, and just utilise the space. The residency gave me a chance to be more free when creating work. It allowed me to experiment. I started off quite traditional, but then moved on to playing with materials – seeing what they did, seeing what I liked. That’s how it developed.

A large painting by Honey Williams.

Throughout Bo’s discussions and the residency, I felt that what I had to say was valued. I started to value what I had to say for myself. The level of respect contrasted with some really bad experiences I was having at the same time. Time and care was put into it, and I can see that’s a part of City Arts’ normal practice. I hadn’t really experienced that in the art world before. I’ve always had to over explain, or I’ve not been understood, or the things I’ve said haven’t been valued. Anywhere I’ve worked or been involved with has just been problematic – I’ve always had bad experiences. The environment here is just warm. There’s a lot of trust between everybody, which surprised me.

I produced work that I’m proud of, and that I actually like! I’ve made work before where people think ‘wow, that’s good’, but I haven’t always represented me – what I want to say as an artist. It can take so long to get to a place where your work is doing that. I feel like I’m at the beginning of creating really magnificent stuff. I just needed that time to just breathe a bit, and expand. I got to work in that big space downstairs at City Arts. I wasn’t anticipating that really!

Honey Williams standing in front of one of her paintings
Honey Williams standing in front of some of her work

Part way through the residency, Honey had a headline-making bad experience on one of her other projects. We supported Honey to meet with the organisers:

That meeting was really meaningful. I felt supported by City Arts. I felt confident to say what I need to say. It was lovely Saziso and Panya Banjoko could join as well. That was really powerful. I wish I could bottle it and present it to people: lots of powerful women round the table. They could see that I was a good artists and that I valued my work. I felt respected.

Getting to do my exhibition was really cool. It got a lot of people seeing my work, and a lot of attention on Instagram. People don’t necessarily realise I’m an artist, they just see me as a singer. It added an exclamation mark to my practise. I now feel more confident to do things like approach the Arts Council for funding. My next big thing is a performance at the New Arts Exchange on March 12th. It will be a mashup of art and music. A lot of the work I’ve produced at City Arts will be used for that.

Honey’s story shows how City Arts works to nuture artists and support their creative development. CATALYST is the template for our new RESIDENCE programme and Honey is working with us again, sitting on a steering group that will award a £1200 bursary to a local artist.

Book tickets for ‘Shrines’ by Honey Williams at New Art Exchange – 6:30pm, 12 March 2022