Tory Hayward is a self-taught artist based in St Anns, Nottingham.
As part of our Residence project, she applied for a bursary aimed at artists from the communities of St Anns or Sneinton. Her proposal was selected by a panel made up of community leaders from the areas. This is a form of ‘Community Commissioning’, where local people are invited to make decision about the art they would like to see in their community.
Tory received a £1200 bursary. Using this funding, she presented an exhibition of Pysanky. A tradition from Ukraine, Pysanky are ornately decorated eggs rich in history and symbolism. In response to Russia’s invasion of the country, Tory decorated 100 eggs as an act of solidarity with the Ukrainian people. She ran workshops and we hosted opening and closing events for the exhibitions, which involved members of the Ukrainian Community and Nottingham residents more widely.
I’m always looking for interesting ways to challenge myself. I saw an advert for the bursary at a good time in my creative development. I was in the process of transferring some of skills I’d honed working with lino onto these Ukrainian Pysanky eggs. It came at a time when we were all thinking about Ukraine and what we each could personally do. I saw the Residence opportunity and it struck me that this was a way I could use my creative practice to help. It felt like a meaningful time to be doing this project.
The story behind Pysanky is that for each egg decorated good will triumph for another year. I worked hard to get people from Nottingham’s Ukrainian community involved. So, beyond the exhibition, I hope the project had a meaningful, emotional impact on people. And also broadened the knowledge of people who perhaps had little knowledge of Ukraine and its traditions. Decorating the 100 eggs was a very mindful process. It felt like an act of service.
I hadn’t fully anticipated the level of support I would get from City Arts. There was incredible wraparound assistance with every aspect of planning and delivering the project and exhibition. I got support with the thinking around the exhibition itself, thinking about social media, thinking about how we connect with people. City Arts did so much work on things like securing music for the closing event. It made it into a real event.
I also loved how collaborative the Residence experience was. I did briefly worry, “have I just signed up to run a major project?” But I was delighted to discover that it was definitely a real partnership and that was a really lovely thing to be a part of.
One surprising thing is how well the relationship with the Ukrainian community developed. One unexpected – but very welcome – feature that developed from the project was the support from and co-creation with the Ukrainian community in Nottingham. Given the pressures on this community at the time I was working on the project, I didn’t want to make anyone feel obligated to participate, but they came forward and chose to get involved. The community that we wanted to highlight really took the project to heart. Some of the eggs are now at Nottingham Ukrainian Centre, on permanent display. The exhibition became more than a visual display and took on powerful aspects of co-creation and mutual support. A highlight for me was performing a spoken-word piece about the pysanky legend at the launch of the exhibition in English and Ukrainian with a colleague in the Ukrainian community.
I hadn’t done many collaborative projects in the past. I’ve created work, mostly for myself, and I’ve run a few workshops. Nothing previously had been this coherent or involved public outreach, input and co-creation. The project pulled together lots of my skill and past experience, and left space for me to develop as an artist as well.
It’s amazing how artist-centred you are. You invested time and resources into my work and my vision. You looked at what value City Arts could add. That was really unexpected and amazing.
Tory’s story shows the important role that communities, through a commissioning process, can play in supporting the creative development of local artists. It shows how this can be a catalyst for supporting and spotlighting other members of the community, in this case Ukrainians living in Nottingham. Tory greatly appreciated City Arts nurturing approach to her project. It led to an outcome that she believes was greater than the sum of her past experiences.