Tell us a little bit about you. Your work, when you started working with culture, health and wellbeing, and how?
I am a child sex abuse survivor artist activist and Artistic Director of Viv Gordon Company CIC - we are an arts and social justice organisation creatively campaigning for voice, visibility, community and cultural leadership by, for and with child sexual abuse survivors aged 14+. I have worked in the arts for over 20 years. Previously, I led community dance organisation Mean Feet Dance and developed an approach to mental health access and inclusion that informs a lot of the work I do today. I’m very tired of individualised narratives about health. For me, wellbeing is inextricable from social justice so my work focuses on that.
What have you been doing today?
Today, I am working from home. I’m doing lots of prep and promo for our upcoming Restless events. Restless is an arts activism project that uses coastal landscapes to talk about child sexual abuse survivor journeys. The central idea is the restless unstoppable sea that keeps going no matter what and over time changes the landscape as a metaphor for activism and the power of continuous collective action. On the 20th Sept we have a community day for child sexual abuse survivors, friends and allies - there are in person and remote participation opportunities and a 1 minute silence for our community. Then on 5th Oct, I am being the front woman of a punk band at our first ever gig. I’ve co-written songs that tell my autobiographical story from abuse to activism with incredible composers Thomas Johnson and Quinta. So as well as doing lots of emails and social media stuff today I am also having voice coaching…
Is that a typical day for you?
There is no typical day in my job. Often I am working from home, planning projects, fundraising and meeting other survivor artists and activists. We have a large project running currently called UpFront Survivors which brings me into contact with the wider child sexual abuse survivor community through delivering workshops, pop up spaces and networking meetings. Other times, I am in residencies to research and develop or rehearse new work. I also deliver quite a lot of training, mentoring and consultancy - usually around mental health access and inclusion, working with child sexual abuse survivors, working creatively with trauma narratives and supporting survivors into creative leadership. The best days are spent with child sexual abuse survivor artists, activists and community - its still so rare and radical for us to gather - we have been in hiding for so long - those days feel like being in the hot bed of a revolution - fizzy, victorious and delicious.
We’re excited to host you for the Making Change national conference. What does that phrase mean to you in your work?
As an artist activist all of my work is about creative changemaking. I work from the basis that communities make change - if we look through history at any civil rights movement - it is communities coming together, articulating their concerns and representing their own interests, that has led to change. My work is about understanding why the child sexual abuse survivor community - an estimated 11 million adults in the UK - have not been able to gather as a community yet. As isolated individuals we are easy to pathologise, marginalise, overlook and ignore. If we can remove the barriers that stop us gathering (stigma, shame, cultural silence), then we can work together to get justice for our community. I want critical mass and statutory access for our community. All of my work is about that.
What have you been curious about / inspired by lately?
I’m really interested in the intersectionality of our child sexual abuse survivor community. As I said, there are an estimated 11 million of us in the UK and of course, we are not all the same. As we work to make change we need to understand this. I’m starting with myself - I have Jewish heritage which is really unexplored for me because it comes through my abusive paternal line. But I’ve been really inspired recently by a collection of essays called There Is Nothing So Whole As a Broken Heart edited by anarchist Cindy Milstein. The collection talks about harnessing Jewish cultural practices to radical agendas. It has inspired me to submit an application to explore the intersection of my survivor and Jewish identities - there’s so much crossover - so much has been survived, so much has been compartmentalised, denied, hidden… so much grief, rage, erasure… as well as so much knowing and resource. My company’s core belief is that survival is a creative act - as survivors we are inherently creative beings otherwise we wouldn’t be here. If we can mobilise that creativity - everything changes.
You can find out more about Viv's work here:
Making Change; The Culture, Health and Wellbeing alliance national conference is happening in Barnsley from 11-13 October.