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  • Writer's pictureStacey Toner

'If content is King, context is God.' – Gary Vaynerchuk

March was an unexpected month of ‘juggling’ – managing multiple work streams on top of some personal surprises, including an MS relapse, the first in quite a long time. It became a stark reminder that even when we carefully plan our time and our capacity, it can only take one thing out of the blue to derail our focus and progress.

The AIM research residency is going well; I feel that there is movement in the right direction and that time has been well spent considering what’s working and what’s next. From exploring our approach to supporting local artists, to defining what funding opportunities to prioritise and taking an uncomfortable step into thinking about how we generate income in different ways. But when something else eats into your line of attention, it can be really difficult to remain present or fully invested in work. I’ve found that to be the most challenging aspect of the last month – I really don’t like how being preoccupied took me away from what I deem important aspects of my day, and how that (in my own head!) potentially makes me project as unorganised, incapable, or unreliable.

A few conversations really helped me gain perspective on this, though. Some colleagues reminded me (in more gentle words than this), that everybody has sh*t going on. This could be work stress, relationship issues, family pressure, health considerations – the point being, that life doesn’t just stop between 9-5pm or during employment hours, it’s not that convenient. Another person, someone whom I have only come to know through this difficult patch, commented on how we all individually process information and situations, and that the way in which we hold ourselves and deal with troubles speaks a lot about our character; I have a feeling this person will become a friend. And finally, someone whom I have known for a time but not in a personal respect, found themselves approaching me at a particularly vulnerable moment, which resulted in them holding space for some unpredictable tears and private outpourings. The kindness of this person was not only appreciated and needed at the time, but upon reflection highlighted how basic human compassion can and should transcend the stronghold of a professional dynamic when appropriate.

There is one word I tend to overuse when teaching, ‘context’. I am forever harping on about the lens in which we might construct an argument and how we need to be mindful of our own experiences, beliefs, and assumptions in shaping how we interpret the world. But actually, this does command significant weight. With holding or giving context can completely alter how you and/or others understand a situation to be. On one of my most tired days where I was feeling slow, I got frustrated at feeling lazy, but in contextualising that within the scope of MS fatigue, realigned this description to rest. To an outsider, without me being open, they too may have considered me lazy – or simply, unavailable at that particular moment.

With specific relation to this residency, I’ve shifted into a place of prioritising. The last three months have been pretty all encompassing with meeting people, hearing about best practice, getting a bit lost in the overwhelm of expectations – but this month I’ve had the realisation that many of those expectations are self-imposed, and it’s ok to recalibrate doing a few things that are of strategic importance, and doing them well. I’ve also come to accept that I probably do live in the ‘grey zone’ – where the lines between life and work aren’t so easily compartmentalised as they are for others. Is that me? Or is that indicative of the crazy, colourful, fabulous art sphere we place ourselves in?!

Marcel Duchamp

To Be Looked at (from the Other Side of the Glass) with One Eye, Close to, for Almost an Hour (1918)

Museum of Modern Art

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