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Amy Lawrence outlines the wide-ranging benefits arising from her Jerwood Creative Fellowship at Manchester International Festival.

Photo of a performance of 10,000 Gestures
A performance of 10,000 Gestures

© Tarnish Vision

Manchester International Festival (MIF) is a festival of original, new work and special events, staged every two years. Two years ago it launched the Jerwood Creative Fellowship to offer Manchester-based creatives within the first ten years of their practice a £3,000 bursary and the chance to gain valuable insight into the international artistic processes and networks behind MIF commissions and productions.

I am an artist, producer and educator based in Manchester, creating interdisciplinary live and visual projects. When I applied for the fellowship, it was a few years after I had graduated, and I was building a freelance career. I had been curating and producing DIY projects and opportunities for artists working in movement and live practices from across the UK and internationally. Although that was exciting, I was eager to find a more equal balance between creating and supporting.

Being selected started my journey to becoming a more confident artist, able to negotiate ambitious and challenging spaces.

Confidence and challenges

I recognised the fellowship as an opportunity to work with a large-scale organisation, fully invest in my own development and have space to reconsider what I wanted to achieve with my creative work.

I was interviewed in the winter of 2016 via a group interview and was surprised and thrilled to be awarded the fellowship considering the level of artists that had been interviewed. Being selected started my journey to becoming a more confident artist, able to negotiate ambitious and challenging spaces.

I entered the fellowship with an aim of developing my knowledge of choreographic processes and decision-making around content, design and production for a large-scale work, expanding my networks and forming a meaningful relation with MIF. I also hoped to meet a cohort of supportive peers of local artists making exciting work.

I was paired with the French choreographer Boris Charmatz who was producing a work called ’10,000 Gestures’ for MIF17. I knew this would allow me to expand my knowledge about work that felt more interdisciplinary, epic and experimental than the work I was able to access in Manchester at that time. There were regular informative meetings with Charmatz’s producer, Martina Hochmuth, enabling me to be involved in conversations around the process of staging the work.

I spent time in Mayfield Depot, a former railway station, watching and documenting the rehearsal process, and engaged in conversations with the wider team and dancers around their own practices and roles. I also took part in three trips to see '10,000 Gestures’ in Rennes in France, in Berlin and a visit to London to see another of Charmatz’s works ‘Danse de nuit’, furthering my understanding of process and experimentation in different cultural contexts.

The fellowship culminated in two events that allowed me to involve my own local networks in the creative process and build relationships with local organisations: a podcasting workshop with Reform Radio for local friends and Manchester residents; and a workshop for local artists hosted by Contact Theatre responding to the fellowship experience.

As a cohort we had focused personal development sessions and meetings with different departments at MIF. This developed into a project called SO FEY in July 2017, directly influenced by my research and learning. The work was platformed as part of Co:LAB Festival at The Royal Exchange Theatre. As a result of this, I was offered the 2018/19 Supported Artist position with the Open Exchange. And through that opportunity, I have recently been successful in applying for funding for a new project called ‘KINGS’ that builds on my interest in ensemble movement.

‘KINGS’ is a new interdisciplinary, live art and choreographic project co-created with and performed by a group of young, self-identifying men of colour from Manchester, outside after dark in the city centre, exploring the socio-visibility of masculine blackness in darkness. This work represents a widening of scale and ambition in my practice. MIF supported me by helping to recruit the performers and gave valuable management and producing advice.

Subsequent activities

I have been an active member of MIF’s board of directors as the Youth Representative, and am also an active member of its equality and diversity working group. My role on the board has developed my leadership, business and management knowledge. MIF values my input into these leadership processes and I now have a regular section on the board agenda.

I continue to learn, interact and share knowledge with MIF in a valued and supportive environment. Alongside self-led activity and freelance producing and teaching roles, I now work as a project manager delivering the national project Diverse Actions, allowing me to support interdisciplinary practices and learn by being exposed to exciting and radical projects. My experience at MIF as both an artist and in a leadership capacity continues to inform my approach to my work.

Amy Lawrence is an artist, producer and educator.
IG @_a_lawrence

This year the fellowship scheme is a key part of the festival’s journey towards The Factory, a major new arts space being developed in the heart of the city.

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Photo of Amy Lawrence