Author: Pippa Best

As well as being an exhausted but mostly happy mum, and one of the founders of Story of Mum, I write and work as a Script Consultant on feature films and co-run the Cross Channel Film Lab, helping writers and directors to tell their stories and reach an audience. I live with my surf-obsessed husband, hilarious son and daughter in a chaotic house in Cornwall, UK. Things that make me feel good: the sea, chocolate, zumba, yoga, and puddle-jumping.

Following an idea from Cornwall to New York

A washing line of words completing the sentence "I'm a mum and a..." Credit: Pat Kelman

This time last year, I had a vision of a participatory Story of Mum exhibition celebrating motherhood. I had never hosted an exhibition before, I had no idea how to budget or deliver one, and I didn’t consider myself in any way an artist. But I went ahead and made an application to the Arts Council anyway – because I believe in following up on those ideas that won’t stop wiggling in your gut. You never know where they will lead you.

It must have been a good application. In May, we hosted our first exhibition and events at the MK Gallery in Milton Keynes. Standing with my mum in front of 40 bemused mothers, I was terrified. I started to explain what Story of Mum and the exhibition was all about, my speech written on a piece of card that shook as I spoke. I spoke about giving mothers a voice. About being seen and heard. About taking time out to publicly value all that we do, and to share our stories with others.

The bemused looks faded and mums began to share their stories, made art and talked – about the deep stuff, the difficult stuff, the stuff we have in common and the stuff that is all our own. That first experience and the incredible feedback from the mums who took part exceeded all our expectations. Having planned one pop-up event, we stayed at the gallery for a month.

Our events at the Photographers' Gallery. Credit: Pat Kelman

Next was a month at The Exchange in Penzance, my home town in Cornwall. I was nervous all over again. What would my friends and school-gate acquaintances think of this crazy idea? What would they think of me? In one night, I learnt more about their stories than I had managed to glean in 5 years of chatting as we pushed buggies and swings. There were tears, lots of tears. And laughter and singing. It was exhilarating and powerful.

By the time we reached The Photographers’ Gallery in London, I believed we had something special.  But I was still terrified that our participatory art would be dwarfed by the ‘real’ artists all around us. Then, as I began to talk to the first visitors about what we were doing and why, I had the most amazing sensation of aliveness. That I was doing what I was made to do. I felt beautiful, to my soul. As if I was shining. Believe me, it’s hard to write that, because the internal belittling voices are not happy with me claiming that. But I truly felt it – like the idea had come to life in me, and I could see it bringing life to others.

 A full wall of Mama Mash-Ups! Credit: Caroline Smith

And now, in just a few days time, we are taking our exhibition to New York! An impossible thought this time last year. And yet, we’ll be there, at the Museum of Motherhood from 5-8 December. To launch, my mother and I are even co-hosting a workshop with the wonderful Suzi Banks Baum, the very artist whose work inspired one of our major exhibition activities – the Mama Mash-Up.

That idea certainly had a very good reason to wiggle last year. I am so glad I listened to it. And of course, right now, I sit in the blue-greyness of doubt once more. Who am I to turn up in New York? Will anyone be interested? Will anyone come? As I think these thoughts, I try to hold on to that feeling of aliveness. Of the power of an idea taking on its own life, shining into mine and lighting up the lives of others. So much of following our dreams is faith.  In an idea. In ourselves. In community.

I’d love to see you there.

Mothers completing the sentence "I'm a mum and a..." as part of the exhibition. Credits: Andra Alexander, Chris Webber.
Mothers completing the sentence “I’m a mum and a…” as part of the exhibition. Credits: Andra Alexander, Chris Webber.

Meet up with Pippa & her mom Penny in New York City this month and join in their make dates for mums & families!   

Thursday 5 December, 5-7pm: Story of Mum/Femail Mash Up Make Date 

Sunday 8 December, 1-3pm: Family Make Date

A Community of Stories: The Story of Mum

A Community of Stories: The Story of Mum

Two and a half years ago, my mother and I launched Story of Mum in memory of a lost friend: a young mother, a creative inspiration, and the heart of our community.

It has already grown into more than we imagined together. A creative community of mothers, supporting each other as we play – online and off. It is living breathing doodling sculpting writing photographing proof of the power of our stories. The power of believing that there is a value in us telling them, and in listening to the stories of others. The power of a community that creates together.

As part of our touring exhibition and events programme (yes, somehow we have one of those! How wonderful is that, Loz!) we recently held two “Make Dates” at The Exchange, a gallery in Penzance, my home town. The Exchange hosts artists like Patrick Lowry, John Newling, Tatsumi Orimoto, and a load of mums. That’s us. I wouldn’t claim we’ve joined the high art community, but as they say of Elvis, we are in the building.

We do all sorts of wonderful things online – encouraging mums to create via the website and at our monthly twitter Make Dates (join us on the second Weds of every month, using #somum). But these most recent Make Dates, face to face, captured something very precious about the value of creative community for me.

A Community of Stories: The Story of Mum

At our Family Make Date, mums, dads, grandparents, friends, all sat together and created alongside our kids. Not leading them. Alongside them. We sat nearby, creating as they did. Connected. Equal. Lost in the precious moment of making something for the joy of it. We were a creative family.

The kids’ creativity was freeform. There were tool-kits for making butterflies, animals, paper-chains. And there was play-dough, painting, drawing, cutting, sticking – the equipment in the room their only limitation. Children, full of inspiring energy and a joyful lack of self-consciousness.

For us mothers, less familiar with playing for ourselves, less used to creating for the pure pleasure of it, there was more of a framework. Loose enough to interpret, structured enough to feel secure. We made Mama Mash-Ups (a simple strip collage exercise to explore ourselves) and Identity Parades (paper people chains of all the different people we are).

Perhaps most importantly, we knew we were making something that would join the travelling exhibition. We were creating in the context of a wider creative community of mothers. Contributing our voices to an unfolding story of motherhood. A story that says society may not value our contributions fully and our sense of self may have shrunk as a result. But our creation story is here, in our hearts and now out on these gallery walls.

A Community of Stories: The Story of Mum

“What are you making mummy?” A chance to explain who I am. “Look at mine!” I see my daughter in her scribbles. My son points up at the gallery wall “Is that yours mummy? It’s beautiful”. Hugs. Pride.

A deep connection is made in creating alongside each other. In the knowledge that we are distinct, but part of something greater. The experience adds depth and resonance to what we create. We inspire those around us, and they in turn inspire us. In doing so with our children, we are also reminded of how creating used to feel. We are a child again, believing in the possibility and value of our own creations, our dreams, our stories.

Our second event was a Mums’ Make Date. This time, we sat alongside other mothers, loosened from our children by distance and margheritas, holding cupcakes free of sticky fingerprints, to share our stories.

We created together, and we talked without interruptions. We made biscuit poetry with the wonderful Sally Crabtree, who also sang us the most uplifting and hilarious poem, made up of words from our communal Mums’ Poem, submitted by mothers all over the world.

Five mothers shared their own mothering journeys in a simple film format: 10 photos, with just 20 seconds or so to talk about each. Stories of coming late to motherhood, losing track of the partnership at the heart of a marriage, facing miscarriages, Cystic Fibrosis, Downs’ Syndrome, always the unexpected. Stories of how motherhood has transformed us, in spite or because of these challenges. Of the joy and the constant loss. Of the fear and the magic. In this creative act, together, we found ourselves.

Most of the time, we don’t see the story layers of those around us as we go about our daily busy-ness. It’s not until we come together to create, vulnerably and openly, and to share what we create, that we are able to remind ourselves of just how valuable our contributions are.

We remember that mistakes are part of the journey, that crying together, or laughing so much that cake gets stuck up our noses, is OK. In creative community, we understand that whatever our background, our status, our troubles and experience, we have a voice. Our stories deserve to be told. Even when we’re gone.

All photos credited to Chris Webber 

Where do you gather to share community stories? Please let us know in the comments!

A Joyful Postcard from Cornwall

Pippa Best, Postcards from Camp

My son perfectly illustrating how kids are a direct channel to joy. Yet again, his delight reminded me to appreciate the sheer thrill of a day at the beach with friends, chasing each other round a field chucking hay until dad’s delivery of steaming salty fish and chips. Together, we sat blissfully at the top of the cliff, stuffing our faces, and watching the sky turn pink. Unutterably perfect.

Submitted by the lovely Pippa Best from Story of Mum! Check out all the beautiful submissions in our Postcards from Camp series right here.