Resources Article

Studio Susegad: Writing Ourselves Into The Future

Independent creative producer, curator and facilitator Roseanna Dias reflects on how their learnings from the Inclusive Cultures course are feeding into the new ‘container’ for their work, Studio Susegad.

Over the Summer and Autumn of 2021, Inclusive Cultures brought together a crew of arts practitioners from across the country who are interested in and/or are experts in disability arts justice. These gatherings have provided moments of rich reflection and deep interrogation of where disability justice and other inclusive practices meet and can bolster each other, and where they can be embedded into our cultural work. I came to Inclusive Cultures with a desire to interrogate how my work can be more intentionally intersectional, and how it can address the roots of issues that affect Disabled/Neurodivergent and BIPOC (Black Indigenous People of Colour) artists and audiences.

The last five years of my practice have focused on supporting creatives of colour aged 16-30 through various means. This has included co-designed engagement programmes (or courses and experiences where people participate and design whatever we’re making happen together), social justice campaigns, co-curated events, and community-led action research (a way of creating knowledge outside institutions), all if it aimed at strategic change. Most recently, I’ve been working with Rising Arts Agency where I work across two projects and am part of the core team. I am Exec Producer on BE IT, supporting young leaders making change through non-traditional means. I also work as a Critical Agitator and Researcher on Rising’s Resourcing Racial Justice programme, supporting our BIPOC community and staff, and working to hold the sector to account.

Later this year I will be launching a new ‘container’ for my cultural work: Studio Susegad (pronounced soo-seh-gahd). It will be a new home for creative production in Bristol and beyond, and it will focus on ways of creating together that centre rest and care. ‘Susegad’ is a Konkani term from Goa, India where some of my family is from. It comes from the Portuguese ‘sossegado’ meaning quiet and in contemporary Goa, ‘susegad’ is a way of living life at a slower pace and in balance with nature, our bodies and our needs as humans. I’ll be seeking the quieter, gentler, more peaceful ways of change-making – ways that resist the burnout culture endemic in the creative industries and social justice work.

Studio Susegad is a culmination of many years of developing restorative practices in what I consider a broken sector – one where institutions have and hold on to power (sometimes at all costs) and if you’re on the fringes or see things could be/need things to be different, it can be damaging to be in those spaces. Studio Susegad provides a new ‘container’ for the ‘Strategies of Care’ that I’ve been developing – ways of rewiring traditional spaces. It’s a container where I aim to make visible the work, the labour, underneath the creative work. It aims to make visible the radical care at the heart of everything that me and my collaborators do, and to value this for the labour that it is, in and of itself, encompassing cultural, spiritual and emotional labour. Often it involves bringing in and recognising our own histories and complicities in the systems of oppression around us.

Studio Susegad is inspired by my work and relationships with Rising Arts Agency in Bristol, and with Rabab Ghazoul and the rest of the Cardiff based Turner nominated Gentle/Radical crew which I’m a part of. Being a part of this group of artists and non-artists working through a healing justice lens has helped me feel more confident that I’m on the right track, that I should keep going towards the things that make me feel good and feel more expansive, that makes me feel more connected and whole. Back in 2020, Rabab introduced me to writer-activist adrienne maree brown who puts into words so many of the feelings and desires I’ve had through my creative enquiries over the last few years, but which I never had the language to express adequately. In particular, adrienne’s book Emergent Strategy has become a cornerstone of my work and thinking.

Art is not neutral. It either upholds or disrupts the status quo, advancing or regressing justice. We are living now inside the imagination of people who thought economic disparity and environmental destruction were acceptable costs for their power. It is our right and responsibility to write ourselves into the future

adrienne maree brown, Emergent Strategy

Studio Susegad is, for me, part of that creative process of reimagining what the future could hold. How might we imagine a different paradigm within which to thrive? Writing this post is also a part of this… How does it feel to share Studio Susegad’s inner workings whilst they are so fresh, tender, like tiny new hopeful shoots reaching for the sunshine? The answer is, it makes me feel uncomfortable and vulnerable… but I know that these feelings are also necessary for growth and connection.

Time with the Inclusive Cultures crew and Programme Leads from Diverse City has helped me focus my thinking on what it looks and feels like to build in inclusion from the very start of dreaming Studio Susegad into being. Over the Winter of 2021, I developed the principles which I see as being at the heart of Studio Susegad and my practice going forward. Currently, there are 12 principles, all are in development and shifting, maybe some are repeating or crossing over, I’m still figuring it out… I’ve called them principles here, but perhaps they are better read as intentions at this point. They are:

  1. We create our own opportunities on our terms and try to get to the root of system change, building access in from the start
  2. We work equitably in partnerships and acknowledge power dynamics upfront – including our own power, positionality and privilege
  3. We develop socially engaged practices, artworks and experiences that are nourishing for all involved
  4. We want it to feel good – we create and nurture spaces of care and make room for pleasure activism
  5. We believe in the power of collective leadership
  6. We practice deep listening
  7. We embed rest in all that we do
  8. We make space for radical re/imagination
  9. We are rooted in our communities – whatever that means to us
  10. We are sustainable (environmentally, energetically, emotionally, financially)
  11. We share good food
  12. We show up – we have brave conversations for ourselves and for others

I’m under no illusion that a lot of this is aspirational… These principle-intentions set out a vision for how I want to work and how I know I work best – that is when the work doesn’t feel like work when it comes from the soul when it’s soul work. The incredible inclusion practitioner, psychotherapeutic counsellor and writer Grace Quantock says in her work The Anatomy of Conversation that there is a gap between our appetite and our aptitude for making inclusive cultures, processes and spaces. Graces’ work has been developed specifically with established institutions in mind, but her framework is also applicable to my own practice and to Studio Susegad.

I’m aware that this work will be difficult because it’s trying to operate in antithesis to the systems in which we’re currently working, which often aim for maximum extraction from people and places. And I know there’s going to be a lot of work to do convincing funders and partners that things can be different, but I fundamentally believe that coming from a place of intentional care, and armed with strategies of care that have been honed and co-developed with people in Bristol and beyond, that this is exactly how I need to start… in the place of radical imagination, by writing myself and this way of working into the world and into the future.

I desperately want to see a creative sector that cares – individually, collectively and strategically. I will be integrating the reflections and learnings from my Inclusive Cultures journey into Studio Susegad. I’ll be slowly developing the frameworks that support these quieter, slower, kinder ways of working so that our creative commissions, strategic interventions and training sessions, artists retreats, community projects and product development can unfold in more ethical ways. I’m most interested in finding ways of collective working and being that are in tune with nature, with our bodies and with our needs as humans, particularly those who are marginalised by the sector. I’ll be continuing to think deeply about these things over the Spring of this year, and for many years I’m sure… this feels like a life’s work and I know it will be ever-emerging…

Soon I’ll be embarking on a creative business development course supported by the West of England Combined Authority, and it feels right that this comes after identifying my principle-intentions for supporting and fostering inclusive cultures in Studio Susegad. Right now, I’m looking for partners to work on ideas, projects and campaigns with ethical co-creation at their heart. Through Studio Susegad we will bring critical thinking, and curatorial, production and engagement expertise to the table, and I want to work with partners who believe how you do things is as important as what you do. And so if this sounds like you, please do get in touch to discuss how we might collaborate on this radical re-imagining in practice, and thank you for reading. Finally, I wish you a rest-full, soul-full year ahead.

Find out more about Roseanna’s work and Studio Susegad over at roseannadias.com

Themes Inclusive Leadership Practice Qualities of Leadership