Mothers Who Make

Run by Matilda Leyser (Theatre Maker, Writer, Mother) and Exeter-based Lizzy Humber (Producer, Artist, Mother), Mothers Who Make (MWM) hosts peer support meetings and an online community for mothers who are artists and makers. Lizzy – who also runs the MWM Exeter Hub at the Phoenix – tells us more about it…

What do you do?

Mothers Who Make is an artist-led movement addressing how motherhood impacts the lives, expectations and identities of women. We welcome mothers who are artists and makers, in any discipline and at any stage on their creative paths. Every kind of maker is welcome: professional and/or passionate. Every kind of mother is welcome. Children are encouraged to attend too and are integrated into the meeting, for the dual roles of mother and artist are recognised and given equal value within all MWM events.

And what keeps you doing it?

For a start, my incredibly unique job description, which states: ‘At its heart, Mothers Who Make is an ongoing piece of artistic research investigating the following question: mother and artist, both are creative practices – how can the two inform each other and how can this exchange in turn be fed into and inform the wider artistic and cultural landscape? i.e. instead of mothers dropping out, how can we pick up what they know/learn?’

I love seeing the difference we make to how women view motherhood and their creative identities alongside it. The groups also offer friendship and solidarity, in knowing we are not alone, and acknowledging the challenges and the experiences we face. The work women are making as a result of receiving support is incredibly inspiring too.

I have a fire in my belly about how society talks about motherhood. How we are educated about motherhood, or motherhood prevention. How motherhood is seen as damaging to careers. How women feel they have to hide their motherhood from their employers. The inflexibility of some employers to support working mothers. The high cost of childcare. The invisibility you can feel when you become a mother and the loss of professional networks. The mental load and the everyday unpaid work. Recently I have written my role of ‘Mother’ on my CV. It has taught me so much and has become an integral part of my identity, creativity and activism. It is an on going education.

The support I have received from this colossal network of women has been extraordinary. Last year I had a miscarriage. It was shocking and brutal. I had an overwhelming desire to write about the experience, as I truly had no idea what miscarriage was like. The story poured from me one day and I shared it through the MWM network. A lot of people read it and found it useful. I was incredibly humbled by others sharing their stories with me, and I realised just how common it is, and how people very rarely talk about it. So I’ve made a home for stories like these on our website, which shares aspects of motherhood that can feel invisible or taboo to talk about in our society. It’s for anyone to read, not just mothers:

Mothers Who Make taking part in a Speculative Supermodels workshop in Exeter. Left to right: Natalie Stone and children, Lizzy Humber and daughter, Jenny Cahill and son.

Mothers Who Make taking part in a Speculative Supermodels workshop in Exeter. Left to right: Natalie Stone and children, Lizzy Humber and daughter, Jenny Cahill and son.

How did Mothers Who Make start?

It began with Matilda Leyser in 2014. She had a growing sense of there being experiences and challenges specific to being both a mother and an artist. She noticed many parallels between the two roles: both are concerned with creativity and play, both require stamina, patience, sensitivity, both keep her up at night. At the same time, she was struck by the strength of the cultural assumption that the two were incompatible: she was told she must compromise on either her creative work or her mothering. She wanted to challenge this. Matilda put out an invitation to mother-artists, across art forms, to join a peer support group at The Southbank Centre in London, to which they could also bring their children of any age.

I got involved in 2015 when I attended a meeting whilst pregnant with my daughter. Matilda and I joined forces last year to grow this grassroots revolution. We now providing monthly peer support meetings (hubs) in 23 arts-related venues.

I started MWM Exeter in May 2018 with Holly Holt (Butoh dancer and Mother) and Estelle Buckridge (Theatre Maker & Mother). To our surprise, 42 women and 30 children turned up to our first meeting. Women had travelled from Totnes, Honiton, Barnstaple, Exmouth. We’ve being going strong ever since. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done.

Who do you work with and why?

We support 43 amazing mother makers across the UK to run their MWM hubs, and talk to many more. We work in partnership with arts venues. We are supported by Improbable, which is a London-based theatre company. We also advocate for other organisations like PIPA (Parents and Carers in Performing Arts), Motherworks, Desperate Artwives, Notnow Collective, ProCreate Project, Dance Mama – to name a few. It is a total joy when we manage to bring people from across the country together. Recently we ran a Devoted and Disgruntled event at Shakespeare’s Globe. I always love talking to people in person, as so much of our interaction is online, through Skype and WhatsApp, but it is very personal nonetheless.

MWM’s activity blurs the lines between artist, participant and audience, allowing the roles to enrich each other. The same person can participate in a hub workshop/meeting, attend sharings, support others, be commissioned to make new work. We too are participants in the work.

Those involved in the movement tell us they are inspired and motivated to nurture their creative identities, to make new work, to find new collaborators and communities. They can feel more confident to work alongside their children in ways that work for them, or to challenge attitudes of colleagues, employers, family members. Many tell us MWM has been valuable in supporting their mental health, particularly in early motherhood.

Name one thing that would make your life easier as an artist or arts organiser.

Money is always a big one. Money is one way of valuing the work we do. It would be great to fund our time, to have more financial security. We want all the mother makers running hubs to be paid – more venues are paying them a regular fee, which is really encouraging. As much as passion drives us, we all have mouths to feed and want to be valued for the work we do.

Talk us through a favourite project.

Last year we ran a campaign called #MakeYourselfVisible. Mother makers across the world were challenged to send us an image of what their mothering and making looks like. It was inspiring and humbling to see so many images (you can view the gallery here). From that we created a monthly interview called Mother of the Month. Our aim is to make visible the reality of what mothering and making looks like for different women, not intimidate or put women on a pedestal. We’re trying to dismantle the pedestal.

What’s been the best moment for you in the last year?

In May, I marked one year running MWM with Matilda and one year running MWM Exeter hub with Holly and Estelle. It also marked the due date of the baby I lost, so it was a big month to reflect and feel grateful for all we have achieved and learnt in a year together. I am learning that perfectionism is unhelpful (motherhood is definitely teaching me this), and the cracks and the bumps teach you much more and afford you a much richer experience.

And what’s coming up?

We will be at the Edinburgh Fringe for the first time this year:

MWM Torbay launches at Torre Abbey on Thursday 19 September, 10.30am-12noon, in the learning lab.

We are planning 26 new hubs in the UK and four hubs overseas – in Paris, Los Angeles, Perth and Nairobi!

I’m planning new activity in Devon. We are looking to seed rural hubs in Devon to tackle rural isolation in motherhood. I’m also looking to pilot work with girls and young women, which explores modern motherhood, led by artists.

We are writing lots of funding bids and looking for sponsorship to make lots of our ideas come to fruition.

In what ways are you helping to put Exeter on the cultural map, nationally or internationally?

Mothers Who Make Exeter is a hub with more than 140 mother makers in the local area, but is connected to 5,000 women in the MWM network.

MWM Exeter is trialling lots of new approaches that are informing other hubs. We run workshops, monthly peer support meetings; we collaborate with local organisations and broker creative opportunities for our members. We ran a radio show for International Women’s Day, supported by the wonderful Dreadnought South West, at Phonic FM for Occupy the Airwaves earlier this year – we hope to do this again as it was an incredible experience. Listen here.

In Exeter, we’ve collaborated with Chhaya Collective, Dance in Devon, Nicci Wonnacott, MakeTank and the AWEsome Art Space. We are very grateful to the support and belief Exeter Phoenix have had to make this hub so vibrant and important to so many. We have only just scratched the surface of what we can do together in Exeter and how we can collaborate across the UK and internationally with the wider network. Watch this space. Or better still, get involved!

What if…?

…we could collaborate with organisations to think about how they support women who are mothers remaining in the arts (and beyond), and welcoming children into spaces that they are traditionally unwelcome

… we celebrated the knowledge and experience caring roles roles offer us? How these roles inform making? How can they inform future thinking? What is lost/overlooked when we don’t place equal value and status on the role of mothers/carers alongside paid roles? Could the skills we learn as mothers/carers transform the arts and business, and help us to face global challenges? What happens if we remove the domestic labelling of the role of mother/carer, and promote them to ‘future planners’?

How do we find out more?

Start a conversation:

Support us:

Keep up to date:


Twitter: @MothersWhoMake

National Facebook: /MothersWhoMake

Exeter Facebook: groups/mwmexeterhub


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