Illustrated visual identity for People United’s first Care Lab showing illustrated portraits of the facilitators and provocateurs as well as written prompts and questions.

Care Lab – An emotional and practical exploration of radical care

People United’s first Care Lab was hosted online on 23rd November 2022 as part of our Futures of Care programme. Cultural thinker and member of People United's advisory panel Suzanne Alleyne facilitated three sessions with participants that included artists, producers, arts organisations, community organisations and funders/commissioners. Here she summarises her reflections on the day.
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This piece is for anyone who finds themselves reading it, but it is likely that you are one of three types of readers:

  • You’re completely new to this project – in which case I suggest you start here and read this bit of background, then watch the artist provocations.
  • You took part in a Futures of Care project but didn’t attend the Care Lab sessions – in which case the Mural Board is a good way in
  • You were at the Care Lab – in which case, hello again, dive in at any point you’re drawn to

Before I move any further, I want to let you know that this has been an iterative learning for everyone – for People United, and everyone involved – and so People United welcome thoughts, feedback and suggestions. And they recognise that what is contribution for some is unpaid labour for others so please do get in touch in any way that feels comfortable for you.


A bit of background

People United’s first Care Lab was hosted online on Wednesday 23rd November as part of their Futures of Care programme.

The Care Lab aimed to bring people together across distance, experience and practice to explore the questions:

“How do we centre care in the way we commission, hold and collaborate with artists?”


“How does this manifest in the projects we create in and with communities?”

It took the form of three separate digital encounters called ‘In Dialogue’ sessions. Each session was sparked by an artist provocation.


How do we create care-centred work in productivity-centred systems?

The first In Dialogue session explored ways of creating reciprocal care-centred practices in productivity-centred systems. The provocation was from Selina Thompson Ltd, an interdisciplinary performance company who explore how the politics of identity define our bodies, minds and environments.

Watch Toni-Dee and Selina’s Provocation:

Read more about Toni-Dee Paul and Selina Thompson on the Selina Thompson ltd website.


How do we centre care collaborations between artists and communities?

The second In Dialogue session considered how we centre care in collaborations between artists and communities

With provocation from artist and writer Maria Amidu, who is part of the ‘Care’ research group at the Royal College of Art.

Watch Maria’s Provocation:

More about Maria Amidu.

Read Maria’s letter and the written responses from Care Lab contributors:


How do we create the conditions for building and sustaining care-centred collaborations?

The third In Dialogue session discussed the ways that organisations build and sustain care-centred collaborations. The provocation was from An(Dre)a Spisto, artist, clown and People United producer.

Watch An(Dre)a’s Provocation:

More about An(Dre)a Spisto.

Read An(Dre)a’s guide to connecting with objects below:

Tensions, oppositions and more

Toni spoke about us thinking about commissions as being about maps, where we are in the same space but we don’t know the destination. I was struck that when I’ve been a producer or commissioner, I often like to talk about maps and about being somewhere where we are agreed on the destination but don’t necessarily know the agreed route. That made me smile and think about how a lot of the conversation was about tensions, and whether that is the tension of ‘what is harmony for one may be discord for another”.

The notion of common ground was talked about a lot during the day and even in this there can be tension as common ground has layers and may feel and impact differently for individuals. 

And finally Toni talked really articulately about the constricts of capitalism and how care is in opposition to capitalism, but that we work within this construct. For me I want to remove the angst of tension and invite you to do the same where possible. Someone once encouraged me to separate the tension of something from the desire to “fix” the tension, because in the space of not trying to solve the “problem, challenge or tension” comes the solution or evolution of the action towards better.

Who gets the care and at what cost to others?

Maria reminded us that the creative process is unpredictable and is in opposition to organisational planning and procedures. There’s that tension again! Her letter gave us an intimate insight into a fundamental question – who gets cared for, who gives the caring, who doesn’t get cared for and at what cost to them? What was really interesting for me was that when Maria spoke I realised that historically a lot of what she said would have been put down to ‘well that’s the creative process, like it or lump it’. I would argue that thinking ‘get on with it’ is a significant part of why the western world is in the space its in today. I think that a lack of centering of care (which I also describe as centering humanness) results in the disproportionate centering of other things, e.g. profit. When we don’t name something and centre it, we lose sight of it – so naming care as a core component of our working practices will (with action as well as talk) put care as a priority alongside profit, delivery etc.

Back to Maria’s provocation. Some of the questions she asked us to think about in the context of care include “what makes artists hesitate to share what they need or think” and what happens when the artist, the commissioner and the producing team focus care on the audience and or participants but do not include themselves. It made me think of two things: what is the impact and going a step further, what happens when the artist sits at multiple intersections of lived experiences that often mean being an excluded voice or someone that is cared for. It also reminds me of a conversation with Professor Lisa Feldman Barrett about body budgeting or its proper name “allostasis” which is the way in which our bodies budget. Much like our food budget, our bodies have to decide what to do at what cost with a limited resource. We don’t only affect our own bodies’ budgets with the decisions we make – we affect the bodies of those around us. So without doubt there is a clinical cost to bodies, especially marginalised bodies around being cared for or not. 

How can we say ‘I don’t know’ and how we might encourage people to feel more confident in saying this? I wonder what would happen if we ask this question with the aim of co-creating a space of care for everyone in the process? And how might that way of working and living spread out to wider society?

Moving between spaces and working with our worst fears

The common theme of tensions and opposites came up immediately. Dre started by talking about the challenge of giving this provocation by “moving from a producer’s space into an artist’s face and suddenly looking at themselves as an artist”. This got me thinking about each of us as individuals and the challenges of thinking and doing care. There are all the outside tensions, budgets, timelines, deadlines, reporting and process procedures – but there is also the tension and challenge within ourselves. Part of Dre’s provocation explained to us, the participants, what clown practice is: “basically the clown nose is the is the smallest mask and what it allows us to do is remove the kind of mask that we have in the world and put on this other tiny, tiny little mask, which enables us to be our most vulnerable self”. I wonder how care would look and feel differently if we could all be our most vulnerable selves, knowing that we would be cared for in our process of revealing what we need. How could this human centred approach apply to everyone in the creative process? And it feels important to come back to that theme of what is harmony for one is discord for another – for Dre just thinking about the notion of care is a really heavy subject that brings out visceral and seemingly painful feelings. Which is why they finished by asking “can we have more conversations to address issues around care and drive change without it feeling heavy – tackling it seriously whilst holding it lightly?” 

Call to Action

Even with big overlaps, we all think about care differently. As you’re coming to the end of this piece I want to encourage you to look at the Futures of Care resources available on this website. If you want to think about the complexities or simplicities of how we view care in both similar and different ways, have a (re)look at the amazing Mural Board which was created through this project. Point four is a question – ‘What is care?’.

There is so much captured on the Mural Board, so I really urge you to use it for reference – my first call to action is to encourage you to stop, think, reflect and then act. 

Here are three prompts which will hopefully excite you and get you started:

Sidenote: Focus on what resonates with you but if you feel a desire to run from something, in this moment, try to think about sitting with your feelings and examining them. 

  1. Care and disruption: Asking to work with embedded care is fundamentally disruptive. How can we reduce fear around this to encourage disruption?
  2. Relationship: Usually there is a transactional relationship between artist and commissioner. How might a brief centre care rather than have a separate agreement?
  3. Change: All systems need review in order to centre care. In what ways can we use what we have more usefully? How can we communicate if systems are not fit for purpose? How can we start again?


A story

I want to end this with a short story of what’s happening to me now. I’m a 2022 Acumen Fellow which is a fellowship programme for leaders making social change. Currently we are working on “how we talk about ourselves and our work” – who we are, what is our call to action, what change do we want to see happen etc.

My call to action is “are you a world maker or a world breaker”. This considers who/what is benefiting from the work you do, and who/what is paying the price. When breaking people (especially those already marginalised) and the planet, you become by definition, a world breaker.

Social impact leaders (and I include you in that for the purpose of this piece of work), are by definition at least trying to be world makers – not imagining a better future but making it right now. Sadly, most are placed at the fringes and corners, getting the smallest of budgets to do the ‘world making’ work. But the truth of the matter is that world makers need to be centred with urgency to create a renaissance of sorts in ‘humanness’. We believe care is the answer to the human race’s survival, so let’s continue the work together.


And Finally

Whether you’re new to the page or you attended some part of the care lab go  watch (re-watch) the provocations. Let them ruminate

But, if you want a glorious overview of what came up, take a moment and read the poems by Deanna Rodger, who was capturing and creating throughout. Her words capture the overall feeling and thoughts shared, and also illustrate the layered 27 dimensional rubiks cube nature of the nature of care, the way it feels both so ephemeral and binary all at the same time. Read her poem ‘Ecology of Care’, the others have been published as part of the new Blueprint for Care.


And/or check out the Rae Goddard’s visual minutes of the three In Dialogue sessions below.

About Suzanne Alleyne

Suzanne is a Cultural Thinker. She heads up a consultancy combining strategic thinking across brand and change management with a cultural incubator. Meet Suzanne

Commissioned by

People United

Funded by

Creative Estuary
Arts Council National Lottery Project Grants