“I’m eclectic in the way that I work and teach with lots of different organisations,” she says. “For example, I work at Tate St Ives as a freelance artist, I collaborate with other artists, dance and theatre companies, schools and community groups. And all of that is how I earn my living.”
How did you get into the cultural and creative sector in Cornwall?
Alessandra trained as a fine artist at Falmouth University and went on to do a teaching degree at Goldsmiths.
“I’ve always wanted to combine my own practice with working with people,” she says. “So since then, I’ve taught and lectured alongside setting up community work or working in partnership with other organisations to deliver creative projects.”
After moving back to Cornwall, she set up Tough Dough in partnership with a fellow artist. “We realized that we didn’t have to work for other organisations,” she says. “We could build up our own projects. And for the past fifteen years, that’s what we’ve done.”
What have you learned from the experience?
“Everyone on the programme has had a different journey,” says Alessandra, “but there are so many ways in which you can overlap, reach into each other’s worlds, and connect. Through the programme I have a better understanding of potential partnership projects that I could build – for example if I needed to work with a filmmaker.”
Before starting the leadership programme, Alessandra applied for support to restructure Tough Dough – a process that the programme has also helped to support.
“And the programme has given me the confidence to take that step,” she says, “and to shape my organisation in a way that will address issues that need to be tackled. For example, why community work is sometimes not seen as valuable as artistic work, breaking down barriers between working as an artist and working with people. We’re providing models of how that might work in the future.”
What is your action research project?
Alessandra has set up a collaborative project with two artists in the North East who have mentored Tough Dough in the last year. The project has involved a set of exchanges between four artists in the South West, and four in the North East.
“All eight of us have used this opportunity to support each other’s practice during periods of lockdown,” says Alessandra, “Our backgrounds vary from visual artists, to writers, to photographers, to filmmakers, but we all share experiences of working with communities in our two regions.”
She hopes that the project will help her to learn more about community engagement in rural areas, and think about how to better integrate her own artistic practice with Tough Dough’ participatory work.
What are your goals for the creative and cultural sector in Cornwall?
“Cornwall has a real cultural identity,” says Alessandra. “Its networks are so strong, and this is recognized and commented on even by people outside the county. That can be incredibly powerful and can help to make things happen despite the lack of funding. But at other times it can also be restrictive.”
She sees diversity within the county as one potential challenge that could be addressed through increased awareness – and through working more in connection with other areas of the UK and internationally.
“But out of all this challenging time,” she concludes, “I feel a renewed energy about where Cornwall sits in the whole cultural scenario. The possibilities for the future look really exciting – and something I want to be part of.”
Where would you like to be in three to five years?
Having been in the arts for thirty years, Alessandra sees part of her role as sharing her knowledge and experience with developing artists. She wants to help to redefine the package of activities that make up artistic leadership.
“An artist does not have to have a commercial profile to be of value,” she says. “Artists can be doing lots of different things, and engaged on so many levels of interests and connections to be a leader in the field. Through my example, I want to ensure that younger practitioners don’t feel disempowered. A future landscape should free us from feeling that we have to constantly try to fit into, or break through into, particular institutions, rather than being creative in the way we structure our careers.”
Some might even be surprised by the fact that it’s possible to make a living as an artist.
“I do want to celebrate and highlight that,” says Alessandra.