Much of her work focuses on how people perform their lives, the decisions they make, and how those decisions can be informed. She aims to create situations where others can see and feel their potential and make active choices around it.
“Many structures in our society are invested in not allowing people to see their full potential,” she says. “The more people who feel confident to make real the amazing things that they conjure up in their heads, the better.”
How did you get into the cultural and creative sector in Cornwall?
Sovay is Cornish but says she’s struggled to find work and advance her career in the area. “That’s why I’ve moved away and returned so many times.”
In 2015 she was living and working in London when she came up with an innovative idea that would allow her to return to Cornwall permanently – learning a trade.
“So I signed up to a plumbing course and I’ve been working as a plumber for six years,” she says. “Now I’m learning about renewables and thinking about how I can use my knowledge of low carbon heating, and the practicalities of plumbing, to be more effective politically around the homes in which we live.”
Why did you want to join the leadership programme?
Sovay saw participating in the programme as a way of underlining and reaffirming her status as a leader within the arts, not only to herself but to others.
“I already think I’m a leader,” she says. “And I believe that so many people are leaders when they don’t realise they are, through modelling behaviours, challenging expectations, and just through doing. Though we still have an expectation that leaders are certain types of people and that leadership is delivered or enacted in a certain way. That’s not true. It’s just a performance that keeps people in their place.”
What have you learned from the experience?
The programme has already enabled Sovay to think about leadership in a different way. Rather than forcing her to justify herself as a leader, the programme takes that as a given, it challenges her to think about what it might mean. “It’s all about taking on the mantle of responsibility,” she says.
Being mentored has been one of the highlights of the programme for her. “I really like my mentor. I like her whole attitude. And I really feel confident when I’m with her that she’s thinking genuinely about what might be the best solution to the problem I present.”
What are your goals for the creative and cultural sector in Cornwall?
“I feel a tangible panic that my culture is disappearing,” says Sovay. “Part of the reason for that is that it’s being commodified, sifted through for the potential reward brought by tourism, which is essentially a capitalist short term endeavour that subjugates Cornish people and culture. It makes me grief-stricken and enraged. Part of that rage is that as a relatively articulate, well-educated Cornish person, I still struggle to get my voice heard. If that’s the case for me, how many other people aren’t being heard?”
She hopes for a resurgence of confidence and pride in Cornish culture and identity that will lead to power and opportunity being returned to people in Cornwall. In her field, this would mean a recognition that “critically engaged, rigorous contemporary visual art is still meaningful to Cornwall and can be created by those within Cornish communities themselves.”
For Sovay, Cornwall is outward-looking and internationalist in its orientation, and she views Cornwall as part of a community of Celtic nations who hold a strong relationship with the wider network of indigenous communities around the world. “We have a long history of looking out to sea,” she says, “and making connections with people across the oceans, and can continue that without ties to a colonial agenda.”
Where would you like to be in three to five years?
Sovay hopes to play a role in questioning the entrenched assumptions and elitism of the art establishment. “The art world continues to function as a really stratified class-ridden eco-system,” she says, “and I want to creatively and constructively challenge that as much as possible.”
And one more practical wish? “To continue to develop and redefine expanded sculpture and how public artwork happens.”