Estelle Woolley

Since graduating with a BA (Hons) Fine Art in 2010, Estelle has set up an artist's collective called Chester Contemporary Artists.

When you're a student it's very difficult and stressful not knowing what's on the other side and where you might end up. It's good to make the connections early, and keep them.
Estelle Woolley (2007-10)

What subject did you study at UoC?

BA Fine Art Single Honours


Who do you work for now and describe the field you work in?

Since graduation I have sustained voluntary jobs in day care centres for clients with learning disabilities and also for those suffering from mental health conditions, working in the mediums of art, music and poetry. I have also worked in 2 craft cafes, conducting workshops with children and assisting in the making and painting of ceramics and other crafts. This September (2011) I started an MA in Art As Environment at MMU, in order to pull these different disciplines and research areas together, and to make further contacts.At the moment, (and since graduation) I do freelance music workshops with people with learning disabilities. My biggest accomplishment since graduation has been the development and upkeep of Chester Artist Collective, soon to be launched as CCA – Chester Contemporary Artists. This is a not for profit organisation, for contemporary artists in and around Chester. CCA involves monthly group critiques, presentations, and exhibitions in pop up gallery spaces in Chester. I have helped to secure a set of studio spaces with a group of contemporary artists in Chester. Not only do I hope to develop my own practice here in a nurturing environment, but I hope to sustain this link for future Art and Design graduates from UoC.


What kind of clients/ agencies do you work with/ for?

The music workshops are through an organisation called Chester Link, who have independent housing set up for groups of adults with learning disabilities. The workshops are centered on a therapeutic aspect of music making.


What kind of things do you do in your job?

I encourage and support the people I work with to listen to themselves and each other through music. I encourage everyone to sing individually, in rounds, as a whole, and as loudly as possible. With the percussion instruments we also think about dynamics and timing, both in the warm up exercises and then in conjunction with a song that we are learning or talking about. The workshop has a very loose structure but is more of a listening and adapting exercise. The middle part contains a lot of singing, or sometimes a musical quiz. Usually towards the end we do a Raindance, where we all close our eyes and beat out the sound of the rain on the table. This often turns into some thunderstorms when the rain becomes louder and louder, and then dies down again and we open our eyes. It is a good release of tension and a great listening exercise. I usually finish by playing some relaxing music on my clarinet, and then ask for any particular song suggestions for the next week.


What’s been the most interesting project you’ve been involved in so far and why?

In November 2010, I co-curated a group show called The Conversation at Christ Church in Chester. This involved 27 contemporary artists, comprising graduates, students and staff from The University of Chester. I found it an incredibly empowering process to be able to organise and manage a group of artists, including a large number of staff who had taught me on the degree course. I enjoyed liasing with different types of people and discussing with the artists how, why and where the proposed work best fitted the space. I co-managed the project with a fellow graduate, who had just got a job working on the Arts and Development team with the local council, and so had many new contacts and experience to input. We had so much enthusiasm and energy towards the project and gained some very positive feedback, from the right people. I have worked on smaller scale exhibitions since but hope to do something like this again in the near future.


What aspects of your course at UoC helped you get where you are?

Every aspect of the course was important in retrospect, even if it wasn't apparent as to why at the time. In terms of my own individual practice, the modules covered in studio practice, contextual and visual research were integral to this. Also without the interdisciplinary module, I wouldn't have explored and pushed the boundaries as far to get to where I am now. In terms of getting myself and my work out there, and meeting the right contacts, the Professional Practice module takes the credit for this. It is a really tough module to undertake in 3rd year. However with severe perseverance, it provided all the right tools to progress into the future.


When you started your job, were there any gaps in your skills/knowledge, or did you have any additional training or mentoring?

When I got my first job in Ceramic Cafe, I was given mentoring on some of the basics, such as using the kiln, the potters wheel, facepainting, food and drinks preparation, etc. When I started my music workshops, however, I was stabbing around in the dark! I enjoy and embrace the freedom of being able to do my own thing and work with the people there. There is more job satisfaction in being able to make and break your own rules.


How do you keep up with what’s current in your field?

I sign up to all the mailing lists and sustain relationships with quality connections, I.e. with artists, curators, groups, and galleries that interest me. I visit galleries and go to talks and studio visits quite often, usually in Manchester. You get to know the same faces when you go to these events.


What’s the difference between being a working professional and being a student (steady now….!!)

I enjoy being able to say 'I'm going to work', and I actually enjoy being able to describe what I do for work, and the varied things that I do. The vast majority of taxi drivers don't have a clue what I'm talking about. Most people don't. That excites me. It excites me knowing that I have something exciting up my sleeve. When you're a student it's very difficult and stressful not knowing what's on the other side and where you might end up. It's good to make the connections early, and keep them. 


What would be the one piece of advice you could give to a current student?

If and when in doubt, put on some loud music and sing to it. Go for a walk in the rain. Take a journey home that you wouldn't normally go on. Inspiration doesn't stare you in the face when you're looking at it. The album Lungs by Florence and The Machine got me through the tough times towards the end of the 3rd year. I'd also recommend The White Album by The Beatles.