It feels as though everyone is starting out as an artist these days. Whether this is through writing, photography, drawing or even working the ranks of social media as an influencer, creativity is rife. Despite AI biting at our heels, in a time when we still don’t fully know or understand its potential, human creativity still has its place in this world, at least for now.
With the rising costs of living and ever-increasing precariousness job market, it’s little wonder that people are looking for new ways to earn an income, and be it so why not do something through the world of art? For years we’ve been immersed in service sector economies, jobs that require exerting levels of face-to-face contact that are not suited to everyone. For some people who live with social anxiety, it can become impossible to work in this way. The digital world and its attention economy offer potential routes into new careers that meet the needs of their disabilities, but also and perhaps more importantly, connect them with others by allowing for more creativity across broader groups than just those with privilege. We all need to financially survive but the pressure is perhaps much greater for those with disabilities, knowing that there are very few alternative work opportunities that don’t require some sort of in-person contact. That’s why we want to build a new narrative and help others in this situation to find new opportunities through creativity and the digital world.
A narrative of inclusion is central to both Made in Pembrokeshire and Aunty Social World.
Made in Pembrokeshire
Made in Pembrokeshire specialises in creating forms of art that expresses the beauty of Wales’s Pembrokeshire, from hand-painted driftwood featuring Pembrokeshire’s famous Puffins to sketches, drawings and painted pebbles.
The problem in such a beautiful place as Pembrokeshire is that the art community is saturated with privilege, those who can afford beautiful galleries and studios to present and sell their work. Those who have the time to create art, and promote it. That’s why Made in Pembrokeshire goes beyond being just another art store, because becoming made in Pembrokeshire doesn’t come easily for those in less advantaged positions.
Made in Pembrokeshire embraces the digital to share its findings and creations, but it also has something that distinguishes itself as a community of art for all. Its aims are simple, to bring together artwork and creativity, and build a more level playing field for those wanting to set up as artists in the local area and beyond. Whether this is setting up workshops and platforms to share art, promoting creativity to local employers to encourage more creative job opportunities within Pembs, or sharing ways to make creativity work without the space, time and money that usually goes into becoming a successful artist. There is already a range of excellent community hubs and projects across Pembrokeshire, and MIP doesn’t seek to step on their toes. That’s why it has its own voice in the digital realm, bringing together people within the local community as well as those further afield who are interested in the beauty of Pembrokeshire.
Aunty Social World
Aunty Social World (ASW) is Made in Pembs’s fiery sister with a voice. She has a similar ethos to Made in Pembs surrounding inclusion and acceptance, but with a specific focus on the social world and embracing the digital to create change.
ASW is an emerging online community with an activist message surrounding social anxiety as well as challenging social norms within the online and offline world. There are many fantastic broader communities for introverts, but few address the struggles that come with social anxiety in a way that transcends beyond being an individual problem. For this reason, ASW was founded to address these gaps by highlighting flaws and myth-busting misconceptions about how people should behave in society.
Aunty Social World has a clear message: We can be different, together. Because right now there are many campaigns for inclusion yet divisions persist in how people with social anxiety and disabilities are understood. As Chris Packham has recently addressed in his documentary about autism, there needs to be greater awareness surrounding how neurodivergent people experience the world. This is the same for all types of diversity. It’s recognising that people have different boundaries, and it’s learning to become more tolerant and accepting of these differences. Whether this be not saying hello to someone in the street, or not replying to someone online, the simple assumption of “that’s rude” or “weird” is not enough. Because people have different boundaries and it should be OK to step outside of what is perceived as normal, as what can be normal for one person can be completely overwhelming for another.
Normal doesn’t work for everyone, that’s why it needs to be addressed.
Embracing the digital
It’s not just about challenging everyday norms. Aunty Social World seeks to embrace the digital to challenge the ‘big stuff’ too. At present, there is a huge gap in career opportunities for people with disabilities as the shift and emphasis on ‘in person’ has become a celebratory emblem of ‘return to normal’. This has left many disabled people without work, needing to craft new identities, ideas and ways to survive in a world that has moved on and left them behind. The attention economy of the online world is often the only option for people with social anxiety, yet can be overwhelming due to the visibility needed for success as a freelancer or entrepreneur. For this reason, there needs to be a greater focus on online norms and behaviours as well as their impact on how people think and feel. As with the offline world, the everyday is often dismissed in the rush to gain attention, yet these things matter too, to keep our online communities safe and inclusive to all.
ASW also has wider aims to campaign against issues that impact those with social anxiety, as well as opening discussions with employers and organisations surrounding how work opportunities can be enhanced through digital and creative skills. At present, there are many campaigns and charities advocating for employee disability rights, but stigma and discrimination still persist in many contemporary workforces causing people to either leave their jobs or face dismissal. For this reason, Aunty Social World seeks to bring people together with social anxiety, amplify their voices and bring forward a new narrative rather than trying to fit into an old script that no longer works. It’s stepping away from the old customs of the workforce, with new forms of innovation that allow disabled communities to truly have a voice rather than only being seen through marketing banners and awareness days.
By bringing together people with lived experience, embracing the digital world and challenging norms in this way, ASW has a specific focus to contribute towards a fairer and more equal society. Its site offers a range of merchandise to share alternative messages about social life, as well as the ability to share and feature art – there are no fine art standards at ASW, and all creativity is respected and treated equally.
So, Made in Pembrokeshire and Aunty Social World both aim to provide community and solace through creativity, with a wider message of inclusion. Where we live in difficult and unsettled times, social life often goes unquestioned leaving many people stigmatised, excluded and left without a sense of belonging. We both understand these difficulties through our own lived experiences, we know that life isn’t a level playing field and that people will remain in these positions unless we all take a step forward. It’s time for things to change, and by embracing the online world, creativity and introversion can become active voices in this new era.
Laura Barrett is an MSc student with a research specialism in cyberpsychology and online communities.