Nicola Dickson

Research title

Exploring the relationships between arts-informed adult learning and the recovery journey of women who have experienced Childhood Sexual Abuse (CSA).

Research summary

I am a part-time PhD student and a mum to three young children. Before returning to academia in 2016, I worked as a social researcher for the private and public sector. For over 15 years I designed and delivered qualitative research projects with so-called ‘vulnerable’ groups, including people with mental and physical health issues, drug and alcohol users, homeless people and BME communities. In my twenties, I volunteered as a visual artist and facilitator at various community arts organisations. I have always enjoyed drawing and painting, photography and making 3D sculptures in wire and clay. My PhD research entwines my interests in using the visual arts and employing qualitative research approaches to explore the experiences of vulnerable women.

My research

My PhD considers how the provision of arts-based, adult learning sessions might impact on the perceived recovery journeys of young women following the trauma of abuse. In 2018, I undertook fieldwork in the city-centre offices of a charity which supports survivors of sexual violence and abuse. My research participants had all experienced childhood sexual abuse, sexual violence and recent homelessness. Due to the participant’s inherent vulnerability, I widely consulted with professionals that worked in advocacy and psychological support roles before commencing fieldwork. I also shadowed community-artists to observe their practice and the artistic methods used with marginalised groups. 

Based on these experiences, I designed and delivered a weekly three hour art session, introducing various visual art materials and techniques. Over 6 months, we created artworks in a range of materials, including pen, paint, pastels, coloured pencils, wire, metal mesh, modelling plaster and plasticine. I photographed the works at different stages and made extensive fieldnotes following each session. In order to reflect on the research process, I produced a PowerPoint presentation for each of the participants, using the images from the process and my fieldnotes to prompt discussion. The PowerPoint featured the sessions they attended, their artistic outputs and their finished artworks. These prompts enabled free-flowing discussion during semi-structured, in-depth qualitative interviews. I found that this visual representation was a useful tool in the qualitative interview, as the stimulus enabled the interviewee to reflect on their involvement in the process. There was much laughter and emotion during each interview and many of the young women asked for a copy of their presentation as a ‘wee keepsake’, along with the artworks they created. 

The young women’s artworks were exhibited at the Charity AGM in 2018. The work was very well received and the young women communicated their great pleasure in being able to showcase the work. The research participants also produced a pamphlet based on their experiences of the art sessions. Each selected images taken during the research of their artworks and added to the works with short pieces of prose detailing how it felt to be part of the group. This booklet was printed professionally and was shared with stakeholders at the AGM. The young women asked for the pamphlet to be issued to new service users accessing the charity so they can see what they too can achieve with support.

Dissemination

I have been lucky enough to be awarded funding from the SGSAH in order to contribute to a Research Showcase event at the Lighthouse in Glasgow on June 20th, 2019. I have produced 10, A1 size foam boards which illustrate the women’s work and research findings. They are double-sided, so that the women’s artworks are one side and the process images and quotes on the other. The quotes are taken from the interviews and speak of being a survivor of sexual abuse and violence and the valuable link between creating art, adult learning and recovery.

These boards will be used again next year at the Glasgow Women’s Library (GWL) and form an exhibition that will be launched within the 2020 Spring programme. The boards showing the women’s finished artworks will be exhibited in the upstairs gallery and these will be in place for 6 weeks. The young women involved in this research will be invited to visit the iconic museum and assist in the curation of the space. The GWL have organised for a private launch event for the research participants to come and see their artworks on the wall before it is opened to the general public.


Publications

In May 2019 I was shortlisted for the Scottish Graduate School Social of Social Science’s (SGSSS) 'Research impact and knowledge exchange’ competition. I was one of 10 post graduates from across Scotland to be selected and I was invited to create a poster to illustrate the impact of my research. I chose to focus on the ways in which my research enabled the participant’s personal capacity building through adult learning. I was delighted to be commended for my work and receive an award at the prestigious V&A in Dundee.

 


Conferences

2019

In 2019 I have presented my research findings to a number of audiences. In March I presented twice; once to post-graduate students in the Department of Education’s PGR lunchtime seminar series, and then as the inaugural speaker at the Gender-based Violence Research Network (GBVRN) and Qualitative Research at Glasgow (QRAG) joint seminar series. Both were excellent opportunities to reflect with PhD students and professionals on my progress and the direction of my research.

In April I showcased my research at the Universities Association for Lifelong Learning (UALL) conference in Wolverhampton. I was invited to speak informally about my research at both an ‘innovation showcase’, using my Ipad to show images from the work, and formally present on the third day. In both sessions, I chose to focus on some of the challenges involved in engaging more vulnerable women in arts-based research and adult learning. The presentations were well received and gave me further insight into how my research might develop and how I can position my findings.

In June I have been invited to lead a seminar exploring the use of arts-based approaches with PhD students at the SGSSS Summer School. I very much look forward to sharing my knowledge of using creative approaches in social research and the challenges and successes I have had with this approach.

In July I will be showcasing both my poster and giving a presentation on my research to the SCUTREA conference in Nottingham. I look forward to again networking with peers in adult education and reflecting on what my PhD research can bring to the field.


Teaching

In 2018-19 I worked as a GTA for both the 'International Masters in Adult Education for Social Change' (IMAESC) programme and for the 'Impact of drug and alcohol on children and families' course at the Education Department at the University of Glasgow. Both were excellent opportunities to learn about the subect matter, communicate complex theory with Master's students, lead tutorial groups, present my research and assist in the marking of essays and posters.


Additional information

I am currently working as an artist facilitator with SAY Women and the Village Storytelling Centre. We are creating lino-prints to explore the theme of Goddesses. This work will be finalised soon and exhibited in July.