Posted 20 April 2022
Interview by N'Tanya Clarke
Mention Yas Lime

What does being an arts inclusion lead for the NHS entail? Curator Yas Lime drives progress in the industry

Yas Lime is passionate about their role as an artist, curator and NHS arts inclusion coordinator. Working for the Birmingham Women’s and Children’s NHS Foundation Trust, they ensure any art in the hospital is high quality, diverse and inclusive. Yas describes themselves as an “instigator,” and uses every opportunity to drive progress in the industry whether that’s through representation or actively practicing kindness. Originally from London and going to university in Brighton, Yas draws inspiration from a range of local art scenes, specifically, the Blk Arts Group of the 1980s and Birmingham’s DIY punk scene. Here, Yas speaks to us about working with artists, transformative justice and the skills you need when you don’t come from privilege.

Yas Lime

Yas Lime


Job Title

Arts Inclusion Coordinator, Birmingham Women and Children’s NHS Foundation Trust (2021-present)

Previous Employment

Trainee Artist-Curator, Eastside Projects (2020-2021)
Public Programmes Intern, Tate (2018)
Teaching Assistant, The Connected Hub (2015-2017)

Place of Study

BA History, Literature and Culture, University of Brighton (2013-2016)

Website

yasmynart.wixsite.com

Social Media

Twitter
Instagram

What I do

How would you describe what you do?
I’ve only just started my new job as an arts inclusion coordinator for the Birmingham Women’s and Children’s NHS Foundation Trust, and it’s been super-varied so far. In essence, I work for the patients and staff, ensuring any art and entertainment in the hospital is of a high quality, diverse and inclusive.

This includes working with departments to overhaul existing artwork, using art made by Black, disabled and queer artists; working with the Youth and Family forums for their advice and feedback, finding places for new sculptures, sourcing diverse music for the corridors and working with the onsite school. At the moment I have 28 projects on the go over three hospital sites.

I also have an artistic practice that is just as varied as my job. I make things as and when I feel like making them. I write poetry when I feel like it, take photographs when I want to, paint when I can. I collect canvases I find on the street and buy art materials from charity shops. The way I make things can be unpredictable, the process is led by my emotions and the materials I find. I have used wax, sweets, ink, acrylics and my phone camera in the past.

“I work for the patients and staff, to ensure any art and entertainment in the hospital is of a high quality, diverse and inclusive.”

Diverse Music in Corridors, NHS Birmingham Women’s Hospital
Diverse Cards

What are the main inspirations behind your work?
For me, it was researching the Black Arts Movement of the 1980s – finding that there are a group of people who have been pushing their way into the mainstream by creating their own opportunities, curating their own shows and creating new names for the art they were making, all outside of what white institutions wanted to label them as.

This has helped with my imposter syndrome. Knowing that you can do and make whatever you want, and that likeminded people will start to float into your circles, it’s affirming. My queerness influences everything I do. Queerness to me means questioning the conservative norms of society and constantly asking “Why is it like this?” And “Who is this including or excluding?”

In my job at the moment I have to have that in the back of my mind constantly. Thinking about harmful stereotypes for example, and how well-meaning artwork can still reinforce prejudice. And also thinking about how I can facilitate curating and art-making which doesn’t do this.

“In my role I think about harmful stereotypes, and how well-meaning artwork can still reinforce prejudice.”

How have you found balancing both an arts practice and full time work?
Luckily, my full time job and practice are one and the same. My favourite part of my curation practice is working with other artists and I also get to do that in my job. In terms of my ‘making’ practice, the key is that I am not too harsh on myself and at peace with the fact that I may go weeks without creating in the traditional sense.

I surround myself with other creatives in my everyday and I’m part of various arts groups such as The BAN Emerging Curator’s Group, South Asian Arts Collective and Extra Ordinary People. And if you think there isn’t something for you, you can create your own! I also attend events which interest me, which are not always focused specifically on the arts, such as events to do with anti-racism, science, education or food.

“Applying for opportunities can give you practice with things like writing your CV and developing your email tone.”

What kind of skills are needed to do your role? Do you need any specific training to do what you do?
The number one skill is showing kindness and a non-judgemental attitude. Your attitude and ways of working will attract the same sort of people, and people who are kind and understanding are the best to work with.

Confidence in writing emails, talking to people in person and on the phone are important. This is something that is difficult to practice if you’re not putting yourself out there from a young age. I remember applying to volunteer with Secret Cinema when I was 18, travelling by myself to help with their productions, or entering the Poldarium calendar competition, and my photographs being included two years in a row.

Unless you’re from an incredibly privileged background, no one will hand you opportunities. Applying for opportunities can give you practice with things like writing your CV and developing your email tone.

If you could sum up what you do in a meme, what would it be?
[Below]

How I got here

How did you land your current role as an arts inclusion coordinator?
I signed up for NHS job alerts, which send you lists of jobs available across the country. My boss asked me how I found out about the job, because they never usually get people from the art sector applying. The role was never posted on Arts Jobs or Arts Rabbit – only on the NHS site – so I’d recommend people to look there.

Historically, through my trust anyway, the people doing this role have been nurses and doctors that have an interest in the arts. My role is very unique, and there’s not really anything else like it or a direct route to it. Across the country there are arts leads or arts coordinators, but not many roles focused on inclusion.

I found the job because I’m always curious about what’s out there, even when I’m already in a role. I’m always doing assistant curator searches on LinkedIn and Indeed – not just for myself but so I can recommend things to my network. For me, being a curator isn’t just about planning shows, it’s also putting people in touch with opportunities. I don’t shy away from any specific alerts, it could be a director role or freelance illustration opportunities – I like to keep abreast with what’s happening in my field.

“Historically, the people doing this role have been nurses and doctors that have an interest in the arts.”

Recipes For Resistance, virtual exhibition tour at Ort Gallery with Yas Lime

How has witnessing and working in the arts across London, Brighton and now Birmingham impacted your career?
I think, moving out of my hometown – from London to Brighton, back to London and now to Birmingham – has been interesting. Seeing the art scenes in different cities has been great. And I have to thank my mum because when I was younger she would take me to art galleries wherever we’d go. So I’ve always known that wherever I go, there’d be a gallery, art or artists to engage with.

Being in Brighton was interesting because there were a few art spaces but I didn’t really get heavily involved. I still follow Brighton artists and recently went to a talk near Brighton University by James Dawkins who spoke about the legacy of the slave trade, and how he found out about both the archives and his family. So it has taught me to maintain connections and relationships with the people and places you’ve been in, while not feeling too pressured to keep in touch all the time.

Birmingham has been a totally different environment. It is quite the microcosm, like a petri dish – it’s constantly growing and the scene is starting to develop into something really special. It’s lovely being able to come into a new city, see what they’ve developed and how you can fit in. We’re very community-focused and take inspiration from the city’s history of DIY punk aesthetics. I found that in London it can feel so fast-paced that you don’t get to stop and think; there’s less of a chance to take in the history around you.

What’s been your favourite project to work on since graduating? And why?
I really enjoyed working with Luke Routledge at Eastside Projects. Before the show when he had his artwork out he wasn’t quite sure what pieces we should put out as it was his first big solo show. So I got the pieces and put them around in a way that looked good. At that point I thought ‘my curatorial instincts have kicked in.’ That is my favourite aspect of the job, as I can feel my presence in making the exhibition feel complete.

Another of my favourite pieces of work is my interview with Chila Kumari Burman. Looking through her archive was really fun. Projects like this and curating my own exhibition, are really enjoyable as I have creative control and it’s interesting to see what I create with it.

“The Birmingham [art scene] is like a petri dish – it’s constantly growing. We’re community-focused and take inspiration from its DIY punk history.”

If you could pick three things that you found useful or inspiring to your career, what would they be and why?
My first thought was when I went to Tate, and I was helping with the public programmes internship. Lynton Talbot, an independent curator, came in and I realised that you can work in many different ways. You can work independently, freelance and many other things. You can be brought into institutions for your ideas and work on things that are important to you. Seeing that was inspiring at the time.

Also, an Afrofuturism documentary that I watched called, Dark Matter: A History of the Afrofuture. I’m really interested in Arabfuturism as well and the idea of futurism itself. Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler, is my favourite book of all time. Being able to imagine a future world is very important regardless of whether it’s pessimistic or optimistic.

“You can be brought into institutions for your ideas and work on things that are important to you.”

What has been your biggest challenge along the way?
In a way, my biggest challenge is related to having relationships with artists. It’s my favourite thing, but also one of the most difficult because humans are humans; not everyone will have the same values as you. It’s been hard navigating those difficult conversations.

For example if somebody in the community has been abusive in any way – not just physically or emotionally but maybe financially – it’s hard figuring out how to deal with that. Do you still respect them as an artist or write them off completely? And how do we make sure that people aren’t just exiled or banished and go on to be abusive elsewhere?

I’m queer, I’m Brown, I’m neurodiverse. This means that I’m a part of communities that are vulnerable and I understand the value in working together and enacting transformative justice. But, as a curator, there have to be lines that you draw; for example I will not work with certain people who have showed predatory behaviour.

How important would you say social media and self promotion are to your work as a curator?
I use Instagram in a more professional sense and share my own work also. Social media has also been important in showing support for artists and letting them know that I’m interested in their work. It can be as simple as like; they’ll see your name popping up and wonder “Who’s this?” and realise that I’m a curator. It can boost their confidence, because of the nature of my role.

Sometimes, instead of going to an opening event, or sharing images of artist’s work and networking in that way – liking and using the Instagram save feature – can boost their work and help the algorithm.

My Advice

What’s the best career related advice you’ve ever received?
Being an instigator for change is difficult, but it is necessary.” This advice was great because as an arts organisation, curator or anyone in an inclusion role you should move with the times. At a recent board meeting, we were speaking on conversations around things such as anti-racism, gender neutrality and anti-ableism. All of these conversations stemmed from things I had said and done there.

By an instigator I mean that as a member or employee of an organisation, when given the chance, you should speak up and say: “Actually this is what I think we should be doing.” It’s very difficult to say “We need anti-racism training” because the response often is ”We’re not racist.” Standing up and saying “We can’t say the word ’crazy’ anymore” because it’s used to further stigmatise people with mental health conditions such as bipolar disorder. These things are hard and may be seen as extreme, but you have to stand up for them.

What advice would you give to somebody looking to get into a similar role?
Constantly think about what a good curatorial practice is and always do your research. Ask yourself what it is to be a good curator. This could be something as simple as a person’s pronouns, which some curators get wrong. Know what’s important to the artist and bring it to the forefront of your curation for that particular exhibition. Understanding what you can and can’t separate from the artist is very important and crucial to building that story. Missing something like a person’s queerness, especially if they see it as being a huge part of them isn’t good curatorial practice.

Interview by N'Tanya Clarke
Mention Yas Lime