Without Walls TALKS: Changing the narrative by Fee Hudson-Francis

17 November 2023

Fee Hudson-Francis is an independent creative producer who specialises in outdoor arts, across multiple spaces, places and disciplines, and a Without Walls Associate currently working as a Project Manager at Hat Fair & Playmakers.

Fee is excited about making art possible in unusual spaces, challenging people’s perceptions of where they live and how unnoticed places can be transformed into magical spaces, while being committed to embedding access and inclusion at the heart of all projects and championing supportive, open, transparent, collaborative and accessible environments.

Fee has also been part of the Without Walls Discover Programme. Find out more about the Without Walls Associates Programme.

For me, last year was life changing. I credit much of this to the opportunity I was given to work as a Without Walls Associate, working with Play To The Crowd in the Hat Fair and Playmakers teams. 

In my role as an Associate, I became fully immersed in the outdoor arts industry, attending 8 outdoor arts festivals during the 2022 summer season including Fira Tarrega, Greenwich & Docklands International Festival (GDIF), Brighton Festival and Stockton International Riverside Festival. I enrolled in training sessions on Carbon Literacy, Unconscious Bias, Anti Racism, and Creating Inclusive Environments. I had my first trip to 101 Outdoor Arts in Newbury for a Dramaturgy Lab and took part in the Discover Programme at GDIF. I project managed one of the UK’s longest running outdoor arts festivals with over 60,000 attendances in 2022, as well as producing our local talent, managing community outreach projects and representing the organisation nationally. 

Can you see now why it was such a life changing year? My year as a Without Walls Associate was a year of culture, education and growth. It was a year that made me undeniably a better producer, and it was a year that cemented the rest of my career in the outdoor arts. 

But this year almost didn’t happen. When I first saw the job description, my brain said: 

“I don’t think you’re good enough for this job. I don’t think you’re the type of candidate they are after. I don’t think you should apply.” 

My brain said this to me, despite me having a first class honours degree in drama and event management, 5 years of industry experience, 4 years of freelance work for Hat Fair, a dissertation written about the festival, and a seat on the Hat Fair action group. I had a wealth of knowledge, skills and experience, and yet I had to convince myself to even submit an application.

Imposter syndrome

Of course, most people would call this a classic case of imposter syndrome: the inability to believe that one’s success is deserved and is a result of their own skills and abilities. And to a degree, they would be right. When I shut out that toxic voice in my head, I could see in the way the job was framed that it was perfect for me. The reading and the intention behind the job advert said that this was a job ringfenced for people with my background, that I would have mentorship from Without Walls, that I would be supported, that this was a job that I could and should apply for. That this was a job for me.

And all of this was true. I applied, interviewed and got the role. So why couldn’t shake the voice inside my head that was still telling me I wasn’t good enough?

Because the voice told me that I only got the role because I was brown. 

I sat in meetings in my first few weeks terrified that at some point, someone was going to turn around to me and tell me that I was a fraud and that I didn’t belong there. 

Luckily, I had an incredible mentor, Sophie, from Without Walls. We had a call in my first few weeks and she said something that stuck with me throughout my associate year. She said, “this role was created for people with your background and we want to address the imbalance in diversity in the outdoor arts. But that is not why you got the role. You got the role because you were the best candidate. You got the role because you can do this.” 

Two performers are dancing on a stage one is in a wheelchair looking at the face of the other who is in a one-handed handstand using the other arm to gain support for the wheelchair.

Changing the narrative

Many people agree that we should stop using the term imposter syndrome, especially towards women and women of colour. In their Harvard Business Review article entitled “Stop Telling Women They Have Imposter Syndrome”, Ruchika Tulshyan and Jodi-Ann Burey argue that the concept of imposter syndrome is dated because “the impact of systemic racism, classism, xenophobia, and other biases was categorically absent when the concept of imposter syndrome was developed.” Essentially, it’s a term coined in a white male workplace.

‘For many women of colour, our fears are grounded in the reality of systemic racism and sexism. Where imposter syndrome refers to fraudulent feelings that have no evidence, there’s historic evidence of women of colour being mistreated in the workplace and people believing that we aren’t good enough. So are we really suffering from a little bit of imposter syndrome, or are we fighting something much bigger?’

Sophie’s words have been in my mind during this last year that has transformed my life. But it’s made me think so much more about the organisations I work with and why I want to work with them. Why a few sentences that say “we are an equal opportunities employer and we welcome applications from people of all backgrounds” aren’t enough anymore. 

If you want a more inclusive workplace, you have to change how you work, not just how you hire. A few sentences tacked onto the end of a job description isn’t really cutting it anymore. What is the organisation doing to support you as a woman of colour, now they have hired you? Is this an environment that challenges toxic cultures and behaviours? Will you be heard, encouraged and supported? When it comes to imposter syndrome, as Tulshyan and Burey so aptly put it, we need to change the narrative and “create a culture for women and people of colour that addresses systemic bias and racism”.  

A life changing year because of life changing people

The outdoor arts industry is a tough one to enter as an emerging creative. It can also be tough as a woman of colour. Whether or not imposter syndrome is a term I want to use anymore, there are undeniable barriers both in reality and in my own head that previously made this last year as a Without Walls Associate hard to picture. 

My year as a Without Walls Associate has made me feel comfortable and confident in the industry, and it’s given me the ability to picture my future here. I largely owe this to Sophie, the Play To The Crowd team, especially Andrew, and the trust and support both organisations have given me. Thank you for believing in me, even when I didn’t. 

I’m not saying that the voice in my head has completely gone, and I’m not saying that I have all the answers. But finding a role where you are supported, encouraged to speak your mind and told that you have all the abilities to thrive is a great place to start. 

Fee is sat on a sunny street in the shade. They are wearing sunglasses on top their head and a big smile.

Images credits:

First panel image – There Should Be Unicorns, Middle-Child at Hat Fair © Adrienne-Photography

Second panel image – Look Mum No Hands, Daryl Co and Mimbre © Adrienne Photography

Third panel image – © Cave & Sky