What’s On Your Mind? was a series of digital artist commissions designed to reflect what was at the forefront of our local communities’ minds in 2021. Led by a freelance Creative Director, Paula Clark with production support from Humira Imtiaz, the project included a consultation process with our communities to develop a number of provocations. These provocations were shared with 14 artists who each created a new, short piece of digital work in response to the provocation they were given.

The 14 provocations were: Change ∙ Welcome ∙ Escape ∙ Before ∙ Alcohol ∙ Women ∙ Anger ∙ Care ∙∙ Community ∙ Climate ∙ Future ∙ Money ∙ Kindness ∙ Lifelines

The 14 commissions were released twice weekly between 12 October – 3 December 2021. Acting in the role of creative rapporteur, Daniel Smith reviewed all 14 artworks and created a film to document the project as a whole.

Many Tees Valley communities feel very ignored, with their stories and voices rarely reflected in the mainstream media. This has been heightened by the pandemic, with many feeling invisible, hidden away in their homes, cut off from their support networks. For many, lockdown hasn’t just been physical, but mental too.

This project was designed as a way for people’s concerns to be aired and shared, and to provide a new way of listening and responding to our communities, where ARC does not become the filter, but enables the conversation to be held more directly between artists and communities.

Watch Daniel Smith’s final film:

Download our overview of What’s On Your Mind?


Sarah Watson – Fri 3 Dec

Headshot of artist Sarah Watson. Sarah has straight, shoulder length brown hair and is wearing a Halloween patterned top.

Sarah is an artist with a vision to change the world one story at a time. Her raw authentic voice is something she prides herself on, as a woman who has been through the wringer. She stands tall, strong, with a fist ready to kidney blow the system. She’s a geek with a love for sci fi, thrillers and horror, which is often reflected in her story telling. Her work is centred around bringing about change. She wants to open your eyes to what the media neglects to mention.

Sarah has previously worked with New Writing North, is the playwright of Zones, which was showcased as a Rehearsed Reading at Durham Book Festival 2019, and works regularly with Curious Monkey Theatre Company’s Troupe, working with young people with experience of the care system and has written for their 360 films.

Sarah’s piece for What’s On Your Mind? responds to the theme of MONEY

Extra Expense

A single mother of two is asked the question “What’s on your Mind?” Her response is an emotional meltdown of the stress Christmas brings to people already struggling financially.

With BSL:

Download the PDF transcript.


Lisette Auton – Tue 30 Nov

Lisette, a white woman with freckles and brown hair, peers over the top of a colourful French comic that is called 'Lisette'.
Lisette Auton – comic book – photo credit Laura Tindall @ PaperBoat Photography

Lisette Auton
is a disabled writer, activist, poet, novelist, spoken-word artist, actor, film and theatre-maker, and creative practitioner. She’s an award-winning poet who has performed at Northern Stage, ARC, The Southbank Centre and the Sage, in pubs, in a crypt, at festivals, indoors, outdoors, on a bridge and in a launderette. She was the 2019 Early Careers Fellow for Literature at Cove Park and is on the TSS Publishing list of Best British & Irish Flash Fiction. Her work has been commissioned by many organisations including the Courtauld Institute of Art and MIMA. Lisette works with many creative collaborators to create unique and innovative cross artform works. She is the Winner of ‘Performance of the Year’ at the Journal Culture Awards 2021 for Writing the Missing; A River Cycle a film commission for Durham Book Festival. The Secret of Haven Pointher debut novel, is forthcoming from Puffin in February 2022.


Lisette’s piece for What’s On Your Mind? responds to the theme of WOMEN

The week the clocks went back

A lyrical essay collage of overhearings, and an untangling and retangling of thoughts, the week that my walk home plunged from golden leaves and crisp blue skies into darkness.

With BSL:

Ben Freeth – Fri 26 Nov

A person standing and wearing headphones against the background of an art installation.
Cluster of Differentiation Photo credit: Robin Cowings

Ben Freeth is a non-binary digital artist whose arts practice uses sound and data to make sculptural installations that give audiences immersive uncanny experiences of the inaccessible.

With an MRes. Digital Media from Newcastle University their work has been showcased internationally. Examples include:

1) Wreck One – Listening To The Inaccessible – a series of multichannel audio installations.

2) Hybrid Cultures/Borderless Practice – exploring the Silk Industry in South Korea through sound recording. This led to collaborations with Korean artists and a networked sound art project.

4) Clusters of Differentiation – a large scale LED sculpture sonifying and lumifying scientific data.

5) Our Lives with GVOC and six community groups in Gateshead presented community issues to local government by inputting into decision making processes and giving community groups the power to influence these processes through technology. Outcomes were exhibited at Baltic, Gateshead a first for communities to access this gallery.

Ben is committed to digital inclusivity and enabling people to explore creative expression through digital technologies.

Ben’s piece for What’s On Your Mind? responds to the theme of KINDNESS

Contagion of Kindness

Acts of kindness are like a virus – they are catching – don’t spread the virus, spread kindness!!!!

An interactive piece that explores stories of bullying that have emerged from lockdown, practical ways kindness spreads and safe places for reflection… The balance between escapism and the practicalities of actively seeking help. It takes us through stories from local people’s experiences, to data from Perseverance and Curiosity, the two active rovers on Mars, and the gaming trope of the fire as a safe place to rest and exercise self care. Contagion of Kindness is an interactive work that can be explored on any device with internet (computer, tablet, phone).

To explore the work click to enter (on laptop / desktop):

Screenshot from the film with text reading 'Contagion of Kindness CLICK TO ENTER'

Explore Contagion of Kindness mobile version

Film version of the full piece with integrated audio description:

Read the transcript online
Download the transcript as a Word document
Download the transcript as a PDF


We’ve presented stories about the themes of bullying and cruelty to animals. We’ve also presented imagined safe places to temporarily escape a bad situation. If you are experiencing bullying, cyberbullying, domestic violence or worse you need to access real life help and support.

Please speak with your family, friends, teachers. If you can’t turn to them please contact one of the following organisations (links below):

National Bullying Helpline
Provides assistance to individuals struggling with bullying issues

Samaritans’ vision that fewer people die by suicide.Contact them if you are having a difficult time or worried about someone else

Domestic Violence Refuge’s National Domestic Abuse Helpline

Further help: www.gov.uk/guidance/domestic-abuse-how-to-get-help

Cruelty to animals – RSPCA Prevention of cruelty to animals / animal rescue


Leo Mercer – Tue 26 Nov

4 male actors in poses on stage, with the white boxes of the set of GUY: A New Musical in the background

Leo is a Mancunian writer and creative producer. With his company leo&hyde, his musicals use new tech and current sounds to explore life after the internet.

His Gogglebox-inspired adaptation of The Marriage of Figaro, The Marriage of Kim K (The Lowry, The Arcola), unpacked a couple’s arguments about what to watch on TV. It received multiple four and five star reviews, and was nominated for a Manchester Theatre Award.

His gay love story, GUY, captures online dating in the world of the 2010s. It premiered at Hope Mill Theatre and The Bunker in 2018, and has since been performed at over 20 venues nationwide, including six venues in the North East as part of ARC Stockton’s REACH programme.

Leo’s piece for What’s On Your Mind? responds to the theme of COMMUNITY

Monsters Anonymous

'Screenshot' of a mock up of 4 monsters on a Zoom call together

From the creators of GUY: A New Musical comes the family-friendly tale of four monsters keeping each other company during lockdown. They’ve been chatting for months over Zoom – but when will be the right time to meet in person?


With integrated BSL and Audio Description:


Paula Varjack – Fri 19 Nov

Digital image made up of wavy horizontal lines on a black background

Paula Varjack is an artist working in video, performance & participation. Show Me The Money stimulated dialogue and debate about money in the arts, while galvanising and giving confidence to artists to speak up about issues around artists’ pay. The Cult of K*NZO created over sprawling layers of performance, video, sound design, social media and puppetry, shared stories of luxury brands, both those who create and worship them.  Paula has created a number of collaborative art projects where she has invited other artists to participate with her, including: In The Time Before Everything reflecting on the period before the UK. first went into lockdown. She is one half of Varjack-Lowry with filmmaker Chuck Blue Lowry, their recent iMelania explored their dual heritage while using Melania Trump an avatar of an acceptably foreign woman. Born in Washington D.C. to a Ghanaian mother and a British father, Paula considers East London to be “home”.

Paula’s piece for What’s On Your Mind? responds to the theme of ALCOHOL

So… You have a drink…

It’s the end of a long day. You’re looking at your phone. Paula Varjack wants to connect with you, in a conversation about – the last 18 months, the blurry work/life balance that comes from working at home, and how all of this relates to drinking. So… you have a drink is a six minute film designed to be watched alone, and on your phone, created and performed by Paula Varjack with sound design by Robbie Gunn.

(TW: you can talk more about any issues surrounding alcohol and seek professional help and advice here: https://drinkaware.co.uk/advice/alcohol-support-services)

With captions:

Hey, can you do me a favour.? Take 5 minutes to watch this on your own Full screen, on your phone, and with headphones. And if you can, Watch in a room at night, with the lights turned off

With BSL:

Hey, can you do me a favour.? Take 5 minutes to watch this on your own Full screen, on your phone, and with headphones. And if you can, Watch in a room at night, with the lights turned off

With audio description:

Hey, can you do me a favour.? Take 5 minutes to watch this on your own Full screen, on your phone, and with headphones. And if you can, Watch in a room at night, with the lights turned off

Click here for audio description

Saya Rose Naruse – Tue 16 Nov

Headshot of Saya Rose Naruse, who has shoulder length, dark brown wavy hair, and is smiling directly at the camera

Saya is a photographer, filmmaker and puppet-maker with a background in theatre. She is based in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne but travels all across the UK for her work.

​Saya is passionate about sustainability and creating art that is meaningful and thought-provoking.

She seeks to centre her work around creativity, human experience and environmentalism.

Saya trained as an actor at East 15 Acting school and specialises in working as a photographer/ filmmaker for theatre companies, dancers and creatives. She also works as a maker and workshop facilitator to help nurture a playful and creative environment for all.

Saya’s piece for What’s On Your Mind? responds to the theme of CARE

My Rhythm

In response to her provocation #Care, Saya was inspired to create a film that explores the feelings of release, freedom and joy through movement.

My Rhythm is about finding that space to be unapologetically you and do the things that make you feel alive and free. It is about looking after yourself and allowing yourself that time to focus entirely on your own needs. So many of us struggle to find peace at home; Whether that is due to family issues, care roles or unstable living arrangements. This film is a tribute to you and is hopefully a reminder to shine some of your love and care back on to yourself.

With BSL:

With Audio Description:


Tommy / The Queer Historian – Fri 12 Nov

Image of artist Tommy, wearing round glasses and a bright yellow jumper, in front of brightly, multi-coloured painted shutters
Tommy by Becky Bailey

Tommy/The Queer Historian is a multi award winning, queer, working class and disabled artist from Brighton. His work starts with a story from his past and works with community voices whose voices are often ignored in traditional spaces such as a theatre. The work he creates sits somewhere between theatre, live art and cabaret and often pushes audiences to have conversations that are pushed aside.

Tommy’s piece for What’s On Your Mind? responds to the theme of LIFELINES


Inspired by the provocation of lifelines, Tommy delves into what helped him survive during twenty-twenty and dedicates this to those who helped him survive. This audio piece has been made with Sussex sound artist, Jon Griffin.

Read the transcript online
Download the transcript as a Word document
Download the transcript as a PDF

Barra Collins – Tue 9 Nov

Headshot of artist Barra Collins speaking while gesturing with his hands, and holding a pen in his hand

Barra is a theatre maker from the Republic of Ireland. His practice centres around participatory performance, working alongside communities to playfully develop a vocabulary to ignite and stimulate important conversations.

He leads organisations including family arts producer LAStheatre, sci-arts company The Enlightenment Café and the digital development outfit Neverthere.

Recent writing credits include: THE CURIOUS CASE OF ABERLLIW (Taking Flight & LAStheatre); THE RASCALLY DINER (Without Walls & LAStheatre); an adaptation of THE LION INSIDE by Rachel Bright and Jim Field (LAStheatre); ZOI (The Enlightenment Café); and an adaption of THE GIRL OF INK AND STARS by Kiran Millwood Hargrave (Bath Spa Productions & the egg, Theatre Royal Bath).


Barra’s piece for What’s On Your Mind? responds to the theme of CLIMATE


The world is a beautiful, fragile place. Acknowledging the Climate Emergency makes each of us an activist. Everyday we use our resilience, our courage, and our imagination to respond in one of two ways. Both are human. Both are understandable. Both have side effects.

From the provocation ‘Climate’, writer/director Barra Collins crafts two monologues in response to quotes from the local community. Set in a virtual environment that the audience can enter on VR headsets or digital devices, this piece also provides a space to continue this important conversation.

Red Pill is performed by Rosanna Turton
Blue Pill is performed by Scott Turnbull
Music written and performed by Slowstepper


This piece is best experienced with a WIFI connection and on a computer or VR headset. If you are trying to access this performance on a mobile phone or using mobile data, the monologues at the heart of this piece are available below in video form.

To enter the digital space follow this link: https://hubs.mozilla.com/BN5HXP8/red-pill-or-blue-pill

Or click the image below:

An image of the VR space from Barra Collins' RED PILL | BLUE PILL

When you click the link, you will be taken to the lobby of the experience. From here, you can see and hear what’s going on inside the room but you can only interact with others using text chat. Click “Enter Room” and follow the prompts to select a name/avatar and enable your mic.

To explore the space use your WASD or arrow keys to move around. To teleport, press your right mouse button. To rotate your view use the Q and E keys. Alternatively, you can change your view by holding down your left mouse button and dragging it.

If you encounter any problems, for example videos not playing, try refreshing your browser.


If you are experiencing problems accessing the digital space, you can watch RED PILL | BLUE PILL here:

RED PILL (with BSL and captions):

BLUE PILL (with BSL and captions):


Audrey Cook – Fri 5 Nov

Audrey Cook outside, with Redcar Steelworks behind them. Audrey is wearing a cropped sleeveless black top, black trousers, and has a pale grey jumper tied around their waist

Audrey Cook is a live performance practitioner, based in Teesside. They perform, direct, and develop performance art for stage, exhibitions, and most recently, digital, online spaces. Their passion involves creating work that empowers the side of our identity that we’re so commonly shamed for. Being ugly, being angry, being dirty, poor, or imperfect, and often likes to work within their own identity of being working class, queer, and neurodivergent. This often involves whimsical, provocative, or absurdist visuals, exaggerated personas, composed using interdisciplinary art forms in an entertaining and empowering way. Audrey has worked a lot with ARC as an independent artist this past year, and has developed work for Lizzie Lovejoy, Middlesbrough Mela, Pilot Theatre, and the Bordello Collective. Their submission for What’s On Your Mind? involves direction and performance by Audrey, as well as including collaborations with sound artist Joseph Browning, and visual artist Gwendolyn Woods.

Audrey’s piece for What’s On Your Mind? responds to the theme of FUTURE

How This Email Found Me

‘I hope this email finds you well!’

Performer, and creative practitioner Audrey Cook collaborates with sound artist Joseph Browning to create a cacophony of contradiction.

This digital short follows young people and their growing state of emptiness, as they are expected to repair a world they didn’t destroy, and live a lifestyle they didn’t ask for.

Grow a business. Grow a brand. Go to space. Save the world. Be a good person. Lead the revolution. Remember your laundry. Remember your credit score. Treat yourself to a mortgage. Don’t leave the house without your keep cup. Remember the earth is boiling. You ought to make a start on that really…

Best Wishes,

With Audio Description:

With BSL:


Ross Millard – Tue 2 Nov

Black and white headshot, taken from the side, of Ross Millard

Ross Millard is a musician, songwriter and composer who, with his Sunderland-based band The Futureheads, has recorded 6 studio albums (including one BPI-certified Gold album) and toured around the world to commercial and critical acclaim.

Ross has worked as a sound artist on various projects ranging from the BBC’s ‘Great North Passion’, to working with theatre companies such as Wildworks and Unfolding Theatre. Since 2013, he has also worked as guitarist and songwriter with Sunderland band Frankie & The Heartstrings.

He is currently in the process of developing a new musical with the National Theatre.

Ross’s piece for What’s On Your Mind? responds to the theme of ANGER


“This is control.This is about the government keeping the poor people poor.”

Digging is a work song death poem.
It’s a short rumination on the relationship between life and work. In the song, work becomes an endless act – one that comes to engulf the singer’s identity.
When is it time to enjoy the rewards of one’s labour?
What reward is there, truly – beyond fuel given towards another day’s work?
Do we do it because we have to do it?
Do we do it because we’ve always done it?
Do we do it because we’re told to do it?
What would it feel like to just stop?

(Text read by Scott Turnbull)

With Audio Description:

With BSL:


Leo Skilbeck – Fri 29 Oct

Headshot of artist Leo Skillbeck

Leo Skilbeck is a writer/director for stage and screen and the artistic director of queer performance company Milk Presents. Leo’s work spans a decade and centres trans and queer narratives and bodies. Their work has many forms including film, theatre, photography and cabaret, and has been commissioned by venues including the Young Vic, Derby Theatre and Northern Stage. Leo is the host of the Perverts Podcast, and is currently writing a short film with BFI Film Hub North. You can find Leo @leojskilbeck and @milkpresentswww.milkpresents.com

Leo’s piece for What’s On Your Mind? responds to the theme of ESCAPE


From a provocation of ‘Escape’, writer / director Leo Skilbeck (Milk Presents) explores a moment of simultaneous confusion and pure clarity in this short film. For queer, trans, non-binary and gender diverse people, for those who think they might just be too, and for anyone looking to make an escape of their own.

With Audio Description:

With BSL:

Read the transcript online
Download the transcript as a Word document
Download the transcript as a PDF


Khaled Aljawad – Tue 26 Oct

Headshot of artist Khalid Aljawad

Khaled is a photographer and budding filmmaker from Syria. He is a Creative Associate of Stand & Be Counted; the UK’s first Theatre Company of Sanctuary. Khaled joined SBC’s International Ensemble with his brother Mohammad – they love gaming so Khaled pitched an idea to them during lockdown about a computer game of their lives and together they made Have Your Passport Ready. This was Khaled and Mohammad’s first professional writing and performing job and they were excited to see the impact it has had on people and for it to be named Game of the Week by The Observer. Before moving to Sheffield Khaled was a Photographer for Inclusive Theatre in Za’atari Refugee Camp Jordan, supporting children to get involved with theatre and photography. He was a member of the Youth Committee in IMC where he helped to create theatre and plan and deliver creative activities for children and the community. Khaled is a proud volunteer for the Refugee Council.

Khaled’s piece for What’s On Your Mind? responds to the theme of WELCOME

Welcome to My World

Welcome to My World is a new film by first time filmmaker Khaled Aljawad Alhussaini. Following his life from Syria to Jordan and then to the UK, Khaled explores what it’s like to start again and what it means to feel welcome.

(Captions are available on all film options – please click the CC button in the player’s bottom toolbar. In the menu that appears, select the caption or subtitle track you’d like to see)

With Audio Description:

With BSL:

Read the transcript online
Download the transcript as a Word document
Download the transcript as a PDF


Dermot Daly – Fri 22 Oct

Headshot of artist Dermot Daly

Dermot Daly, amongst other things, is a filmmaker, photographer, and sound artist. His artistic work also incorporates theatre and radio.

Dermot’s piece for What’s On Your Mind? responds to the theme of BEFORE

The Good Old Days

The final sentence of the provocation that triggered this piece is “it’s never going to be as good as it was before”, but just how good was it ‘before’? What have we gained? What have we lost? What might we be?

With Audio Description:


Henry Raby – Tue 19 Oct

Headshot of artist Henry Raby

Henry Raby is a punk poet based in York. His work has been described as playful, highly-charged, passionate and anarchic! He’s performed at festivals and in front rooms, equally at ease in the back rooms of pubs to large scale events. He writes about friendship and community, hope and anger all mixed together with an unruly approach to form and style. His debut collection, Nerd Punk, was published by Burning Eye Books in 2018.

Henry co-founded the poetry/spoken word organisation Say Owt. He is part of Vandal Factory theatre company who have toured shows across the UK to all manner of unique and underground spaces. He has worked with youth theatres to create urgent and exciting theatre, and is currently the Broadcasting Worker at Chapel FM Arts Centre. Here, Henry supports people getting into community radio and finding their voice.

Henry’s piece for What’s On Your Mind? responds to the theme of CHANGE

We Don’t Know How To Talk To Each Other

An audio piece written by poet Henry Raby, this collection of local perspectives looks at development and redevelopment and the thoughts and stories beneath the water’s surface. At times fragmented, at other times united, this piece weaves both the past, the present and hopes for the future of Stockton on Tees. Featuring the voice of Lisette Auton.

With BSL:

Read the transcript online
Download the transcript as a Word document
Download the transcript as a PDF


Find out more about the journey of What’s On Your Mind? in Creative Director Paula Clark’s blog.