“It was during my treatment that I started using art to tell stories, and when I couldn’t speak, it was my way of communicating to people. That started my creative journey.”
Lucy Turner has just become the editor of Rife, an online magazine that gives a platform to young people in Bristol. But her own art is grounded in adversity. At the age of 23 she was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer in the saliva gland.
“I’d done art at school and loved it, but never saw myself doing it professionally,” she tells me. “I saw so many barriers in the industry.” But she realised art therapy during her cancer treatment was becoming a “really positive outlet”.
It wasn’t until just before the pandemic that Lucy’s confidence as an artist blossomed. She applied for one of Rife’s six-month content creator residencies – where young people are paid to produce any kind of content they want for the website, from articles to personal essays, videos, podcasts or animation.
“It was the first time I’d ever been in a place that I felt really valued me. I felt believed in and my confidence has grown ever since. I felt my story was valid and relevant, I was respected. That is so rare, I think for young people, but especially young Black women. We’re often the most disregarded people.”
During this residency, Lucy found her love for digital illustration. “I really didn’t know what my talent or practice was, I just knew I wanted to tell stories. It was during Rife that I started drawing digitally and found I could do it and really enjoyed it.” This has allowed her to do freelance work in this area, including for Rising Arts Agency.
“More importantly, I now have the confidence to say I am an artist.”
Rife is a project run by the Watershed and turned seven this year, but what is the idea behind it? “We see it as a platform to give people voices when they might not have always had the opportunity, especially people of colour and from working class backgrounds,” Lucy tells me.
Now as the magazine’s editor, she looks at submissions from young people across the city – anyone aged 16-30. She then helps contributors with their idea, whatever is needed to get it published on the website.
“I’m also trying to do more community outreach.” I speak to Lucy just as Rife is about to hire resident editors. They will have a speciality and will in turn recruit content creators in the next few months.
Rife has helped a lot of people move onto bigger and better things, including gal-dem, Crack magazine and the BBC. But opportunities are hard to come by.
“It was one of the first workplaces where I walked in and wasn’t the only Black person in the room, which was huge,” Lucy remembers. “I don’t think people realise what kind of impact that has on you.
“I’ve never had an opportunity like this. I want Black and Brown boys and girls to think they can get to these kinds of positions,” she adds.
“Often in the media and creative sectors, the doors seem closed. Once the doors are open, it’s typically a straight, white male-dominated environment. I would like to totally get rid of that. There’s one thing being let in the door, but when you’re in the door it’s about feeling comfortable as well.”
We talk about the complex issue of tokenism, and she says organisations should be open and honest about their intentions and shortcomings, offer regular equality and diversity training, talk widely with community members and hire more than one person of colour. “But it is difficult,” she adds, with a laugh.
She has felt tokenised in the past. “But someone said to me once: ‘You might have gotten in the door because of your background, but you’re here now and you’ve got something to say, so take that position and run with it.’
“I don’t want to be hired because I’m Black, but I am Black, and that’s not gonna change, so I may as well do what I can in a brilliant role and open doors for more people of colour as well.”
She describes herself as a ‘hype man’ for young people finding their way. “If there’s any way that I can give that belief to someone, that’s my dream, that’s my job done.”