Tucked away on the top floor of Fishergate Point Studios in Nottingham, with a curious name and doing fascinating work, is Sugar Stealers - a creative group powered by four women who set out to inspire art and healing. We went over to chat with Tiffany Jade, singer-songwriter and project producer at Sugar Stealers, who shared the story of how the group came to be what it is today…
When Tricia Gardiner, Tiffany Jade, Anna Griffin and Molly-May Gardiner put the Sugar Stealers collective together, they not only created a nourishing ground where art and talent flourished but also established a safe space where people could both grow and heal. And that is what sets them apart - the way this community specifically caters to the needs of its niche audience.
“Tricia Gardiner is the heartbeat of Sugar Stealers,” Tiffany explains. “She is quite well known in Nottingham for the work she does within the community and how she supports grassroots arts. It was her idea to combine arts, resources and the community to create a space specifically for women and non-gender conforming people.
“With Tricia being an artist herself who has also worked as a teacher, Molly’s expertise as a musical theatre actress and hypnotherapist, Esther’s work as a screenwriter and my connections as a musician, we aim to make the skills and resources in these fields more accessible to everyone,” she says.
Tiffany also plays a big role in bringing the projects to life by pulling the community in with digital promotions and posters that connect to the people they want to speak to. Explaining the origin of their unique name, Tiffany shares how Tricia came up with it and how the name captures the very essence of what they do.
“Tricia is from Bolton where dandelions are called sugar stealers because they float around and land on sugar. This linked to the concept we were trying to create where dandelion seeds contribute to re-nutrifying the ground which leads to more of them growing,” she says.
“Applying this to the community, we wanted to push our resources and abilities to improve talents from the ground level, creating a fertile base for growth. Since we are all professionals in what we do, we can bring our connections to a level where beginners can access them.
“For instance, it would be close to impossible for an artist who has not yet made a name for themselves to put up an exhibition without having to pay for the space. Therefore bridging that economic gap has always been one of our biggest concerns,” she adds.
What started as a digital endeavour during the pandemic grew into an initiative with a brimming bimonthly calendar full of workshops and events.
“Initially we used to meet online for workshops focussed on activities like cooking during which all of us gathered with our cooking gear to make a traditional dish from a particular culture. It was all about bringing people together to do something creative,” she says.
We wanted to push our resources and abilities to improve talents from the ground level, creating a fertile base for growth
“Slowly we began getting a regular group of attendees and as we moved offline and people met in person, something magical happened. It became a space where we could forget everything outside, have a laugh and express our feelings. You could just come in to cry or rant or even do cartwheels, with zero judgement.
“Like an incubator, it became a potent space where everyone understood each other, and it was beautiful because I feel it filled a gap in quite a few people’s lives where some may have been lonely or misunderstood,” she adds.
As a group led by women for an audience that is also women and non-gender conforming, the group became a platform to have difficult but important conversations, such as how there are certain societal expectations of what one should be doing at a certain age. There have also been discussions about feeling safe, arranged marriages and feeling disconnected from families due to one’s identity.
“Sometimes it is difficult to have these conversations when we don’t have the same kind of experiences as those talking about it. But it is often helpful to listen and be with them as they explore it, even though we cannot fix it,” Tiffany says.
These discussions also impact the kind of art that emerges from this space and it is reflected in the subjects, mediums and voices of representation. “We have had a beautiful project once where a woman whose mother passed away painted a portrait of her and showcased it alongside a painting by her mother. It was very evident how much it meant for her to show her artwork in the same space as her mother’s. Everything here is modelled according to what every participant needs. You wouldn’t get that anywhere else.”
This is evident in the way that mental health support is integrated into their programs, with Molly playing a pivotal role in designing these sessions where every individual gets one-to-one time with her.
“She created the foundation for me to build the life and confidence I have now. She helped me become more aware of myself, my body, my feelings and how they all come together within me. I honestly cannot recommend her enough,” Tiffany says.
She also highlights how these discussions are embedded into their projects so that they don’t feel as invasive. “They are spiritual and art-based and not very formal in terms of sitting down just to have these conversations. I feel this strips all that pressure and fear around mental health so that we can approach it as just something to accept and explore,” she says.
Reminiscing all their work so far, Tiffany spoke about one of their exhibitions which was closest to her heart, The Dandelion Project. “The first one will always be special because we got to see all these people have their works put up for the first time in their lives. The showcase had such a diverse mix of people and I have never seen anything like that before. Hearing the personal stories was one of the highlights for us,” she says.
Making sure their work reaches the margins and underrepresented communities has always been the focus of Sugar Stealers and Tiffany explains how Tricia reaches across to people regardless of language barriers during her art workshops.
“You would find her explaining brush strokes to a crowd so varied in ethnicity, gender and even age, where there would be participants who are as young as eighteen up to 65 years old. It is like all the judgement, prejudice or any negative emotion that could prevent this from working gets left behind at the door,” she says.
As a group that is mainly led by creative output rather than commercial gains, Tiffany elaborates on their primary motive. “Ultimately, it all comes down to healing. When we started, our aim was to create a space where healing can happen regardless of what you are healing from. One of the reasons why we do not deal with it is because we do not have access to a safe enough space to do that, and that is what we are setting out to do - create that chance for people to heal.”
I feel creative subjects should be given the same importance as maths or science and we would be able to see a difference in the way more open and aware attitudes are shaped at a young age
Starting from there, they have come a long way in helping people achieve their best in wellness, and creativity and become better versions of themselves. There is also the issue where creativity is misunderstood and undervalued, a change which Tiffany believes needs to take place at the school level.
“Conversations about creativity often take a negative turn, like you would not be able to make a career out of it, or that you should expect disappointment. That is a poor way to promote creativity - something that humans are built on,” she says.
“I feel creative subjects should be given the same importance as maths or science and we would be able to see a difference in the way more open and aware attitudes are shaped at a young age. It is this kind of a space that we have been trying to create.”
From helping people discover their creative energies, providing a safe space to explore and be themselves and promoting both personal and professional growth, Sugar Stealers has more than delivered on its goals. With healing and art as the driving heartbeat, they are definitely on the path to achieving many more beautiful things and touching more lives.
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