Everyday Austerity is a collaborative project by researcher Dr Sarah Marie Hall and zine artist Stef Bradley. The multi-sensory exhibit aims to produce a real-life understanding of what austerity is, how it is lived and how it can be recognised, by opening up intimate windows into the lives of six families over two years worth of ethnographic study.
Collections of christmas cards, post-it notes, to-do lists, diary entries, Hall’s own notes, recipes, toy boxes, and receipts are displayed in attempts to tell the stories of the six families whose income, size, and measure of austerity differs. What is important is the diversity shown, from single mothers to nuclear families with employed parents, those dependent on welfare to retired couples. In one journal entry, we read about Selma and Mya, an immigrant single mother and her eight-year-old daughter. Whilst Selma is desperately looking for a job and supporting herself and Mya through the welfare state, Mya is homesick, unable to call her friends from back home due to the price of international calls from a landline. What the exhibit does is show the glimpses of humility in austerity, with Hall’s notes going on to say that a friend buys Selma and Mya a mobile phone to call home on for free. This snippet of family life touched me, eloquently providing the real-life faces and stories of those who use the welfare state, who are so often ostracised in politics and the media.
What the exhibit aims to do is provide a user-friendly acknowledgement and understanding of just what austerity is. Aiming to be interactive, the exhibit encourages you to think about and share your own understanding of austerity by writing it down and displaying it as part of the exhibit. The exhibition is small and doesn’t provide much more information about the families other than a brief overview. This was disappointing, especially as Hall’s research was over two years, which means there must have been a lot more to see than what was available. If you are interested in finding out more about the effects of austerity in local areas, the exhibit would be a good one to pop into if you’re passing through Salford. And perhaps the library itself would be of interest, with lots of literature on hand regarding the working class of Manchester and Salford areas.