Combining creative skills and business knowledge for great results
– Story by Tony Cutting
Imagine if you could speak at a meeting, conference, or training seminar and know that your audience had truly listened and understood what you had to say. If you want to turn passive recipients into engaged participants, then its time for you to meet Linda Gilbert, Business Owner of Drawn Together Graphic Recording & Facilitation Services.
Linda was born at St Helens hospital in Auckland and grew up in Grey Lynn during the 1960's and 70s. This petite Pakeha girl spent her childhood and teens in what was then a multi-cultural and edgy part of Auckland. Linda says her childhood in Grey Lynn contained the formative experiences that now define who she is, how she relates to people from other walks of life, and her ongoing interest in human rights.
Her family were Scottish and got along particularly well with Maori and Polynesian families who also shared a strong sense of community. Linda says “many of us were poor, but in later years I've come to recognise that we had cultural and social wealth. We were somewhat 'free-range' and roamed about in Grey Lynn Park, the beaches, Ley's Institute Library, Point Erin Pool, and best of all we knew about the best fish and chips shop in Auckland! Richmond Road School was perhaps the biggest influence on my life though – I will never forget the dedicated teachers and our school motto, 'Aim High'.”
“Because it was cheap to live in Grey Lynn and Ponsonby, our neighbourhood attracted all sorts of interesting people and new immigrants from all over the world. It also became a hub for artists, musicians and those with the courage to question the status quo.” Linda remembers the emergence of Nga Tamatoa and the Maori Protest Movement, as well as the Dawn Raids. “It was a colourful, turbulent era, but in hindsight many changes in society germinated there, at that time. Issues like poverty, race relations, human rights issues, new art practices and environmental issues were confronted head-on. Now I consider myself lucky to have witnessed all of that change.”
Linda's great grandfather was one of the early photographer's in Scotland, and this tradition passed down the family to her mother and her brothers. Linda's mother was also a talented artist, pattern and dressmaker. Linda's father was a fitter and turner - also a well-known boxer in his day. “Fred Gilbert could make or break anything!”, says Linda.
Art and music were valued on both sides of Linda's family and she grew up playing the violin. She credits the years of practice and discipline in music with helping her to reach for goals (despite very difficult personal circumstances). “To be any good at playing the violin you have to be resilient (my brothers used to plead with our mother to make me stop practicing!). You also need to understand that it takes hours of practice but one day the effort will be worth it – ie. Don't eat the marshmallow!”
Culture Shock – Law Students
In her early work life Linda was a secretary and took Pitman's shorthand, but she soon became bored, so decided to go back to school and gain the qualifications she needed to attend Auckland University. After a very successful first year, Linda was accepted into Law School. This was a real privilege but also a culture shock for her. Everyone seemed to be from very different walks of life than the one Linda was from. She soon gravitated to the 'others' – those who were not the elite or from priviliged backgrounds. “There were about 5 of us who were not like the others - we were the odd ones out. But we found strength in our various differences and soon formed strong bonds that last to this day.” It was quite a wake up call for Linda who had come from the other side of the tracks.
During her law studies Linda developed an interest in children’s rights (which had its roots in her own childhood). On a recommendation from a lecturer Linda ended up working at Youth Law with Robert Ludbrook, a well known children's rights advocate. This started out as a voluntary job, but before long it became a fully fledged Community Law Centre, the national hub for children's legal rights, and Linda was employed as a Solicitor. Soon it became clear that the small law centre could not reach the needs of so many children, especially those who were being denied their right to education, which was very topical at the time with the introduction of Tomorrow's Schools and Boards of Trustees.
So Youth Law raised the funds and commissioned a video and booklet about the rights of young people at school. It was produced by the Legal Resources Trust in Wellington – Linda managed the project. It was a great success and most Boards of Trustees bought copies of the video to better understand the law, their role and powers when suspending children.
About 6 months later, in 1993 Linda was invited to join the Legal Resources Trust in Wellington. Along with Brent Williams (also a lawyer from the Wellington Community Law Centre), Samson Samasoni (Writer) Linda was one of the producers of the video series called 'Understanding the Law'. Linda also redesigned, updated and rewrote a plain English textbook about the law to accompany the video series. The whole package of videos, textbook, workbooks and posters were aligned with NZQA standards. It was creative, made law interesting and accessible. 'Understanding the Law' was influential and won 'Best Educational Video Series'. Being so accessible it was used by schools for children, but also adults with literacy issues, in prisons, etc. This was a key turning point in Linda's career. She found a way to integrate her legal training with her creative streak.
After this Linda decided to make Wellington her home. She worked as an independent contractor in policy and law across the public sector. At night and during holidays, she moonlighted and worked on her art skills. Linda completed a Diploma in Art and Creativity at The Learning Connexion.
Linda's interest in fine art continued to grow so she followed her dreams and applied for and was accepted into a Bachelor of Fine Arts Course at the Otago School of Art, in 2000. She loved her time down south but missed Wellington too. She moved back to the Capital and contracted again in strategy development, policy and law. Again moonlighting in art on the side and exhibiting annually.
A variety of contracting roles have always kept Linda intellectually stimulated and involved in the corporate world, but she is also innovative and this girl from Grey Lynn still questions the status quo! She sees her legal training, policy analysis, writing and graphic recording skills as ways to promote innovation and change. Linda describes them as tools in her tool box, secondary to the more strategic aim of access and participation, for all, in society.
It is no wonder then that Linda is so excited about her new business and career as a graphic recorder and facilitator. Linda says, “graphic recording supports group process, inhibits group think and opens the gateway for innovative ideas to spring up. I've called my business 'Drawn Together' because the presenters and audience talk, I listen, synthesize and draw. It's a way of making the complex clear – watching me draw while listening to the presenter burns memories into the brain... and it's fun for all. It is also a play on the fact that I am 'drawing together' my business skills with my passion for drawing.”
The artist in Linda has found how to break into the mainstream working world. She is now in the zone, her talented creative skills, legal training and contracting experience enable her to work in the busy, corporate world.
If you want your presentations, meetings and conferences to make a real impact I strongly suggest you contact this talented creative.
I am suitably impressed. To find out more about Linda’s business please visit