“Check your privilege, check your difference, check your motivations, check your relevance and check your workforce”

“Check your privilege, check your difference, check your motivations, check your relevance and check your workforce”

Young Poet, Kareem Parkins-Brown’s advice to arts organisations wanting to work with young people.

Kareem Parkins-Brown set the tone for ‘Creative Margins: Clash of Culture’ with an in gallery performance of his poetry reflecting his own feelings of cultural clashes. His two poems charismatically described his local area as one of ‘regeneration’ as a response to Chris Ofili’s work Blue Devils, in itself a work of art that capture tensions between old and new presences depicting the flurry of the Trinidad Festival with intrusive police presence. Kareem’s poems evoked the replacement of old with new. The replacement of the old basketball courts, the chicken shop, the pond with swans in favour of new trendy cafes and bars, symbolic of a place that now ‘takes itself too seriously’. The arrival of new crowds as the ‘ticket inspectors of cool’. His satirical characterisations of ‘Supreme Steve’ and ‘Flasha Tasha’ are relatable new social types attempting to infiltrate his space. These feeling of unusual presence, unease and difference often occur when the arts world comes together with the youth sector – the theme that this event sought to explore.

In her introduction, Gabrielle Ivinson, argued that the arts are being asked to pick up work traditionally done by Youth Services. However this is with groups of young people that have no prior knowledge or proper sense of belonging within the arts institutions. The Creative Margins network has been designed to bring a range of different people, organisations and voices together to begin to think differently. With each of the events thus far being hosted in different setting: Youth Clubs, arts centres and theatre spaces, the diverse range of attendees have brought with them different knowledges, experiences, worries and stories.

Following Kareem’s performance was a series of provocation pieces with key questions for the audience:

Provocation 1: Mark Miller

Key question: Where does your personal politics stop and start in your work?

Mark reflected on some of the learning from the Circuit programme. Circuit was Paul Hamlyn funded programme which aimed to explore different models of ‘partnership’ between youth and arts organisations. It was designed to challenge the traditional ‘outreach’ model, starting with a core relationship between partners from the youth and arts sector. Key findings from this programme included a lack of understanding of youth work practice, a lack of knowledge about what happens in the gallery space as well as little acknowledgement of the wide and valuable background of young people. Mark questioned the notion of co-production and asked what constitutes a ‘true’ partnership. His final consideration was around the need for both arts and youth workers to review their own professional motivations for equality and social justice, asking where does personal politics stop and start in your work?

Provocation 2: Dr Nicola Sim

Key question: What are the practical solutions to sustaining youth/arts partnerships?

Nicky reported on finding from her PhD research which sought to explore the different models of partnership work within the Circuit programme. She reflected on a range of differences between the fields of the arts and youth work which were based around the educational, economic and social differences between the workers. This resulted in differing languages, experiences, traditions of practice and ways of being, which were hidden and often unacknowledged manifestations of power. She argued that youth work and the arts could be natural allies if the youth sector were able to better understand the gallery space and the arts sector could better engage with youth work practice. She addressed the need to develop a ‘culture of collaboration’ which could include research and practice networks, CPD, training of arts and youth workers within higher education settings and cross sector roles. These would assist in developing people who can respond to the needs and talk the language of both fields.

Provocation 3: Hannah Kemp-Welsh

Key question: How can we involve artists is framing equitable partnerships?

As a sound artist, gallery educator and youth worker, Hannah gave details on the ‘many hats she wears’. She offered her perspective on her different frames of reference and how the two worlds can meet. She referred to “transferring the chaos” of youth work and youth projects often to the feet of the artists, who been have been positioned as a bandaid – bridging the void between the youth club and the arts museum. She encouraged participants to explore their hybrid positions and embrace the interdisciplinary. Hannah described the benefits of engaging artists in partnership work which focuses on process rather than product, ideas rather than medium and quality of experience rather than assessing impact.

In response to these provocations, network members raised that there exists a ‘hiddeness about peoples lives’ and many missed opportunities for harnessing the skills of workers in alternative spaces. A cultural shift in organisations was called for in the way that workers can be ‘trusted’ to work differently. We may choose to work for organisations where our values align, we might be lucky enough to be employed by them – but it was recognised that this is not a universal experience. Funding was also actively discussed in relation to the structural change of partnership work. There were several comments about the different agendas that funding brings and the importance of experimenting without funding. Often the best artistic work is created without funding, without focus and without an end product. The importance of ‘lived’ experience in facilitation and programming was also raised. Lived experience in relation to employing artists from the local area, acknowledgment of young people’s cultural funds of knowledge and the lived experiences they bring with them. In this way, we are recognising the power of young people as a group – their collective power, as a way of recognising difference.

Breakout sessions from a range of organisations working with young people and the arts followed the discussion and provocations. The first session with Anna Glarin and Emily Reddon from London Youth shared their learning around the Young Culture Makers programme. This programme supported community youth organisations to run arts activities. Their session explored how to ensure that youth workers have a positive experience within arts programmes and how youth centres worked to ‘scaffold trust’ with diverse groups of young people, but also to widen out the range of partners they are working with.

Breakout session 2 with Carol Pierre, an independent researcher and social historian, explored the question of bridging the gap between working class young people and the gallery. The participants in this session explored how gallery programming could be more inclusive for working class young people and arrived at some practical suggestions including removing non-paid internships and supporting young freelance programming. The third breakout session was run by Salma Istwani and Ekram from Refugee Youth. This session employed youth work methods and creative arts activities in order to explore the labelling “refugee” young people in relation to their mental health. This approach encouraged participants to think differently by thinking through the use of creative tools and alternative means of communication.

Concluding panel chaired by Professor Pat Thomson

Pat Thomson reflected on two key themes that had re-occurred throughout the day: funding and the portrayal of institutions. She argued that we were not perhaps exploring a “Clash of Cultures” but the effects of “living within” organisations. As things that lie within other things, the economies that sit within capitalism. She cited the notion of “subjugated economies” from Gibson-Graham (2001) in relation to the ways that particular functions within society are hidden, they are happening alongside. This reflected, she argued, the sometimes troubled relationships between youth work and arts organisations. She recognised that there are similar principals of community development held by both socially-engaged arts practice and detached youth work and that by exploring ‘alternative economies’ differing models might emerge which would make partnerships more sustainable. These models would be based around redistributing the wealth among the population and sharing resources, rather than expecting more from government funding.

In the discussion that followed there were key messages from the day which included the shared vision, practices and values of youth work and the arts, the need for more room for critical discussion, questioning what we take for granted and the relinquishing of power to young people. There is need to more recognition around hidden knowledge and creativity within both in institutions communities and youth centres. The group recognised the need to check our own privilege, our own assumptions and the importance of sharing information across networks.

To close Gabrielle Ivinson argued that it is not fair that the arts and sports are asked to do the job of youth work. There is a need to subvert this expectation through resistant practices and experiencing different knowledges. The following suggestions were made in relation to key messages from the discussions:

  • The need for places and spaces where practitioners from youth work and the arts can talk through networks such as Creative Margins and further events.
  • The importance of exploring alternative funding and economic models to end short-termism and the competition for government funding.
  • The need for organisational change which could include the re-allocation of existing budgets towards youth work and the arts.
  • The importance of an ongoing conversation about how arts organisations can be inclusive in their decision-making practices and forefront youth voice and a youth-led perspective.
  • A manifesto was suggested which could explore the shared agendas of youth work and the arts, but also highlight the local issues that are most important to young people.

In sum, instead of considering youth work and the arts as a ‘Clash of Cultures’, they can be seen as subjugated, symbiotic and sometimes hidden resources for society.

Frances Howard is a Lecturer in Youth Studies at Nottingham Trent University

Her latest publication: Youth Work, Arts Practice and Transdisciplinary Space, co-authored with Steph Brocken and Nicola Sim is out now in the SAGE Handbook of Youth Work Practice

“A Space of Our Own” – The role and value of youth organisations in strengthening communities

London Youth recently released their report:

“A Space of Our Own” – The role and value of youth organisations in strengthening communities

The research is based on interviews with youth professionals and young people from across London Youth’s member network, who were interviewed by five peer researchers.

Against a backdrop of destabilising forces, including funding cuts to the youth sector, poverty, unaffordable housing, and reduced investment in social infrastructure, youth organisations play a vital role in strengthening communities across the capital.

Our report shows that youth organisations have a powerful role in strengthening communities. They do this by:

  • Creating connections for young people and the community

  • Giving young people a sense of belonging and ownership over the local area

  • Being places of physical safety

  • Allowing young people to recognise and celebrate difference and cultural identity

  • Developing young people’s skills and confidence for community involvement

  • Being known and trusted within the community

The report concludes by reflecting on the ways that funders, commissioners, and local government in London could better support youth organisations and the important work they undertake in our city.

Rosemary Watt-Wyness, London Youth’s Chief Executive, said “We know that young people can feel disconnected and struggle to find their place in an adult world that is changing constantly. It is up to us to provide young people with space: space to be safe, space to be themselves, space to own and lead.”

 

David Kennedy, one of the peer researchers on the project, said “For years, I’ve wanted my community to become a better place, yet I hardly even know my neighbours. I definitely don’t know them in the way my grandma knew hers! My local area felt like a place of residence, not one of refuge.

This is why this research is imperative; it provides a genuine insight into the minds of young Londoners. If we can bridge this gap and help willing young people to feel connected, I have no doubt communities will be considerably stronger.”

You can read the full report here.

Dracula’s Castle

Dracula’s Castle, Transitions/Cardiff Student Community Action playscheme, Adamsdown, Cardiff August 1972.

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Professor Mike Pearson gave a stunning slide show of images such as these, that were taken in Adamsdown in Cardiff when he and George Auchterlonie formed

Transitions in September 1971. Mike and George were former students at Cardiff University and they worked with Jill Taylor whom George met whilst completing teacher’s training at Bretton Hall. Transitions’ projects involve Cardiff College of Art students who, like Mike, George and Jill were committed to social/community action. There was a very influential performance course in the Art College. All of which added to the mix in Wales. The radical community based performances came out of many sources and perhaps reflected a spirit of freedom that artist had at that time, which enabled to create activities that now look like ‘daring projects’ with children and young people. At one point in his talk, Mike said, ‘Yes that’s right, we worked with small children up ladders with hammers.’

Time and Trust – commentary

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Jade and Josh gave a wonderful presentation and this commentary accompanies their beautiful power point.

TIME

(2) Time is one of the most important things to consider when working with young people, and this may not be for the reasons that one might consider obvious. As young people, we have been volunteering with Amgueddfa Cymru’s Youth Forum for two years, which has given us an insight and ideas about how youth engagement with heritage and culture is handled within an institution of this size, as well as giving us the opportunity to consider ways that it might be improved. Time in this discussion can take many forms, such as that as project length, activity length, museum timescales as well as individual timescales.

(3) Young people have busy, fast-paced and dynamic lives which stand in contrast to the slower pace of museum programming. While longer activities and projects are appreciated, there is a danger that young people will become disinterested in a project if they see that the project itself is not moving along. We are not suggesting that activities and projects must be short. We suggest that in order to maintain a sense of progression and achievement, thus keeping momentum and keeping young people engaged in a positive manner, that the project should be split into many smaller, diverse tasks. We consider that there is a place for a core of admin-esque young people who can and want to take a more responsible role in regards to organisation, time management and human resources but it is important to remember that not all young people want to do this and not to force them into this role. Through this planning, there can be several activities that contribute to the forward thrust of the project. These activities can range from a workshop spanning an hour, to projects that span several sessions. We think that the key here is having a clear idea of the end aims of the project, and then splitting up the actionable tasks and matching activities to suitable age ranges, groups or ability levels. This can open the door to greater diversity and representation within the museum space whilst still being respectful to those diversities. Using this kind of system, it may also be possible to create a dynamic and mobile project which can be progressed in multiple locations before coming back to Amgueddfa Cymru at its culmination.

Another area that we feel it is important to alter is how projects and activities could be better organised/managed to allow a greater diversity in young people volunteering or engaging with the museum site. This could be done through smaller, one day events to create or collaborate that reaches a broader number of young people who may be unable to make the time commitment that volunteering, such as the Youth Forum, often requires. This could allow young people to get involved in meaningful ways and gain the satisfaction of doing something productive/useful, even if they might be in a position where they cannot engage consistently, such as if they work full time, care for a relative, study or lack the confidence to take the plunge into the unknown. It could also open the doors of opportunity to young people who may not even know that they can engage with the museum sites!

(4) As exhibition programming is usually decided several years in advance, main projects can be frustratingly slow to young people as it is extremely unlikely that the same young people can work on a main project until its conclusion. This means that the young people leaving the project rarely feel satisfied with their contribution and those starting feeling adrift with the current progress. Due to this it may be of more value to involve young people in shorter, more dynamic events that they can guide and feel invested in and there is a great importance to having a vision of the project, perhaps chosen by young people themselves, that they can invest in and understand its trajectory. If the project is too nebulous, young people may feel overwhelmed and unwilling to invest their time and energy. Due to these factors, young people may decide that they would rather not give any time to a project because they will not see its end. Perhaps some would see it as a waste of their time. It may be that young people experience time differently, the lives of young people can vary considerably over the time period of a project at Amgueddfa Cymru. They can start and end school, university, get a full time job or even start a family. If they are unable to see a project to its completion, perhaps activities can be tailored in a way that benefits the young people while still contributing to a project.

(5) Young people can be more aware of current trends, and this is an area where the museum may be reluctant to encroach due to the idea of museum neutrality. These topics probably will not become the apex of the year’s events, however by taking a stance on contemporary issues the museum could open its doors to new audiences. These topics could be chosen by young people, although we understand that this is a difficult topic that as many risks as it does opportunities, but that is a topic for another day. A way that this could be achieved without fully compromising the idea of museum neutrality is by allowing groups of young people and volunteers to tackle these issues in short projects, say 3 months to a year in length, that build towards an exhibition or an intervention. This can be flexibly arranged around other museum events. By tackling these topics in a short time there is less of a risk of ideas or facts becoming outdated, as would be the case for a mainline exhibition on the same topic. These youth-led and youth-focused projects allow multiple groups to become involved in different activities as well as giving the opportunity to young people to gain experience in organising and executing an event in the museum which can give young people a practical opportunity as well as harder to track, subjective individual achievements such as entertainment or working with others.

We have found that when working with young people in Amgueddfa Cymru, that there are many reasons why they wish to engage with the site, as well as many ideas about what they would like to get out of it. This is not usually a straight transaction idea – that the young person contributes in order to gain something – but usually much more personal with varied outcomes. We think that it is important for these aims to be talked about and addressed where possible, to contribute to the dialog between the museum and young people, to build a rapport between them and relevant staff members and create an environment where young people feel like their time and effort are recognised, valued and rewarded, where possible.

(6) We believe that there is an opportunity to reflect upon current working practices between young people and institutions such as Amgueddfa Cymru that may not require the remaking of the wheel, but small tweaks that can greatly improve the relationship between the two. By considering the aspect of time and addressing the stumbling blocks that come from a deep-seated difference between the experience of time for the individual young person and the museum-structure. We hope that there is an opportunity to use these differences to influence a better system that benefits all. From the museum’s perspective, they may not be getting the greatest return on investment from their young volunteers using the current practice method. Young people may not be satisfied with individual experiences which can lead to young people leaving projects, or not fully engaging with them. Do the co-ordinates within the museum recognise the various reasons why young people engage, and how can they help achieve the aims of the young person? By considering these factors surrounding the issue of time, a system of shorter or smaller projects, chosen and guided by young people with many opportunities to involve a variety of groups and individuals may be possible. Such a system could increase the diversity and dynamics of those working on a project whilst also enabling those who may not want or be able to engage full-time to be able to contribute in a meaningful way.

(7) From the perspective of the young person, do we feel that we are gaining something of equal value to the time and effort that we put in? Do we find it fulfilling, and in what ways are we measuring this subjective ‘fulfilment?’ If we do not feel that there is a balance, is there someone that we can talk to about improving the experience and who is able to take this action? Is there ultimately a choice for the young person where one considers whether their engagement within Amgueddfa Cymru is appreciated, and is it still worthwhile to remain?

We hope that you have found our opinions on the concept of time interesting. We think that this is but one facet to consider when analysing one’s approach to youth engagement.

TRUST

(8) One of the other main issues that can be faced by young people looking to participate in arts in locations such as the museum sites is a lack of trust in the institution and the people who embody that power and influence. This idea of trust is subjective and incredibly hard to monitor or measure, which perhaps leads it to being overlooked in working practice. Young people may not see that the museum as a whole is trustworthy and there can be many reasons for this. This perception of trust can influence the demographic of young people who enter the museum sites and perhaps is of an influence on those who choose to volunteer their time there.

(9) Perhaps controversially, should the museum framework be trusted by young people? This is a hard one to answer, but we have experienced that some young people do not trust the museum space. Some view it as the domain of a particular demographic which they do not identify with. Other young people see it as a representation of ‘The Man’, and do not consider it a safe space. Perhaps it’s the highly traditional settings and connotations of the museum that put some young people off. Perhaps the museum seems too much like a school, with the connotations of authority. It may even be that the museum is just not “cool” enough! These are not issues that are fundamentally changeable, however the ideas of young people may be malleable enough to alter. If the museum itself cannot change, and certain people aren’t coming into the museum, how can we take the museum to them, and change their perceptions through positive and rewarding experiences?

(10) Young people may not trust the museum because they may feel that they are being used for tokenism or box ticking, rather than being valued as an individual. Some internal projects may have an aim for feedback from young people, and this can lead to closed-ended activities or sessions with volunteers, where the young people are ‘involved’ in a project but are not allowed to influence the project outcome or direction in any meaningful way. This can lead to the young people feeling used, and not feeling trusted by the museum, especially when there is no feedback about how their input was used.

(11) In other situations, young people can be used for tokenism to present a particular image of youth engagement at the sites. This can present an image of the nationalities, skills or level of engagement that is present within the group of young people which may not accurately reflect the whole. There may be a skew to show a particular nationality as being strongly active within the youth engagement, or perhaps showing more of one particular gender. This bias can feel like they are sweeping issues under the rug, or using the false image to entice more of a desired demographic into engagement, which is not currently happening. It can be a fine line between engagement and tokenism, and recognising where this line is drawn is a valuable skill of the engagement staff. When does an activity or approach become tokenistic rather than holistic? We are not sure, but we think that it is food for thought.

(11) What can institutions do to build up trust between themselves and young people? They could take a more sympathetic stance towards young people and place a higher value on the time given by the young person. They can open more doors to opportunities for young people to engage with the museum structure – if that was something that interested them – and have a more open approach to young people getting involved with more ‘professional’ projects with a longer time scale. This will not suit all young people, but for some it might provide a valuable insight and experience. The museum could also build trust with young people by acknowledging their interests and concerns in a respectful manner, rather than brushing them aside or refusing to engage with the goals of young people.

(13) The museum as an institution could also build trust with young people by recognising the varied aims of the young people who want to engage more with the museum structure; to ask questions and find allies. This would be best achieved if staff were to move out of their comfort zone to engage with young people in neutral spaces, without making young people feel out of place or patronised. Young people also would like to receive feedback on contributions they have make, and have the opportunity to discuss and influence how their output is used if the project has a next step. They want their output and suggestions to be valued by museum staff but do not want to feel that they are being pandered to. For example, young people are aware that not all of their ideas or feedback can be implemented however by staff acknowledging this and explaining why certain points were not carried forward in a candid manner, such as project cancellations, direction changes, budget, or misjudged time, a rapport can be built that can lead to trust between young people and the museum staff.

We, as young people, understand that when we give our time and energy to a project through our volunteering, that we will not be rewarded in a traditional manner, but neither does it have to be totally intangible. This could be tailored to individuals and groups, and will likely vary considerably. For some in our group, a tour of the geology department was greatly rewarding, for others they wished to gain access to staff training modules to learn transferable skills. These incentives offer a branch of hope to young people and this can help build trust between museum and individual, showing that the individual’s contribution is valued and is not just a labour of hope.

(14) On the other side of the coin, are young people worth trusting? Does the museum see the influx of different young people as an indication that they are not fully committed, and therefore not worth trusting? Or perhaps because the faces change so frequently, that there is no point trusting because familiar faces will soon leave. Although this is rooted in factual ebbs and flows within youth engagement, we do not think this should be used as a reason to distrust young people.

One of the issues that the museum may face in regards to trust is that young people are not seen as trustworthy. Often described as disengaged and disillusioned, they are usually digitally-savvy and globally connected, and do not necessarily trust the traditional narratives presented by sites such as Amgueddfa Cymru. This can lead to a situation where young people continue this distrust of the narratives conveyed onwards to the individuals involved. Young people may be more willing to question and interrogate these traditional stances and attitudes which could be seen as a threat, adding to the general distrust between parties, but we think that this dichotomy can lead to some interesting dialog and progressions that can be navigated in a respectful but insightful way.

(15) It does seem like there is a relationship between trust from the museum and progression of young people who engage with projects. Currently, our Youth Forum accepts young people aged 14-25, but we do not think that cultural participation should stop at 25, and neither should a desire to engage with museum projects. Currently there is not an avenue for this conveyer belt of young people-becoming not-young people to progress or develop within the museum. Their time volunteering with the museum would have given them a broader set of transferable skills that would be valuable elsewhere. They can progress to the general volunteer pool for the museum however this leads to a great back-step from the engagement that they experienced whilst in the Youth Forum. One could also imagine a scenario where it is not seen as ‘worth’ investing time and skills into young people because they are unlikely to use those skills to improve the museum in the future. We would love to see these people form a larger skill network that can still engage with projects, where they are relevant to the individual, and continue to share their thoughts and skills even when they are no longer a ‘young person’. This could allow the museum to retain some of the skilled people that they have been shaping and could allow the individual to feel more trusting of the museum site.

(16) As the young people are volunteers, they are not afforded the same level of trust and autonomy as an employee. A young person may volunteer for a while and then disappear, or only engage on certain projects or activities based on a whim, which can contribute to the reasons that young people are not trusted by the museum. This is totally understandable, however there are times where young people are dedicated, hard-working and smart enough to contribute in professional ways, but may be given few opportunities to do so. This is once again highly dependent on the specific young people involved and their desires, but we think it would be of benefit to allow these individuals more trust, perhaps through asking for their contribution in a more professional way. There is a fine line here between gaining experience and the work becoming a labour of hope with no chance of progression. We think it would be a way that young people could perhaps progress into tangentially related projects that are rewarding to both parties.

(17) The concept of trust between young people and sites like Amgueddfa Cymru is incredibly complicated. It is an issue that we think deserves more thought and experimentation to find a balance that works for both parties. We do not think that it will be easy, but it appears achievable and of great value in the long term. Trust is a two way street! We hope that you have found our opinions on the concept of time and trust useful and we hope that it will positively influence how you engage with young people in the future!

Gabrielle Ivinson

Time and Trust by Jade and Josh

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This was written by myself and another youth forum member from Amgueddfa Cymru, the National Museum of Wales. We have been members for three years and this has given us an insight into youth engagement within this sector. We agree that two of the most fundamental and complex issues faced in this area revolve around the ideas of ‘time’ and ‘trust’. There is a deep difference between the experience of time by the museum-institution and the day-to-day experience of young people. These time discrepancies can pose as a substantial challenge when working with young people but we think that it can offer rich opportunities to create multi-layered and dynamic projects, with varying time-scales that young people can feel invested in creating sense of progression and achievement.

In a similar vein, ‘trust’ is important which goes both ways. How can young people trust museums, and how can museums trust young people? How can tokenism be avoided whilst encouraging diversity in the young volunteers. We think that it is aided by giving young people some autonomy, to feel that they have some influence and are not just used for ticking the ‘youth engagement’ box. The museum can have negative connotations of authority and a school-like atmosphere which can put off young people from engaging and trusting the organisation. We think that by building up relationships between staff and young people a rapport can be established. This could create a better environment for the young people and aid the museum in getting more from their young volunteers without exploiting them.

Jade and Josh

Creative Margins Manchester: Luggage Tags

  • Social curiosity
  • A better understanding of the reality of the youth sector, and create time and capacity for conversation and partnership
  • Workforce reflective of community
  • Provide the magic
  • Advice and knowledge from the experts and an understanding of yp needs
  • To realise that their language of aesthetics is only one among many languages
  • Time outside of ‘projects’ to get to know each other
  • Allowed to take risks
  • Develop an understanding and awareness of how you help them and young people meet their aims
  • Preparation time, training – built in and paid for – understanding each other’s values/ ethics
  • Need to value the contributions of young people and want to work with them
  • Financial support! Time to build meaningful bonds of trust
  • Resources built in for relationship building
  • Resources partnerships
  • Need to value the experience and value of working with young people that youth organisations have.
  • Relevance
  • Listen, disturb, disrupt, listen
  • Time and trust
  • Payment and time to talk to the young people about what they want
  • Find the “right fit” with partnerships – groups are out there and crying out for creative interventions
  • Financial investment – an understanding from the as to the meaning of why they do what they do
  • Make the language and terminology accessible

What are the right conditions for effective, creative collaborations with young people?

  • Honesty
  • Trusted, safe, plenty of inspiration
  • Trust
  • Feed them
  • Creating a safe space and room to be yourself
  • Safe spaces – take the art to them!
  • When you say you’re gonna listen – you LISTEN!
  • They start with young people, in their space, when THEY CALL OUT
  • Both sides willing and open to learn
  • A willingness to share power. Not having a set idea of outcomes. Trust for young people + what they’re capable of.
  • Keep it fun and positive
  • Good food, good space, good + consistent (wakers/waters?!)
  • Creating an environment where young people can shape, design, inform, change, have “genuine” ownership of the project/ work
  • Welcoming and open environments
  • Respect, safe, flexible, freedom, opportunity to take control/ lead direction of project
  • Lots of time – pizza helps!
  • A benign space of affirmation
  • Mutual respect, for the young people to feel creative autonomy
  • Trust, respect, enjoyment, food

What does marginalised mean?

  • Excluded
  • Systemic barriers which prevent the engagement of people due to characteristics or circumstance which isn’t their fault
  • On the fringes – unable to participate due to economic and social circumstance
  • !Hard to reach?!
  • ‘Marginalised’ means being pushed out, ignored and treated with contempt
  • Lack of voice, control and visibility
  • Across a margin
  • Not having an automatic place at the table
  • Outside
  • To be disempowered and then held in contempt for your powerlessness
  • An easy way to describe someone we don’t understand
  • Left out, devalued, patronized, disempowered
  • Invisible, ignored
  • Othering

What does the youth sector need to be able to work effectively with artists?

  • Clear and non jargon explanations and descriptions
  • Understand the process is more than just the ‘Arts’
  • Funding to be able to engage the artists and pay them appropriately
  • Capacity! Full appreciation and understanding of their skills and expertise. To be involved in initiating projects and not just seen as gatekeepers.
  • To exist, to be recognised as important, to be valued as having a different yet complementary role to artists
  • Hold spaces, groups, lives
  • Access to creative networks, what’s out there, how can we cross collaborate
  • Social curiosity
  • Budget, time, quality provision
  • Open mind – but with a side of practical planning.
  • Preparation time conversations led by young people, a willingness to take risks
  • Budget to support y.p’s access needs
  • Money, trust the artist, space, need to revalue the arts and see it as important

Tell us about boundaries and what they mean in a partnership between an arts and youth sector organisation.

  • Money – trust – power
  • “Results” led delivery, what’s a good “session”, a good “result”
  • The distinction between two different orgs being able to contribute different but converging things – financial, emotional, creative etc
  • Respect
  • Understanding + respect of+ for where each other’s expertise start and finish
  • Money, relationships, safeguarding
  • Different yet equal
  • A clear understanding of each other
  • They are not always real and certainly not made in stone
  • Boundaries acquire meaning through the process, points of separation and points of exchange.

Creative Margins – Manchester

The second meeting of the Creative Margins network was held at 42nd Street on 5th July 2018 

The second Creative Margins meeting had the theme: ‘Co-production, collaboration and the rebalance of power.

The group’s discussions took place following an introduction to the history of the centre – 42nd Street.

Prof. Kate Pahl (MMU) shared her experiences of co-producing research with young people using arts based methods. To read Kate’s publications click here or follow her on Twitter.

 

Janet Batsleer (MMU) gave us an over view of het paper titled “Practices of Friendship: Youth work and feminist activism in Manchester’.

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We remembered that it was an 70th anniversary of the NHS by recalling Nye Bevan’s roots on the miners’ Tredegar, south Wales. Gabrielle reflected on the way miners in the south Wales valleys had looked after each other during some of the longest strikes in the 1920 and 30s by creating collective meals. The men dressed in their best clothes to serve other men, women and children meals which had been cooked by the striking miners and their wives and families themselves. This was an early form of social security and that went on to inspire the collective medical insurance started in Tredegar and became the model for the NHS.

Click on image to listen

The group discussions: creating new knowledge together

The group discussions comprised of small group of about five people (see below) and a larger group with approximately twenty five people from many organisations, such as arts organisations, youth organisations, activist artists, free lance and contact artists, creative and academic form youth work and education (see attendance list below).

The participants were from organisations and charities that work with marginalised young people, art practitioners and activists, academics in youth work and education.

Group Discussion

The focus of the discussion was – young people, co-production, collaboration and the rebalancing of power.

We used the phrase from Donna Haraway’s latest book ‘Staying with the Trouble’ to help us to not steer away from difficult issues.

The first person to speak remarked – Young people do what they know. When do you intervene? When do we as adult feel we have then right to make an intervention?

Artists work hard to listen to young people and create with what they find.

Examples were recalled from working with young people through music such as rap. Musicians can take what young people say and put it into a different beat, ‘Sometimes they want their specific words written down, we want to leave their words’.

We spoke of what to do when the words are raw, and express emotions that are full of anger, or are in a more general sense ‘not acceptable’.   We recognised that ‘giving the words a differ beat’, is one way for staying true to these emotions yet rendering the expression into a form that is able to be widely communicated. The form of rap has its own legitimacy.

Expressing the un-expressible through art

We also spoke of what lies below the words ‘they use’ that points to something more, something other than what is conveyed through the specific words, and how and if art and music can get at those possibly wider, hidden meanings. We know that what can be expressed through words is often only the tip of a much bigger iceberg. Sometimes the anger points to issues that are not articulated, or even, not able to be articulated because there are no words, accessible tropes or known forms of expression to capture this stuff. Some of us recognise these unspeakable things – as the inter-generational transmission of troubles that belong to history of the places where the young people are growing up. Such ‘un-expressible’ issues include post-industrial loss of meaningful employment, communities that have lost a major employer, such as a factory or mill that has closed, the effects of austerity politics and the loss for example, youth facilities to support marginalised young people, or schools that only reward the articulate and ‘academic’ forms of knowing.

Pace

We spoke about pace. We spoke about the pace needed to work with marginalised young people and the pace of project funding. Sometimes, in arts organisations, ‘it feel like you are walking a plank’. You have to apply for funding to work with marginalise groups that has a specific, often short-term, time frame and yet you have to try to spend the time required to build trust with young participants. The pace of the art project is often out of step with the pace at which you need to work to genuinely co-produce with young people. You need to go at their pace and yet the funding requires you to go faster. There is a great tension.

Yet, another suggestion was that sometimes when the required pace of the project drives us all, including the young people, they do step up to the mark. As they are driven by the time frame, unexpected things happen. We have a sense here of an external time-line, providing a framework that somehow carries the creative process – and that both the artists and the young people become regulated or driven by this and so produce something in an unexpected way. The regulation of time becomes part of the process of making and possibly adds a sense of urgency that can sometimes be productive.

An example of a Free Drawing process

Someone gave an example form a project on Free Drawing. The process of free drawing has a number of steps. ‘We encourage the young people to be the authority’ (of the steps). We have a sense here of the artist teaching or passing on the technique (a series of steps) and then enabling the young people to own the process. ‘Once they are comfortable with the process, we can get them to create pieces at a large scale for example a 3m X 5m picture/piece’.

‘We push the process through’

They (young people) do have to practice.

‘We invited the Fire Service in (to contribute the art making process’, (through talking about their perspectives on fire).

The example drew our attention to the techniques that artists have that they pass on or share with young people. There is an active pedagogic process (techniques) yet it is possible for young people to own these and use them autonomously from the artist. The example of the Fire Service suggests how other people, in this case adults who may have specific issue with young people, (who maybe start fires) joining in and became part of the creative process. In some situation the entry of the Fire Service might become confrontational, yet when the process of creation is the anchoring referent, then the Fire Service can contribute a point of view that becomes generative rather than confrontational. This is an example of how the process of creating founded on a series of steps (a technique) enabled a potentially discordant adult perspective to come into the mix. This example illustrates how the process of artistic creation (in contrast to talk and spoken debate alone on their own) can create a space for contrasting perspectives.

Feeling uncomfortable

Yet, the Pace of art projects can be uncomfortable. Often art projects are funded for short periods like four weeks or even one week. Such time frames create intensive projects but can create a sense that ‘we are pushing and pushing… according to our professional expectations’. Young people respond to this in different ways. Some can recognise the need to work intensively to produce something tangible at the end.

Aesthetic quality

We spoke of the need to push for quality. Many artists are concerned that, when working with young people, the end product has to be of a high quality. They expressed the need to recognise that the art work needs to be understood as having aesthetic qualities, ‘not something they are producing for a friend’. The art produced needs to be able to stand up to public scrutiny and be something that displays aesthetic qualities. The aim is to enable young people to recognise and own the aesthetic worth of the art piece.

Curious Minds: giving power away

As a publically funded organisation, if we accept public money, we have to be politically neutral. However, if the art is the young people’s expression, we can shift power so that it is theirs. Young people have a way to say things that shifts power. If it comes from them, as art workers. We can give power away, and this gives us more power.

Democracy of process

A example was given of an art project in Edinburgh working with marginalised young people. ‘It started with us playing with Paly Do’. We were creating models of ‘their everyday lives, encounters’. A little model appeared of a person smoking a splif. An adult wanted to remove the model from the exhibition. We need to have a democracy of process and a democracy of products.

So many purposes for art

There are so many different purposes for dong art. We need to get some understanding of what we are doing. Some purposes for using art might be educational, some discursive, some to listen to views and some to produce a ‘product’. Sometimes art is a therapy, it enables young people to express themselves, then we can take the art to a different place. We need to decide have we captured a different process?

It might be about coherence, but this can force an agenda. We need to have a conversation with young people about we have captured. We need to talk to young people.

Focus on the friction between the young people and the artists

We need to note the purpose of the art early on. We need to start by knowing if young people have been spoken to. As an artist, you can talk with the youth worker. The youth worker will still be there when you, the artist, have disappeared. We need to discuss this multi-agency working and understand where the boundaries are.   We can have a conversation to work out what roles there are for the youth worker, the artist and the young people.

Tensions between art and power

An example was given from the Men’s Room, Manchester

Thinking about art as politics.

As soon as we bring politics into it, we enter another realm.

Arts as arts sake..

Activism – is about power.

It has a subversive functionality

This is difficult – it is knotty to work through.

Social class, activism.

Where is the balance? E.g. – for a person who is homeless, or who is a sex worker?

How can you reach a balance?

If a person is not in power.

It has to be about taking power back.

If you put a (homeless) person’s art in an art gallery, but it has not changed the life of that person? What are we doing?

Another example

In 42nd Street

A project on young people and marginalisation.

The project was based in school and asked what they did not like about school.

It was not initially an art project.

Young people were in crisis, they had no voice, no food, no power.

They had to learn to put a sentence together, they had to learn to create something.

Making art is like learning to put words together. The process (not the product) is most important.

The spent five days in a room, which is difficult when you come from a home where there is no constant, not daily rituals to organise time.

The project was about creating a voice.

We had to pick up on little hints. This involves skill.

We found out what they did not want to do.

For example, sometimes they did not want to do certain activities.

Another example

In an activity with young people, we asked the mayor to come to the final performance. He told them which track he liked best.

Someone else said, they though that was too functionalistic.

And another said, what if no one comes to their performance?

The outcome is awesome, but the process is the really important thing. Process can have a massive benefit. It’s the journey, arriving – is the last day.

If you what the work to be celebrated, you have to give young people tools.

How do we create enough time and space and tools so the young people are genuinely able to co-produce?

Funding

Funding is really important.

We need to evidence why it matters.

We need funding for six months to a year to do a good job by young people.

But that can rule out lots of funding sources

Some of us do it by stealth.

Someone says, ‘I try to monitor what I ma doing, to slowly gather evidence. We need to show why art therapy matters.’

The process is everything.

We have to evaluate it.

Young people as creative agents

In 42nd Street, we let them create an exhibition.

They wrote the brief for a possible call out, short listed the artist and chose one, changed the brief to create the criteria – that it had to be a ‘young artists’ (aged under 30 years) and it had to be an artist who had never exhibited before. They interviewed the artist.

This process transformed the artists understanding of how to work with young people.

Who is an artist?

This example led us to discuss- who is the artist?

How do we set the boundaries between who is the artist and what gets created?

Communication is a key word here.

You can’t just bring young people into a room and leave them with an artist.

Its about all the people in the room, giving something to the young people.

It’s a kind of artist Ping-Pong process. You become as aware as possible to what joint understandings can develop. We provide skills.

It’s a kind of action-research loop.

Youth worker asked to provide ‘young people’

Can I just set back from the process for a bit. We get phone calls every week – people saying we have a project, can you give us some young people. We are doing a play about bi-polar.

I say ‘No’.

We need an alternative model to ringing up your local youth centre.

We heard from the Lowry

We had to day, it depends what you your project is.

We need to work in a very different way. We need to start with the young people.

They are the Starting Point!

Ethical issues

These are ethical issues. They involve knowing yourself, knowing your organisation and following the need to chase funding.

We could have:

Step 1; Does this work start from my ethos?

Step 2: Do I have friends within my networks (who have contacts with marginalised young people)?

It can sometimes be good to chase money, but the problem, we then have to call on the kids.

You should be working in partnership with arts organisations.

There should be a period of R&D when we spend two months working with young people.

But how do you do this?

You can have a creative agent. I go to them first.

In 42nd Street, if the kids don’t like you, then they just say ‘no’. If they don’t like it, they won’t let you in.

The role of the outreach worker

We are a homeless charity.

What if people are homeless?

A major problem is loneliness.

Maybe arts organisations are trying to do too much?

What is the role of the arts organisation?

How do we (outreach worker) know what they are doing?

We should work towards what we are good at.

We should not be doing a botched project, that we are no good at.

Youth worker

We do work with artists.

We often start with – food, ground rules and then the art.

It all depends on what the young people’s needs are.

We should heed Claire Bishop’s idea – that we should resist the injunction to make things better.

Artist are often the researchers, they are seeking to explain.

They can open up a space.

A space that can validate young people’s knowledge.

We should be aware that it is the academic that benefit from working with young people.

Youth workers – especially those working in Youth Centres – are the gate keepers.

Someone once described the ‘Men’s Room as – ‘A social club for misfits’. It is the only place they can go to that makes them feel normal, where they don’t have to pursue ‘getting better’ – or worry about costing other people’s money.

Coming from the place of not-normal

I grew up in a Pit Village. I was made to feel I did not talk properly, or look right. Sometimes people made me feel I was not ‘normal’.

I washed up in a youth centre, my journey took me to adult education.

I am also a free-improvisation musician.

I have noted two tensions in our discussion today.

How do we operate with love… make loving interventions as artists?

How do we operate with loving integrity, with others, as activists?

I learned this from my work (punishment) in FE collage.

I was given the kids who smashed the school up, the ones that the behaviour support team could not manage, the hardest kids.

We hung out alongside each other, smoking, talking, getting a bus out of the collage when the kids were pissed off. Gradually, we created a community, we started to get better. I got better. These 14-16 year olds created a beautiful, generative space. It took time.

Washing up as an artist, I am serious about what I do. It’s hard and easy.

Coming from that place, I see we need loving integrity. It will take no prisoners, it is as serious as life.

  • There has been a slow amelioration of trust
  • Concentrated and focused aesthetic experience

Every move we make, so long as we see, that everything we say, every gesture, is related to love… what Lauren Berlant calls ‘a proper love’.

Lauren Berlant reminds us of a ‘cruel optimism’

Trust has been eroded.

The main discussion came to a natural end with this insight. Then we went round the group and asked if those who had not spoken wanted to say anything?

Some issues raised at the end:

Question – which is it – a form of expression or art?

I want to ask – what is that people want to explore when they make art… is it expression, or to make art?

How do we find the time and space to work out if that is what is happening?

At 42nd Street we have been working with young people for years. It is there, you can access it, if you want to.

Youth Organisations looking to expand young people’s creative repertoires/ knowledge

Another Youth Organisation, (‘You Can’ Located in Salford) said, we are constantly looking for programmes we can offer young people.

It is difficult to find the hook (to hook young people’s interest) from my point of view. I would love to get art practitioners in there to do the art, to see what engages them, to do their art, to see if that engages them in a positive way. Come and offer your media, we do consult with them (the young people), but it is about the limits to their knowledge, their experiences.

If you don’t know something exists then you can’t choose it. Young people need to be made creatively aware.

We can feel guilty as artists – what is the legacy and who benefits?

Another art educationalist working in a dance company said, ‘we do feel guilty as an arts organisation, when we put young people through a process and then leave.’ In might have ben a great project and then we leave. For example, we have had sold out shows. Then there is the ‘come down’. There is no programme legacy and there could be. Too much happens like this, we have to chase the next grant and we don’t have the time, funds or expertise to do the ‘after care’.

Another artist said, ‘I put things out there’ that is a kind of legacy. I try to put the young people first. I try to ‘pass it on’.

We do try to ‘put it out there’ but there is not real infrastructure to support a legacy, it is very ‘bolted on’ – we don’t work together enough across organisations and institutions to make enough opportunities for the legacy.

We are a touring company, so we are in an even more difficult position. It is hard to know what counts as a ‘legacy’, and especially for the young people we work with.

It just so happens that the company is making a BBC documentary with young people in 42nd Street at the moment. The programme is being made by the artistic director and Darcy Russell.. so this work will create a legacy in terms of a documentary on dance and mental health. What can ask the BBC to pay for resources for the young people as the basis for making the documentary – so that the young people are supported. We have made a number of requests and transaction with the BBC.

The second group discussion: 

We starred our discussion by asking – ‘Where are the young people?’

Co-produced spaces

Why are they not in the room (actually a few of them were in the main room – see later).

We discussed differentiated spaces. – those for young people and those for adults.

We asked – who shares what place?

In co-production participates are supposed to have equal value.

What might we mean by a co-produced space?

Managing Risk

When working with large arts organisations, who takes responsibility for risk management?

There is a need to clarify issues around – duty of care.

There can be conflicting understandings between larger social care organisations and smaller organisations. Who gets a place at the table?

Project ending – and legacies

This also came up in the larger group discussion (see above).

Our thinking about legacy maybe should be oriented towards the young people as participants rather than directed at particular activities and products.

Sharing Power

When it comes to sharing power – we need to recognise that there are different ways of communicating. Young people tend to be very oriented towards technology and virtual communicative networks.

Adults tend not to be very good at networking and mobilising via social media.

One way to share power might be to recognise the importance of social media and virtual technology and make this a more central process.

We need to consider the technological expertise that young people possess which might help towards employability.

In our art projects we could consider:

  • Pathways to employment
  • How we take influential decision for and with young people
  • Editing – who does it and how it is done

An example: in a film making project;

We set up a convention that young people only edit their own takes and not the footage taken by others.

We also suggested that they did not have to edit their work – this gave them ownership of their own words and control over how they were represented.

Cultural tastes

It is important to recognise that we can sometimes make assumptions about what kind of art young people want to have.

A seat at the table 

We invited Ella Otomewo to listen to our conversations through the day and respond in spoken word.

Are there enough seats at the table for me?
Or am I going to have to awkwardly squeeze myself onto the corner again? Make myself smaller again,
and more palatable?

Not having an automatic seat at the table does not mean I expect you
to feed me from a silver spoon.

You can disrupt the table!

Disrupt the heavy expectations sitting dusty next to the silverware. Where mouths have been
force fed what to say.
Don’t ask me to be real

and then get angry
when I’m not your favourite version of myself.

I know I’m preaching to the choir here. Like teaching to an
open ear,
or a pen in hand.

Let’s have a show of hands
for anyone who’s ever woken up
knowing that their best idea yet
is dissolving away with last night’s dreams.

Luckily for us
there is ample time to redo our mistakes,
and meet each other at the place where we have fallen down. Meet me where I think I’ve failed
and I’ll meet you where you start.
Meet me at the heart of it.
Meet me in trust
and let me speak as if you weren’t there,

but as if I had invited you.
I do invite you.
I hope you keep inviting each other

Gabrielle Ivinson 

 

 

Attendance list

Lauren            Wilson University of Manchester – student
Steph Meskell-Brocken Peshkar, Manchester Histories
James Duggan Manchester Metropolitan University
Christine Bogard Wythenshawe Community Housing Group
Laurie Peake Super Slow Way
Helen Spandler UCLAN
Geoff Bright Manchester Metropolitan University
Lee Brennan The Lowry
Debra Walker The Royal Exchange
Rajesh Patel Manchester Metropolitan University
Carys Williams Greater Manchester Youth Network
Quina Chapman The Royal Exchange
Ali Roy UCLAN
Nathan           Powell 20 Stories High
Kate Pahl Manchester Metropolitan University
Ellie Nicholls Walk the Plank
Tim Wheeler
Sandra           Abreu-Bourne You Can
Fergal McCullough Men’s Room
Beth Powell Creative City
Chris Brett Reclaim Project
Ed Watts University of Manchester
Kate Goodrich Men’s Room
Kelly Allen Curious Minds
Matt Wilde Blaze Online
Rosannah Jones University of Manchester – student
Sarah Bond University of Manchester – student
Lydia Burke Venture Arts
Shelley           Wagon Men’s Room
Karina            Nyananyo 42nd Street
James Walklate 42nd Street
Julie McCarthy 42nd Street
Janet Batsleer Manchester Metropolitan University
Sam Broadbent Company Chameleon
Gabrielle Ivinson Manchester Metropolitan University
Haydn Gardner Messy Miscreant
Harriet           Rowley Manchester Metropolitan University
Liz Pugh Walk the Plank

A seat at the table

We invited Ella Otomewo to listen to our conversations through the day and respond in spoken word. The work was amazing! Listen up.

Are there enough seats at the table for me?
Or am I going to have to awkwardly squeeze myself onto the corner again? Make myself smaller again,
and more palatable?

Not having an automatic seat at the table does not mean I expect you
to feed me from a silver spoon.

You can disrupt the table!

Disrupt the heavy expectations sitting dusty next to the silverware. Where mouths have been
force fed what to say.
Don’t ask me to be real

and then get angry
when I’m not your favourite version of myself.

I know I’m preaching to the choir here. Like teaching to an
open ear,
or a pen in hand.

Let’s have a show of hands
for anyone who’s ever woken up
knowing that their best idea yet
is dissolving away with last night’s dreams.

Luckily for us
there is ample time to redo our mistakes,
and meet each other at the place where we have fallen down. Meet me where I think I’ve failed
and I’ll meet you where you start.
Meet me at the heart of it.
Meet me in trust
and let me speak as if you weren’t there,

but as if I had invited you.
I do invite you.
I hope you keep inviting each other

Ella Eneme Otomewo is a Manchester based performance poet. She has a first class degree in English and Drama, and has had commissions from Manchester International Festival, Contact Theatre, and BBC1Xtra to name but a few. She is also a member of M(.)IST Collective, a group of queer female artists from a variety of art forms in Manchester. Ella facilitates creative writing workshops, and has performed at numerous spoken word events both as a headliner and with renowned poetry collective, Young Identity. Her work is feminist, personal, and candid.

Follow Ella on Facebook and Twitter.