Why would a diverse group of people, who have bigger more life changing priorities, be interested in coming to a gallery, or cultural centre? What would they gain?
These were the questions I was faced with at the start of Circuit. It has now been a year since the programme started, and Nottingham Contemporary has made three key partnerships with hard to reach youth sector organisations including, Youth Offending Team for Nottingham City Council, Action for Young Carers as part of the Carers Federation, and in the second year Crocus Fields – a short stay respite centre for young people with learning difficulties.
Many of the young people involved with the project cope with issues in their lives that most of us cannot even imagine. They are some of the most vulnerable but strongest people I have ever met. So how could these people have anything to gain from us?
The arts offer something different to that of health professionals, care workers, job centres and councils. They offer young people a break and a creative voice.
From my work with young carers I can see that we offer them a place not to think about their duties at home, allowing them to reconnect with people their own age, a space to creatively let their hair down. I have seen staff laughing until tears at some of the jokes and comments the young carers group have made, and also being stunned at some of their more poignant suggestions.
The young offenders had a space at Nottingham Contemporary where they were treated as people and not criminals, to be taken seriously and had the opportunity to interact with something outside of their comfort zone. Their input and behaviour was so unlike the stereotype of this group that they created work within the first day that attracted the positive attention of the office staff.
I have seen disruptive young people with learning difficulties be calmed by being in a neutral space, and for their creativity to be taken seriously and encouraged. I have seen a group of young people who would be labelled as uncommunicative, able to use a creative language I have only seen in post graduate students.
It is clear that young people gain a sense of calm freedom from getting involved at Nottingham Contemporary, but what Nottingham Contemporary can gain from having these young people in our spaces goes far beyond listening to their ideas, but to be able to recognise the potential every young person has from whatever back ground they are from.