How do you engage young people with art, who are not engaged in education or other social or cultural group activities with their peers? What do you do when the group dynamic is disrupted and the young people are not inclined to trust ideas to the group? We struggled with these issues this year on our journey with the Walton Youth Project, which supports young people back into education, offering a flexible curriculum and a supportive environment, meeting the young people where their interests or potential interests lie.
Although this partnership has been active for a couple of years, this project prompted us to work more effectively together, working jointly on challenges we faced. During the initial meeting between the artist and the group, the young people told artist Sarah Marsh that they wanted to “show they were not just naughty kids” and “make something that other people can interact with, not just something to look at”. The first meeting was open and full of potential, followed by a magical session at Tate Liverpool, where each of the young people started exploring their own ideas, inspired by the art they had seen and discussed.
The young people responded physically to being in the gallery, interacting with anything allowed, putting their whole selves into their creative responses. One of the young men spontaneously began to use the materials left out to divide the space, taping up from the floor to the bars on the ceiling and experimenting with patterns, angles and space. Without knowing exactly why, he began to place post-its with words on them at different points along the dividing tape. I just popped in for part of the session and there was an amazing atmosphere of experiment and openness.
Unfortunately, at the next session at the youth project centre, the artist met with quite a different group. Due to external events, the atmosphere within the group had changed and their engagement was gone. The artist and the youth project manager came up with some ideas together that would take on board the physicality of the young people’s responses, the need for team-building activity and inadvertently managed to harness one of the great strengths of the youth project manager, working on building activities outdoors.