Firstsite opened its new building in 2011 just off the main high street in the town of Colchester, Essex. The organisation (established in 1996) defines its work through the three areas of Exhibitions, Learning and Artist Development.
Within Learning, young people have always been a distinct audience but work was sporadic until August 2011 when a grant from the Paul Hamlyn Foundation enabled a two-year project, during which a core young people’s group was established called Y.A.K. (Young Art Kommunity). They ran a peer programme, Airlock, that focused on engaging different groups of young people who gathered in front of the building.
[Circuit] has created an invaluable haven for young people in the area.
Key principles were developed that now shape Circuit, including young people’s own interests leading the programme and reflective learning being central to practice. The first two years of Circuit has seen significant challenges, including an increased council presence outside the gallery and multiple changes in core staff. This has also provided opportunities to effect considerable change with young people, 12 of whom are now employed as part of the delivery team alongside Circuit specific roles of Circuit Artists and Circuit Digital Creative. Similarly new strategic partners have been established within the community with particular success with Essex County Council Youth Services and Colchester Youth Enquiry Service. Circuit aims to maintain a flexible approach to designing programme, whilst building a clear offer for a wide range of young people and to deepen their engagement with the artistic programme.
‘I’ve never felt more inspired in my own practice than I do now’
“As ‘Circuit Digital Creative’ I began by getting the social media platforms up and running, documenting a few events, and it now feels like a very important and integrated part of the programme. Working with Y.A.K. has been a really great experience and it’s been amazing to see them pull together events like the Winter Gathering and the Y.A.K. Shack evenings at the Waiting Room. This has created an invaluable haven for young people in the area. They all have a great passion for what they’re doing but sometimes they need that little bit of encouragement to get things going (but who doesn’t?) Since I’ve started my role within Circuit, my own practice has changed considerably. My focus has shifted from developing work for other people to creating work that is more for myself. Being able to work with young people, and assist them with their creative futures, and just being around more creative people, has made me appreciate what it is to be an artist, something I’d forgotten over the last few years when I just accepted every corporate freelance job that got sent my way! Also having a nice amount of creative filmmaking work through Circuit, I’ve been able to do more experimenting with visual art in my spare time, without any pressure to make a profit from it. I’ve never felt more inspired in my own practice than I do now.”