Partnership work with young people from the Foyer
Lucy Wheeler, Assistant Education Officer, Kettle’s Yard
How do you engage young people with art who are lacking in creative confidence? How do you build an atmosphere / space that is conducive to creativity for a range of young people with different needs? How do you open up creative pathways and entry points for young people without creating additional pressure and stress? These are some of the challenges that we faced working in partnership with the Foyer Cambridge. Over the past year, we have worked with between 5-7 young people on a project-by-project basis, which has been shaped by the group’s own interests. Below are some of the key findings and unexpected outcomes that have come out of evaluating the partnership with supporting artists, youth support workers and the young people.
Creative Identity and Peer-Leadership
The long-term nature of our partnership with the Foyer has meant that we have progressed from taster workshops, short internal projects to projects with public outcomes to suit the pace, progress and confidence of each individual taking part. This timeframe has allowed individuals the time to feel confident to try new things, experiment, take risks and gain and enhance their creative skills. The longevity of the project has also enabled the group to feel confident in generating ideas and making decisions collectively, leading to the group leading public workshops at the Gallery Takeover alongside Circuit Cambs – our peer-led group.
Entry Points and Progression
A key success has been offering Arts Award as an additional offer and option for the group.Using Arts Award has allowed individuals to navigate their own progression on their own terms with something that is tangible and has helped to develop confidence and new pathways and networks. We have seen 3 young people at the Foyer progress from bronze to silver and one young person using his arts award portfolio to secure a place on an access art foundation course. Reflecting on the Arts Award, the group had different responses – for some they were motivated by the tangibility of the award and the associated pride. For others they saw the award as a an opportunity to try new things, a positive distraction and the chance to progress back into education. At times, it was challenging to support the young people in the semi-structured framework for the Arts Award whilst maintaining an open-access drop-in provision.
It has been of utmost importance to create a space that is comfortable, relaxing and social. This has, at times, been challenging to balance – as there have been different needs from the group. For example, music served as a catalyst to a calm, social environment, yet could also disrupt and breakdown the group dynamic.
As artists Lizzy Hobbs and Emily Tracy reflected: ‘We really wanted to offer some new possibilities and introduce new techniques and ideas, so each week we brought something new to try. Sometimes the young people didn’t feel up to it and we found that the most important thing was creating a comfortable space and a kind of quietness, which allowed them to form their own ideas and take the lead. Sometimes we felt like our artistic skills and equipment weren’t really needed, but in the end we realised that being there, chatting about this and that, encouraging them to make things was the most important part of this project. Emily and I found it quite a different experience, the challenge required a different kind of stamina, and perhaps more creative improvisation on the spot.’
Feedback with the young people has shown that this relaxing environment has been one of the most important things for them – and is something they have helped to create, through bringing in their own music, or helping to set up the space to create an element of calm. Feedback has also shown that this is something we really need to make explicit as this would encourage others to take part:
‘because you’ve maintained a relaxed atmosphere, you’re going to help confidence. You need to make it appear as relaxed as it is. The art group is something more that a member of staff will tell you about, we need to design posters “here’s the proper legitimate cool art group we’ve been running for a year and a half now, this is a regular thing […] Foyer Creatives every Thursday 6-8, many regular go-ers, it’s the most utterly relaxed space that the Foyer has.’
In July, young people from the Foyer put on a public facing event, Gallery Takeover, working alongside the young people from the peer-led group. This was the first time one of our partners had co-led a public event and Lizzy and Emily were struck by the impact. An unexpected outcome of involving the Foyer in Gallery Takeover was the self- initiation by the group of a collective identity – ‘The Foyer Creatives.’ In a conversation with the lead artists about how to advertise their workshops on the day, the group discussed the importance of referencing ‘Foyer’ in their signage. This concept of a collective identity, matched with the positive impact of the Gallery Takeover has led the young people to consider their shared creative community at the Foyer and to be ambitious about future projects as part of Circuit.