Thursday 15 June 2017

In particular I will be looking at inter-agency projects where a youth club or project may wish to work with professional arts practitioners and organisations.  There are books that give ideas on types of youth arts projects and explore why the arts can be extremely beneficial within the youth work curriculum and I dont intend to recreate those here.  Nor will I be looking at how to fund arts projects.  (But please contact me should you require further information about any of this).


In my experience as both a youth worker and arts practitioner invited into clubs and projects, I am aware of some of the problems that may arise from both points of view, both through personal experience and in conversation with other workers.  These range from art practitioners complaining, justly, that they were expected to run a music workshop in a room where a football match was going on, to youth workers finding that the visiting art practitioners didnt relate well to their young people.  Other problems have arisen when visiting practitioners have felt unsupported by youth workers and youth workers have felt undermined by the visitors. All of this sounds somewhat negative but there are also many examples of good practise where young people have participated in imaginative and well-organised arts programmes with excellent results.  I hope that through drawing on these I will be able to offer some practical advice as to how to make arts based youth work an exciting, successful and enjoyable experience for everyone concerned.  The following is aimed at both youth workers and arts practitioners but some of the guidelines may be more relevant to one party than the other and I hope that this will be clear. You will need to consider the following questions:


1.What do the young people want to do?


The best thing to do is to ask the young people.  This may seem obvious but it doesnt always happen.  A group enjoying making up their own dances may not like a more formal approach.  Some young people may be very annoyed at having their club invaded by a load of arty strangers when they havent been consulted, and rightly so.  It is also an extremely good idea to run a TASTER SESSION so that the young people can make an informed decision. A taster session can also be used to recruit a group to a longer project.  For example if an arts group is offering a series of workshops, a taster session held on an open club night will give everyone the opportunity to try an activity and then decide if they would like to take it further.


2.What space do you need?


You will need to consider this for both taster sessions and longer projects.  It is doomed to failure from the word go if you dont think about an appropriate space.  The football/music workshop scenario being an example!   Ask the arts practitioner or youth working facilitating the workshop what space is required. If you are a practitioner who doesnt know the space, check it out beforehand to ensure that it is ok.  If the young people are given a grotty (cramped, dirty, noisy, hot/cold) space to do an activity they will view the activity as grotty. Do not try and do it in a space where there are other activities going on.  Its too distracting for everyone and in some instances participants may lose their confidence if they feel too exposed to other non-participants. 


3.When will it take place?


If you have the luxury of a building with lots of large, fairly soundproof rooms then it is possible to run a workshop on a night when other things are going on in the building. However I dont really recommend this, as there is a big chance that the session will be constantly interrupted.  Either by young people not involved in the project wanting to know what their mates are up to, or by the young people participating wanting to know whats going on with their mates outside of the room and not being able to focus.  This is only really for taster sessions where all the young people in the club can come in for maybe 15-20 minutes to try an activity without feeling like they are missing out on the other things that they normally come to club for.   It is therefore my recommendation that you set the project up at a different time to the regular club sessions.  It can then be agreed with the young people beforehand that on project sessions they will be coming in ONLY to do the workshop and that other activities such as snooker, table tennis, karaoke or whatever, will NOT be available.   


4.Who will participate?


Obviously the young people who have opted take part in the project, but there are some things to consider that may vary depending on the project so I will just pose some questions to help you decide what is best for you.

A) Is there a maximum and minimum number?  Be realistic.   

B) Will it be a closed group? i.e. once the maximum group have signed up for the project will it be only open to them for the duration?

C) Is it ok for people just to watch?  Speaking personally, with the performing arts, my answer is usually No, its not a spectator sport. Onlookers often comment on participants, thereby undermining the group, which causes others to drop out.  Dont be afraid to be strict on this one.  With visual arts I sometimes find that onlookers eventually join in so you may have to play it by ear.

D) Do people have to commit to a whole series of workshops or can they just drop in and out?  Young people like to know what they are committing to.  Where possible it should be made clear before they sign up.  E.g. you will need to attend 8 x 1 ½ hour sessions which will lead to an exhibition/performance etc.    

E)What is the age range?  Dont make it too broad.

F)Is it a single gender group?  If yes, then in most cases, it is preferable to get youth workers and practitioners of the same gender.


5.Who will staff it?


If the art project is in a youth club you should have two youth workers.  One to be with practitioners and group and the other to deal with any problems which may arise.  Again this may seem obvious but I have known projects where the sole youth worker has been taken up with dealing with other things, leaving the practitioner on their first session alone with a group who were testing the boundaries! In any event there should be a youth worker in with the group, as the practitioner should not be seen as a replacement youth worker regardless of their experience or expertise.  A youth worker will know the young people and can help to encourage them as well as enforce ground rules etc.  There should be enough youth workers to staff the size of the group.  Youth workers should have been police checked. In the event of an arts organisation setting up a project to be held at an external venue, for example a series of workshops leading to an exhibition or performance, and where youth workers have been asked to encourage young people to attend, it is a good idea for young people to be accompanied by a worker.   Obviously this is not always possible to organise.   

Youth clubs do get quite a few approaches from organisations saying that they are running workshops at a central location and can they provide young people to attend them.  There are several things that need to be considered.  How much do you know about the organisation?  Have the workshop leaders been police checked?  If not then dont send young people along.  If a youth worker does not accompany young people to a workshop that they have recommended and there are any child protection issues, this may have serious implications for the youth worker. This also applies to arts practitioners who go in to youth clubs to run workshops.  There are many excellent arts organisations and individual artists who are very experienced professional workers with expertise in working with young people.  However, in a climate where there are more funds available to run workshops for young people, there are also organisations and individuals in receipt of such funding who may have little or no experience either with young people or in leading workshops.  It is therefore essential that you check an organisation or individual out.  You can ask the organisation to provide references from other youth organisations or ask a youth arts worker, employed within the service (such as me!) if they know of their work.    Likewise, I should point out to arts organisations and artists that not all youth groups are part of the statutory sector, e.g. local authority.  There are also a lot of excellent youth clubs and projects run by the voluntary sector with the same professional standards, training, codes of conduct etc.  However, anyone can hire a space and set up a youth group and again organisations would be recommended to check out any youth groups that they are unsure of to avoid potential problems.  


6) Who will be responsible for what?


This is an area that must be clearly defined from the start of a project.  You may need to organise transport, consent forms etc. for trips off base, publicity.  Work out all of the things that the project will involve and decide who will be responsible for what.  Many confusions and irritations arise when the youth worker has assumed that the arts organisation was doing something and vice versa.


7.What resources are required?


Again, determine what resources the project needs and who will be responsible for providing them.   As above, it will avoid confusion, particularly if more resources are needed half way through a project.


8.Are there any health and safety issues?


It is very important to consider this.  Will any chemicals or sharp tools be used?  (Spray cans, glues, scalpels, saws etc.)  Going up ladders?  There are strict guidelines.  Do a risk assessment if necessary.  


9.Why are you doing it?


As I said earlier, I am not going to talk about why the arts are a good thing to do with young people.  I am, however, going to encourage you to ask why you are doing a particular project with young people.  The answer may well be because artwork is a good thing to do, because it is.  But what Im talking about here is the aims and objectives of a particular project.   The aims and objectives should be agreed by both youth workers and practitioners and where possible young people.  Many projects may, in fact, be instigated by young people who should be encouraged and supported in drawing up aims and objectives. An arts organisation offering workshops may have a specific agenda such as a performance in the Brighton Festival or other such event.  This is ok but should be clear from the start and should still allow for flexibility within the process of creating the product.
At this point I would like to talk about something I remember and often refer to from my earliest youth work training, which is the question of process versus product.  I strongly believe that if any project is too obsessed with product, e.g. an exhibition, performance or other final event, then the process may be severely compromised.   Young people that I took to a youth arts festival complained that, when attending workshops facilitated by a leading international community arts group, they were told they could make anything they wanted with the withees, paper, paints etc, as long as it was a seagull!  

During the process the facilitators became more and more prescriptive and it became clear that, due to the constraints of putting on a large outdoor final performance, they had decided, well in advance, which props, costumes, sculptures and performers would be needed.  Young people attending workshops were allowed little if any creativity.  Although the final result (product) was quite spectacular, many young people felt that they had been used, with little or no input into the decision making or creative process.   This is a classic example of an arts project that on outward appearance, based on the performance, is exemplary but under closer analysis is a failure as a youth work project. So when writing the aims and objectives of a project make sure that young people's full participation in the process is given an equal value and emphasis as the final product.  It is completely valid for a project not to have a final product other than the increase in practical and personal skills of the participants. In conclusion I would like to say that the need to draw up these guidelines has not come so much from vast numbers of disastrous projects, although there have been a one or two, but rather to address an increasing number of exciting opportunities for youth services and young people. The more we can organise brilliant, innovative and professional arts projects for young people, which give them the opportunity to build self esteem and confidence, to gain new skills, to work as a team, to express themselves creatively and above all, to allow them to shine, the more we will create new opportunities for even more young people through better funding.  Projects which are devised at all times with the best interests of young people at heart rather than jumping on funding bandwagons or responding thoughtlessly to political initiatives. The final page is a project checklist, which cover all of the guidelines.Please do not hesitate to contact me should you require any information, support or advice on a project, and if you have any comments on, or things you would like to add to, the checklist.  


Julia Box BHCC Youth Service 67 Centre Hodshrove Lane  Moulsecoomb Brighton BN2 4RW 07866 685729
ART PROJECT CHECKLIST PROJECT TITLE:                                                                                                                                               

AIMS AND OBJECTIVES:                                                                                                                                 

WHO WILL PARTICIPATE?  NUMBERS, AGE RANGE ETC?                                                                         

WHEN WILL IT TAKE PLACE?                                                                                                                         

WHERE WILL IT TAKE PLACE?                                                                                                                       

HOW LONG WILL THE PROJECT BE?                                                                                                                          

WHO IS THE LEAD CONTACT FROM THE YOUTH GROUP?                                                                        

WHO IS THE LEAD CONTACT FROM THE ARTS ORGANISATION?                                               



WHO WILL PROVIDE WHAT?                                                                                                              

ARE THERE ANY HEALTH AND SAFETY ISSUES?                                                                                         

SIGNATURE OF YOUTH GROUP LEAD WORKER: