Recalling memorable projects as a way of considering quality

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This Thursday young people from across England will come together at the Sage Gateshead to reflect, discuss and debate the quality principles of the artistic experiences they have taken part in. The event is the next step in a wider project being undertaken by Arts Council England that hopes to develop a shared approach for the Arts Council and arts and culture organisations to understand and compare the quality of work by, with and for children and young people.

Young people’s voices are a vital part of this journey. Last November the Arts Council bought together practitioners who work with young people to have their own quality conversation and an overwhelming action from that event was the desire to give young people themselves the platform to share their thoughts and experiences of participating in, making and being audiences for artistic events and experiences.

As I have worked with colleagues from across the sector to inform the event next week I have been struck by the willingness of organisations, large and small, rural and urban, funded and unfunded to take part in this dialogue and contribute the development of this large and ambitious project.

Personally I have spent over twelve years developing, advocating and delivering projects with, by and for young people and emerging artists. Throughout the quality journey I have often reflected back on the projects I am most proud of and equally projects that were a real struggle - either to deliver or that didn’t quite achieve their intended outcome.

Rather than list my top five quality principles I thought I might share here some memories of work that I feel delivered high quality outcomes for the children and young people involved and leave readers to reflect themselves on what makes these experiences memorable and of a high quality.

  1. During my time at the Lyric Hammersmith we delivered the START project. A twelve-week programme for young people who were not in education, employment or training that worked with artists, literacy experts and youth workers to improve young people’s basic skills and in turn encourage them to seek out further education, a return to school or a job. The end of project sharings were often emotional experiences as these young people stood in front of their peers, friends and families and presented their work. There was often no question that this artistic experience would have life-long impact on the individuals it touched.
  1. I once was invited by a performance-poet I know to a poetry-slam he had curated in the basement of a bar in London. It was full of incredibly talented young people, coming together to share their words, have a drink, hang-out and socialise. The quality of their work blew my mind and I left feeling really proud that the evening had been developed by them and for them. (I was reminded of my love for performance-poetry recently when I watched this incredible performance from the young Kate Tempest on The Space website.
  1. In more recent months the work of the New Adventures Choreographer Award has highlighted what can be achieved when you invest in young emerging talent, support and nurture them and provide them with the skills and resources to start establishing themselves as adult artists. I had the pleasure of working with James Cousins and Tom Jackson Greaves over the course of six months in preparation for their showcase at Sadler’s Wells. The evening sold out and both James and Tom have gone on to be commissioned by some of the worlds most well respected dance companies. You can watch a short film about the evening with audience reaction and an interview with James and Matthew Bourne here.

I’d be interested to hear other people’s thoughts on memorable projects they have taken part in (or delivered) to assist us in ensuring that this quality journey, is itself high-quality and rich, with real-examples from across the sector.

Posted by James Mackenzie-Blackman, who sits on the External advisory group for Quality work for Children and young people for Arts Council England.


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