The project and partners
Celebrate ART was devised by Engage Scotland, Fruitmarket Gallery, John Byrne Award, and Tramway in 2017, to create national opportunities for young people to make art and to make connections with other young people. It was funded by Event Scotland, as part of Year of Young People 2018, and by Creative Scotland.
In early 2018, a third gallery partner, Templar Arts and Leisure Centre (TALC) in Tarbert, was appointed to deliver activity in a rural location. TALC, Fruitmarket and Tramway each designed a project to involve young people aged 16 – 25 as artists, curators, educators, creative participants and evaluators. The three groups will collaborate on a joint exhibition towards the end of 2018, showcasing a selection of work from their individual projects. The John Byrne Award has been making short video documentaries of these projects, which will be hosted online.
Tramway’s group was recruited through open application, but we aimed to recruit local young people to reflect the diverse communities in the immediate area. We conducted multiple face-to-face information sessions prior to the project starting, but unfortunately, the duration of the project was too long for many of these young people to manage alongside family commitments. In the end, we recruited three young people from the immediate area and the rest of the group were from across the city. Each had expressed an interest in taking part in the project, from a fifteen year old who was still at school, to a medical student taking a break from studies. With an initial group of 7, the project gradually settled on a core group of 5. The group is called The Net Effect (visual art with a focus on collaboration), which has been running at Tramway since 2015 with shifting membership.
The sessions were delivered on consecutive Saturdays, twice a month, to allow for ideas to develop without loss of energy across the project. They were led by artist Ruth Barker, who designed activity sensitively to ensure that the content was always generated by the young people, but without the pressure of planning the public outcome from the start. For example, the first session produced paintings which later become both starting points for a story, and projected backdrops used in the performance. The aim was to produce a lot of high quality work each week, which could then form elements of the public outcome.
We worked in Tramway’s Studio, a large space in which we could both build sculptures and rehearse movement. The workshops included screenprinting, storytelling, painting, sculpting with card, and making contact microphones to generate textural sounds. Much of the work was collaborative, and even individual pieces were used by others in the group as starting points for new work. This meant that the group quickly bonded, and there was no pressure on an individual’s previous experience: the majority of activities were experimental and process-led, and unfamiliar to most of the group.
Over the final few sessions, all the work generated was pulled together into the format of a short performance. The group wrote a (dark) story about loss and alcohol dependency, and they produced large freestanding masks to symbolise characters and emotions, which would be placed on stage at specific times. The soundtrack was a combination of sounds they had made a few weeks earlier, and a narration. They wrote a brief for a group of young dancers to interpret two of the emotional states in the story. After a day of rehearsal (and making a beautiful floor drawing on the stage with electrical tape), the piece was performed on 7 July. Audience comments were entirely positive:
This was SO good — emotional, cathartic, professional, beautiful.
Alongside the performance there was an exhibition of some preparatory work. They worked together to sift through the hundreds of drawings, and select the ones which best told their story. They were astounded to find that themes in the final work were present in sketches made in the first hour of their first session.
In Autumn 2018, the group will deliver a workshop to other young people at a national conference in Perth. They will travel to Edinburgh and to Tarbert to see the work produced by the other groups, and then in November they will select their most representative work for a joint exhibition. The group have become good friends, and are at pivotal moments in their lives where this network is valuable.
At the start I was very unsure about what I was doing, maybe felt a bit closed off from the group. I was excited but also quite nervous, and self-conscious of myself and my work. The project was lots of hard work, very fast paced, very energetic. I’ve emerged as someone who’s a lot more free with their work, not afraid to try new things, not have an A to B plan, not know what the outcome’s going to be like; just a lot more free, in art and in my myself, and a lot more open.
I guess I was really nervous when I first went, and I remember being late and I thought ‘Oh s**t, everyone’s going to think I’m the lazy one and I’m not going to be able to do anything, and I’m going to be a total mess’. I feel you need to hide a lot of the stuff that you feel. As the sessions progressed I just took it at a steady pace. I wasn’t as worried and wasn’t as stressed out, I was like ‘I can do this’. Because at the start I was definitely not that. I feel like there’s a lot of things behind me that I’ve done or worked on, it’s like ‘Yes, you can do this!’ I definitely feel more open, and more revitalised, and more ready to take on more challenges, and more work, and push myself further, and just be a bit happier and more colourful.
On the first day I remember feeling very ‘heart in mouth’, with all these greetings and meeting everyone. And it was just very chaotic, and I felt very nervous. As we were doing the project I loved the amount of discussion, and everything we did we did together, and we discussed it, and we got really excited, and we were making so much work every week. I’ve made some really great friends! I feel really open, and really proud of what we’ve done, and, you know, people came to see us, and they were impressed and really happy.
Outcomes: Internships and career development
A significant part of the project aim was to offer a paid internship, looking at production skills. Four of the group had initially expressed an interest in this role, and so we decided to split the position into three, and offer bespoke experiences. One role covered event production, and will include a further couple of events later in 2018. The intern took part in production meetings with technical and venue staff at Tramway, and wrote the brief for the dancers, the audience sheet, and risk assessments for the performance and exhibition. The second intern had an interest in film, and so we designed a project to create a short promotional video for the performance, and individual interviews with the other artists for project evaluation. The third intern was interested in curation, and worked on the design and installation of the exhibition. These dates were separate to the group creative sessions, to ensure that the roles were additional to participation in the wider project.
The video interviews for evaluation were one of my personal highlights: the questions, framing and approach was entirely designed by the intern, and the answers it provoked were incredibly moving. I would thoroughly recommend this approach for others working with young people. We had a basic technical set up, using an old DSLR for filming, and a MacBook with iMovie for editing, and yet the videos look professional and really capture the spirit of the project.
We also coordinated our annual university work experience placement to coincide with the installation week, and the young person was involved in designing a hand-drawn audience feedback form and assisting with the installation, rehearsal, and in the end, took part in the performance.
It was a really positive experience trusting the young people to work on the operational elements of the project, including designing the audience guides and the feedback forms. The guides included photographs of the masks, and we found young children using them afterwards as an ad-hoc treasure hunt, ticking off the masks that they could find. The feedback forms were, in the words of one audience member, the ‘Coolest feedback form I’ve seen!’ and were significantly more successful in terms of uptake than our usual typed forms. The public engagement and marketing teams in the venue are now planning on redesigning the standard form to be more playful.
Working on a short-term project as part of an internship gives the young person a sense of development and completion, and this is something I would urge other organisations to offer when considering internships or work placements. Devising a specific role for a young person according to their own career interests also seems to produce the best results, both for the project, and for the young person’s development. It also allows the institution to break from usual procedures, and create different marketing, interpretation or evaluation tools which are better suited to meet the needs of the participants.