Baze Arts - Preston's Ten-Year Cultural Strategy Conversations with Young People
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This report is a reflection of conversations with young people aged 12-24 about Preston's Ten-Year Cultural Strategy.
Commissioned by Curious Minds, this report shares rich insights into the lives of young people and their attitudes towards arts and culture in Preston and how it could evolve in the future, defined on their own terms.
Two members of the Blaze team led the conversations: Matt Wilde, Director of Blaze, aged 25; and Joe Umpleby, Project Coordinator, aged
18. They were supported by Sara Domville, Cultural Education Manager at Curious Minds.
The team co-created a series of questions to ask the young people using a range of creative methods and informal conversations.
The following key questions were asked:
- What do young people define as arts and culture?
- How do young people currently connect to arts and culture in Preston?
- What do young people need to develop and progress creatively and how would they like this to happen?
- What would a 'Future Perfect' Preston look like in 10 years' time and how could young people become influencers in realising this vision?
The questions above were used as a framework when consulting with the young people. Blaze has a wide range of experience co-designing with young people and our approach for this consultation was adaptable depending on the context - it wasn't 'one size fits all'.
The methodology included:
- Delivering facilitated workshops with various groups
- Surveys and feedback forms
- Conversations with group leaders and staff
- Reviewing online content, particularly Instagram and YouTube
- Reviewing previous research undertaken by Blaze
102 participants from seven groups across Preston engaged with the consultation. The groups were as follows:
Young Gateway Action Group (YGAG)
A group of young tenants who get involved in developing and monitoring the services of Community Gateway Association and create initiatives which help the community. The group had previously taken part in some arts and cultural projects.
A Blaze and Lancashire Music Hub project for young music-minded people who work together to influence decisions about music education in Lancashire.
A Blaze project based at the Harris Museum, made up of young influencers who act as conduits of change within the heritage sector.
A special needs school for young people with autistic spectrum conditions. The school significantly values arts and culture, and places it at the heart of all learning.
An urban music platform for Preston-based MCs, DJs, producers, content producers and other musicians. These young people do not engage with mainstream arts and culture; everything that they produce is DIY.
A gaming organisation accessed by hundreds of young people every week, which enables them to play the latest titles next to their friends and experience the latest in VR gaming under one roof.
Tell MAMA - phone consultation
A company which 'Measures Anti Muslim Attacks' by providing a means for such incidents to be reported, recorded and analysed, and by keeping accurate and reliable data for victims and witnesses to receive support.
It is the result of Muslim communities in the UK having suffered anti-Muslim incidents for many years. The Blaze team is developing a partnership with Tell MAMA, but the process is taking time.
A phone consultation was therefore held between the Blaze team and the Director Iman Atta OBE and Local Leader Ali Amla.
Curious Minds will be leading a wider consultation event for young people to engage with Preston's Local Cultural Education Partnership (LCEP) in November 2018.
Blaze will also produce a documentary style film which will focus on the journeys of eight young people's creative journeys in Preston.
The key questions were presented differently to each group. Blaze used creative facilitation methods to ensure everyone's voice was heard.
Blaze facilitated an adapted version of the 'Consensus workshop' model, which ensures that each member of a group gets a chance to comfortably contribute to a wider discussion.
A hand-out containing the four key questions was distributed to each participant and they had time alone to think about and answer the questions.
Participants then discussed their answers within small groups, which allowed similar and differing opinions to be collected, before coming together as one large group to feedback to the facilitators. Blaze then encouraged the group to continue the conversations in more depth.
The line game
This game was used as a physical warm-up activity in the sessions. Participants are asked to stand up and move around the room. One wall was given the meaning "yes", and the opposite wall "no", with the space in between representing the middle ground.
Participants were given a series of statements and were asked to move along the line towards the location they felt best represented their answer.
Participants were invited to explain why they had chosen their answers to the group.
Dot Democracy is a hands on activity where each group is presented with ten themes collected from the surveys conducted by Blaze.
Participants were given three stickers and invited to vote for the statements that resonated most with them.
The most voted-for ideas were then removed from the wall, and used as a catalyst for group discussion.
The culture cauldron is an activity used to review the way we currently define arts and culture by provoking dialogue and debate. A cauldron was filled with lots of words and phrases, half of which were associated to arts and culture and the other half debatable.
Participants were invited to take a word from the cauldron and place it on the floor on either side of a line, in varying degrees, depending on whether they think the word of phrase represents arts and culture or not. Participants were then invited to express why they placed the words where they did which then provoked dialogue as a wider group.
Words included: music, dance, football, YouTube, film, virtual reality and more.
The river analogy was used for those who may respond best to visual activities. Participants were invited to draw a large scale river and include the following elements:
- waves which represent aspects of art and culture which are enjoyable
- whirlpools which represent aspects of art and culture that need improvement
- rocks which represent aspects of art and culture that you would change.
Blaze facilitated feedback as participants shared their drawings. Finally, young people were given stars to add to their drawings and invited to draw what they would like to see happen in the future.
Informal conversations and hiphop cypher
When working with TMTV Blaze adapted the workshop to focus on having informal conversations with the MCs, DJs and content producers of the YouTube channel.
Blaze organised a recording studio to use as a venue for the workshop as it was a space that the participants were likely to feel comfortable in. In order to get a wider range of young people excited about attending, Blaze organised a hip hop Cypher to take place after the workshop. This was filmed and recorded professionally by the Blaze team and TMTV - Explicit Language.
"We need to redefine what arts and culture is"
Art is associated strongly with visual art
When exploring 'what is arts and culture' young people immediately made associations with visual art, such as paintings, drawings and sculptures.
Once the conversations evolved, the definitions began to broaden to include print making, animation, illustration, textiles, architecture and tattooing.
A few of the young people referenced traditional art forms such as theatre and music.
Gaming as an art form
Young people view gaming as a pivotal aspect of arts and culture as it includes illustration, storytelling, music and more.
Twitch.tv and live-streaming were also discussed as being vital to gaming culture.
"Video games include many forms of traditional art, but now when you play a game you are no longer just an observer - as one would be in admiring a painting on a wall or a sculpture on a pedestal. Rather, the player is an active participant in the emergence of the form."
Young people's views of culture are broad and are intertwined with digital
There may be a disconnection between sector-funded definitions of culture and the way young people perceive it.
Street culture, electronics, travel, food and fashion were often referenced when asked 'what is arts & culture?'
Access to cultural content is intertwined with digital platforms such as Instagram and YouTube. YouTube was the most frequently referenced platform for viewing and sharing cultural content.
There's a modern tendency for traditional categories of art to be blurred when young people create content to be shared on digital platforms. An example given was music video Childish Gambino - This is America which envelopes music, dance, film, fashion, history and is ultimately driven by its social message. Discover the video's meaning here.
Those involved in the consultation said they were more likely to engage in activities that were driven by a social message.
School can have both a positive and negative effect on young people's views of arts and culture
The good experiences young people had in schools were often described as exciting, modern and disruptive as well as having opportunities to develop new skills and work collaboratively with others.
The young people's definition of a disruptive activity included making noise without fear of being told off. An example given was a school robotics project in which students worked in groups to learn about and create robots. Negative experiences were described as boring and pointless, where participants didn't have opportunities to try something, fail and learn, such as going to watch a Shakespeare play.
Interactivity underpins young people's perceptions of positive arts and cultural experiences.
Young people have constant access to content online and often referred to social media influencers as aspirational.
These influencers blur the lines between cultural categories. For example, KSI self identifies as a "Musician, Author, Vlogger, YouTuber, Actor, Boxer and BMX Rider."
Online influencers play a significant role in young people navigating their identity by showing them how they can create an identity for themselves. There is an abundance of role-models online who young people are learning from and who are collectively redefining arts and culture every day.
Parents also play a significant role in aiding participation by taking young people to arts activities, especially at younger ages.
Collaborating with artistic role models
Access to artist collaboration opportunities were cited by those pursuing creative subjects at school or a career in the creative industries. They expressed a desire to collaborate with professional artists and not just be taught by them in the traditional sense.
An example of this is a project led by Brighter Sound and Reebok where twelve Grammy Award-winning Kendrick Lamar was invited to lead a workshop for young people.
Young people expressed a strong interest in running similar projects in Preston but were apprehensive that artists, both semi-famous and famous, wouldn't have a reason to visit Preston.
Young people connect to culture beyond Preston
Manchester was often referenced as the place to be for all aspects of arts and culture.
Some workshop participants talked about wanting to move away from Preston when they're able to pursue work and/or creative opportunities.
There is a lack of vibrant and fit-forepurpose venue space in Preston for both arts organisations and young people. The recent withdrawal of Preston Youth Zone, young people felt further motivated to connect to culture digitally and away from Preston.
There are also perceived geographical barriers with one participant saying: "We're from Preston so nobody is going to listen to us."
"People who run these companies don't know much about youth culture. There's too much focus on traditional art forms, but all you have to do is go on Instagram to find thousands of young creators who're mind-blowingly talented. They need to be reached out to and that way more people will get involved"
Mental health issues are everywhere
The topic of mental health underpinned conversations with some of the groups. It was especially prevalent with TMTV and substance abuse was also apparent.
The young musicians from TMTV spoke about their experiences of being kicked out of school and home. There is no help for them in Preston. They seek refuge collectively and share stories of violence, drugs and abuse through their raps. For the two hours that they engaged with Blaze no one talked about mental health directly through conversations but it was prevalent in their lyrics: "the voices in my head and the devil on my shoulder".
Some of the other groups talked about the unbearable stress put on them by the education system. They still didn't talk about mental health explicitly because it is stigmatised, but they spoke emotively about stress and anxiety.
DIY culture and alternative funding
With social media exploding and technology's rapid growth young people are able to start things for themselves, from fashion, music, lifestyle and business ideas to start ups; young people are taking hold of their future in an environment that is natural to them. Read more about the DIY generation here.
Young creators are also utilising a huge range of new and alternative funding models, including Patreon, to make content-creation financially sustainable. In 2017 alone, $150m was paid to creators through Patreon. Young people questioned the role that funded arts and cultural organisations could play in the lives of the DIY generation.
A need for more inclusive practice
When working with students at Mountwood Academy, the following points were raised:
- Students perceived their disability as a barrier to engaging with arts and culture
- Students and parents have experienced waiting lists to get involved in disability-inclusive activities
- Students and teachers encouraged autism awareness for organisations and suggested adopting the use of visual symbols at events
- Work opportunities in arts and cultural organisations for those with disabilities are limited.
"Arts organisations need to collaborate with influencers and inspire DIY culture."
Hopes for the future
- Sustainable creative spaces provided for young people in Preston which are networked and supportive of each other
- Young people don't want to invest time in spaces that might not be there tomorrow
- Opportunities to attend events of all types once a month which are free to those without the means to do so
- Access to materials, time and space in order to create and collaborate on young people's terms
- Event organisers adopt a more inclusive mind-set and are proactive about accessibility
- Access to role models that reflect and look the way Preston feels in the twenty-first century
- Create innovative support services to improve young people's mental health
- Enable progression routes for young people by creating paid creative jobs
Appendix 1 - About Blaze
Blaze is a youth-led organisation which delivers high quality projects in a variety of settings.
Our approach has evolved over six years and focuses on developing young people's skills as leaders, producers, programmers and artists. Young people take the lead at all levels of the organisation, from the board of Trustees to the Director, Project Coordinators and participants.
Blaze was created between local councils and arts organisations as a Legacy Trust Cultural Olympiad project (London 2012). This included group of 30 young festival producers organising and programming Blaze Festival 2012. Blaze Festival continues to this day as a DIY powered, young person led festival that celebrates youth culture. This has been a catalyst for many new youth-led projects.
Ethos and Values
Blaze is actively working towards a world where all young people have the opportunity to produce their own culture by aligning passion with opportunity through arts, culture and digital. We believe:
- Talent is everywhere, opportunity is not. Our work is committed to breaking down barriers that block young people's talents from flourishing
- All young people have the right to unlock untapped potential and make explosive art & culture that is celebrated locally, nationally and internationally
- Young people are experts in their own experiences; they have the authority to drive our work
- Society's definition of leadership is old school and we're committed to changing it by collectively redefining it with the next generation.