GOOD PRACTICE GUIDE The young voice – and how to hear it

The Lowry in Salford has made its reputation on community engagement, and youth is a special target. Lynsey O’Sullivan, director of learning and engagement at The Lowry, explains how - and where - Week53 fits in

The Lowry, opened in 2000, is the most-visited cultural venue in Greater Manchester and one of the most successful cultural regeneration projects in the world.

 Main image shows a special performance of the commissioned play Who Cares at the House of Lords last year. Credit, Katherine Leedale

We are passionately committed to bringing the best national and international art to Salford and offering meaningful connections to it for local people. Engaging with more than 30,000 people each year, we now offer a range of projects and programmes for all ages. We want not only to increase access and diversity, but to challenge traditional parameters and change the preconception that “community arts practice” is of a lesser value than other areas.

Six years ago we decided to develop a new methodology for learning and engagement, to ensure that we are rooted in our local community in an authentic and sustainable way; achieving significant social impact through high quality arts and culture.

At the heart of this work is a strategic focus on vulnerable children and young people through socially engaged arts practice, particularly for young carers, looked after children and care leavers, young parents and young people experiencing homelessness, and we have developed new ways of working with small groups of highly vulnerable children over long periods of time.

Salford Young Carers Service with Rebecca Long-Bailey MP, second right, and Barbara Keeley MP, right. Copyright, Katherine-Leedale 

The result is more significant transformation and impact on their wellbeing and future life choices.

Since 2011 The Lowry has been engaged in a pioneering partnership with Salford Young Carers Service using arts and culture to give vulnerable and isolated young carers a voice. We created a series of films as education and training resources in education and health settingsm which is now used to facilitate part of the PSHE curriculum across secondary schools in Salford as well as elsewhere in the UK, Ireland and Australia.

In 2017 we commissioned and co-produced Who Cares, a piece of professional theatre based on a year of interviews with four young carers from Salford, made by The Lowry and LUNG Theatre Company in partnership with Salford Young Carers Service. We wanted to test whether we could achieve high quality in a professional touring production, rooted in and led by principles of applied approaches that achieve significant social outcomes across England.  

The production visited a diverse range of 26 High Schools and OnSide Youth Zones. Over 4000 young people, teachers, youth workers and politicians across England participated, before Who Cares was presented to over 100 MPs and political decision makers at the House of Lords, giving young carers an input to change policy, resulting in a national political campaign launching in June, 2018.

We are now looking ahead to our second edition of Week 53, The Lowry’s biennial cross-arts festival, which pauses our usual programme to challenge convention and celebrate creativity through contemporary art, dance, drama and interactive installations. Running from 17 –28 May this year, it brings together over 100 artists from around the world to make work in unexpected places across our building and in the community.

With the 2018 theme Coming of Age, to celebrate The Lowry’s 18th birthday, we wanted to find ways in which local young people could get under the skin of the festival, work with artists and have their own creative voice, with young people collaborating with international artists on an equal terms, to not only experience the work but to make their own and contribute creative ideas.

Teentalitarianism, copyright Lukas Wenniger

Teentalitarianism, devised in partnership with Canadian company Mammalian Diving Reflex, will be a series of events where teenagers take control.  Based in Germany and Canada, Mammalian is a research-art atelier dedicated to investigating the social sphere. They create site and social-specific performance events that recognise the social responsibility of art, fostering a dialogue between the performers and the audience.

A series of interventions will place young people in a position of power, inverting the usual hierarchy in society so that they take the lead. They range from Nightwalks with Teenagers, where local young people plan, design and lead public walks through their city at night, to Dare Night, challenging adult members of the audiences to execute a series of hilarious, exhilarating and shocking dares thought up by the teens.

The young people and artists will be based at The Lowry for three weeks in advance of the festival to create the work from scratch. Teentalitarianism will give them a viable testing arena for discussions that are not generally granted much space – enabling them to yield new identities and new ways of being together, even if only temporarily. We hope that working with an internationally renowned company to devise material that is unique to them, and unique to Salford, will show them the importance of their voices and their contribution to The Lowry’s artistic output.  


The final event in the series, Ask for the Moon, allows young people to share their aspiration and ideas for change in the future. This will be an open forum for them to discuss their ideas for shaping the future of our work at The Lowry, but also to inform the future of our sector. Youth voice is crucial in ensuring that we future proof our work, and this input alongside our existing youth board, will continue to inform our decision-making processes.

Learn more about Teentalitarianism and the full festival line-up at Week53Festival.co.uk.

 

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