In Summer 2014 the team at Blaze in Preston were given the great news that we could get started on designing the Young People’s element of a two-year, region-wide, audience development project initiated by CVAN North West.
Blaze is a Cultural Olympiad Legacy project working with young people across Lancashire to increase engagement with libraries and other cultural venues, delivering regular activity across the year as well as an annual festival. The CVAN NW programme has enabled Blaze to expand its contacts and diversify the work that we deliver.
The Young People’s project was split into three different strands of activity, one of which aimed to place an emerging participatory artist within a gallery setting to develop responses to the work in the Modern History exhibition series and ultimately increase the number of young people engaging with that venue.
The first artist to be appointed was Sophie Mahon, a Fine Art graduate based in Manchester. Her role was to work with Grundy Art Gallery in Blackpool over the course of 12 days to develop a project that would engage more young people with the space. Working closely with Education Officer Hannah Gaunt, Sophie successfully engaged around 60 young people aged between 11 and 25 years from Streetlife project, an organisation working with young people experiencing homelessness; The Boathouse Youth Club; Blackpool Council’s existing Arts Award group and Blackpool Sixth Form College.
Sophie carefully designed different methods of engagement for each of the groups according to individual needs and experiences. The Streetlife group, for example, was given a set of disposable cameras to take away with them to document their everyday lives. These were then handed back to Sophie who edited and turned the photographs into slideshows to be exhibited in the gallery space. This process was echoed with the other groups whose varied work was collected by Sophie and compiled into projections that were displayed in the gallery space to overlay the work exhibited in Modern History Vol. I.
Podcaster Edward Hurst also worked closely with the young people to record their immediate response to the artwork and create an audio tour of the exhibition made available to gallery visitors. You can listen to the podcast by following this link.
The project proved extremely successful, with young people from all groups being invited to a special ‘Gallery Takeover’ event at the conclusion of the project which saw many young people stepping foot in the gallery for the very first time. Several of the groups expressed a wish to continue working with the gallery and Sophie has been delivering Arts Award activity with Boathouse Youth Group over the summer period.
For the team at Blaze and CVAN NW it has been fantastic to see how taking what may be perceived as a risk in allowing an emerging artist free reign to develop a project for young people can result in such tangible and sustainable outcomes.
This model is currently being repeated at Bury Art Museum & Sculpture Centre and The Atkinson in Southport with different artists and, as we will soon see, different outcomes.
To hear directly from some of the young people who took part, and find out more about the project, its impact on Sophie and the young people she worked with, please take a look at this short three-minute film.
The Young People’s programme forms part of ‘Art: Audience, Development, Discourse and Skills’ (Art: ADDS). Art: ADDS is an Arts Council England funded project initiated by CVAN NW to develop skills, knowledge and expertise in the North West, and to improve the ability of visual arts organisations to build on and increase audiences. Art: ADDS has three priorities: Critical Writing, Artist Development and Young People.