Agents of humanity – taking on the progression challenge


City of Dreams is bringing arts, culture and heritage organisations together on 27th November to discuss how we can best support children and young people’s progression over the next decade.

Places are filling fast. Don’t miss out!

Ahead of the seminar here are some thoughts about progression from our Executive Producer, Ben Dickenson.

When City of Dreams launched in September we made the bold claim that NewcastleGateshead can be the best place to be young. Bold, but not idle and not plucked from a marketer’s handbook. This ambition was set by our Champions network of over 50 organisations, and our belief that it can be achieved was affirmed during our Big Culture Conversation with nearly 1000 under25s across the city.

Read the full blog post.

We’re about to run another Big Culture Conversation, in early 2019, led by the ddcsdcsdcsddiverse group of young leaders who make up our Young Champions Board. (Find our more here.) This is very likely to offer fresh ideas that shape how we deliver on our promise. What we have learned so far has been insightful, to say the least.

The 1000 young people we spoke to in 2018 were explicit about benefits they got from participating in creative activity. First and foremost they grew confidence and skills. Improved mental wellbeing, new social networks, and having better career prospects were close behind. For some, this was part of a learning or career journey in the creative industries, but for many it was a more personal development that supported other aspects of their lives.

As one young person put it at a consultation session in Byker: “I’ve been in bands and recording music and writing songs. It gives me a voice in the world, and I feel better about myself because of it. It taught me how to turn up on time too! And how to work with people without kicking off. Don’t think I’d have a job or friends if it wasn’t for my music.”

That story will be familiar to many people working in the arts sector, especially those with “learning” or “participation” in their job description. It will also be recognisable to those schools and colleges who buck the curriculum trend away from arts subjects to embrace creativity in learning. And that’s not to mention the many children and young people’s organisations who make use of creative practice in their work with socially excluded under25s. There isn’t room here to go deeper into the evidence base supporting this work – you could do worse than start with the All Party Parliamentary Group report on arts and health, CCE’s work on executive learning functions, or James Ramsbotham’s blog on this site. However it is clear, both evidentially and anecdotally that creative activity develops the whole person. 

There are artistic and talent impacts, of course, but also health, social, education, employment and artistic ones. Perhaps the biggest challenge we face is making sure those impacts are not reserved to a select minority of the most involved young people. During the 2018 Big Culture Conversation we found that there were, broadly speaking, two categories of children and young people in respect of engagement with arts and culture. 

self detemination

Group A – had done a lot of visiting at cultural venues, but two-thirds only engaged once and most of those went with an adult broker. Only 11% of these felt they learned something new, and just 18% developed their skills, through their engagement with cultural organisations. 

Group B – were engaged in at least 2 creative programmes at the same time, 79% of them were involved in long term programmes, 4 of every 5 were involved in making activities, and most tended to see their engagement as self-determined. Of these, 69% learned something new and nearly two-thirds developed new skills.

This difference is stark. Those engaging less regularly, for shorter periods and doing a limited amount of making activity, were 51% less likely to have learned something new and 41% less likely to have progressed a talent. The picture worsens when you observe that the majority of children and young people in Group A were from postcodes with high Indices Of Multiple Deprivation.

As with stories of young people’s progression, its unlikely these figures will shock those who deliver arts programmes. They do provide a fresh take on the situation however, and have prompted a number of the targets in the City of Dreams action plan.

Our postcard of commitments for the next 18months (below) tells you about a few of them. Children and young people wanted us to address barriers to participation in creative activity. (Read about #MakeSomethingBrilliant here and here).  They wanted a powerful platform to share their voice with decision makers. (Read about the next Big Culture Conversation and Our City Our Story.)  They wanted us to work with trusted voluntary and community partners in confidence and skills development programmes.

With the leadership and drive of NewcastleGateshead Cultural Venues, and the collective efforts of dozens of organisations across multiple sectors, we’re already well on the way to delivering what children and young people have asked of us. Over the coming 18months we will be growing the number of under25a postcard side 2 gif who benefit from creative engagement, and expanding the types of benefits they experience. But, as the first Big Culture Conversation illustrates, there are important questions for heritage, arts and science organisations to consider in the long term.

Do we need to think differently about our role in young people’s learning, personal development and wellbeing? Who do we run our programmes for, and who brokers the engagement of under25s in them? Can we “poverty proof” our programmes? How do we put individuals and relationships at the centre of our progression offers, and foster their agency in their own journeys? Should we eschew programmatic structures altogether in favour of person-centred individual offers?

This seminar will consider these kinds of questions in a supportive peer environment. Workshops from New Writing North and Skimstone Arts will offer fresh ways of thinking about progression, introducing human-centred, agency-based and spatial models. Sage Gateshead will talk about Creative Apprenticeships. And we will explore young people’s journeys through our organisations, collaborating to identify solutions to the challenges they – and we – face along the way.

We haven’t organised this seminar because we think we have all the answers. Far from it! But as well as writing some bold headlines over the next decade, City of Dreams wants to create opportunities to hear insights from research, consider new models of working, and stimulate discussion about our role in helping under25s learn, grow and flourish. We have some pathbreaking arts and culture organisations on the banks of the Tyne, we want to bring their collective brains together and take on the progression challenge.

Book for the seminar via Eventbrite, using the link below. Hurry, only a few places left!

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