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Posted on Thursday 12th July, 2012 by Tanya Roberts, Artswork

Day 1 of the Singapore Youth Arts Symposium

WEDNESDAY 11th JULY  2012

Written by Jane Bryant, Artswork CEO

Following the initial training workshop that we had given on the previous afternoon to a group of those experienced in youth arts practice with young people, today saw the formal commencement of the 2-day Youth Arts Symposium: YArts: Excite, Engage, Empower.

Attended by some 250 delegates from the youth, social, arts, education, probation and Government sectors, this opened with an address by the Minister for Home Affairs and Foreign Affairs, Mr Masagos Zulkifi.  He spoke about the need to create a climate for innovative and confident young people and also announced the establishment of a Sport and Arts Framework to move forward work in and through the arts with young people at risk. 

On the previous evening, Mr Zulkifi had presented Artswork with an original painting by a Singaporean student and it was good to hear therefore about his personal and professional commitment to the role of the arts to transform the lives of young people.  He made reference to Artswork’s Campaign with the English National Youth Arts Network (ENYAN) and the fantastic campaign resource of key note articles and case studies: Youth Arts Transforms Lives – FACT! http://artswork.org.uk/campaign-2011

Kenny Low, Founder and CEO of a vibrant and dynamic dance school then spoke about his establishment of O School – a social enterprise which also reached out through dance to young people at risk.  In his presentation which was entitled. ‘The value of a dream’, - Kenny also spoke about how transformation in young people is inspired through providing a vision. Some of his students had opened the conference with an amazing high-energy dance performance.

My own presentation followed. Entitled, ‘The arts and Young people: Excite, Engage, Empower’, I explored and shared with the conference a range of issues around the development of youth arts which covered:

• Young people
• Why the arts? Making a difference and transforming lives
• From policy to practice
• From youth engagement to youth voice, influence and leadership

I spoke about the needs of young people and highlighted the value and impact of quality arts practice with, for and by young people - particularly with those at risk - and examined the social, economic and community benefits.  I spoke about the relationships between practice and policy in making a difference to sustainable development and finally considered the development of youth voice and influence and the role of the arts in developing the citizenship and leadership skills of young people.

We then had a presentation from both the Ministry for Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS) and the National Arts Council providing delegates with an overview of the ’at risk’ sector and community arts engagement and sharing with the conference the presentation they had shared with us the previous day. 
Felicia Low then spoke to the conference on the subject of Programming, Researching, Conducting – Methods of engaging youth in the arts.  She talked about the projects she had undertaken with young people and some of the learning and challenges from these.

The morning session closed with Aileen Tan, Assistant Director, MCYS Rehabilitation, Protection and Residential Services Division ways in which the Probation Services Branch has used the Arts as a tool for rehabilitation of and engagement with offenders and ex-offenders.

Artswork training workshop  - Behaviour management and youth arts
In the afternoon Helen then led two repeating workshops of 1.5 hours each for 100 delegates in both sessions – willingly supported by me!  We explored together and in groups:

• Defining young people at risk and the reasons for this
• The causes of challenging behaviours and the areas of concerns for those using the arts in their work with young people
• Methods of engaging young people in a way that promotes positive behaviour.
• The important aspects of designing an ‘irresistible’ arts project!

The conference delegates were receptive, enthusiastic, and open to discussing the issues and responding to these with a range of ideas and suggestions.   The level of interest in quality arts practice was evident. There was openness about the diverse issues young people at risk in Singapore experience and a willingness to consider how this might impact on them.

Again, it was interesting to note the similarity with the issues and behavioural challenges with young people in the UK.  The two groups outlined the most important things to consider in the irresistible arts project and these included:

• Getting the right artist with experience of both the arts and of working with young people;
• The need for flexibility in the approach and being prepared to expect the unexpected;
• An interest in working in and through multiple art forms;
• The importance of social time and food – this was particularly emphasised by the young people amongst the delegates;
• The need to start with a bang and then keep moving and keep up the energy;
• The need for debriefing and evaluation;
• The importance of agreeing protocols particularly in multi-agency partnerships and of involving the artist from the outset in these discussions and in planning; 
• The benefits of quick wins as part of a longer-term gains;
• The need to celebrate progress, achievements and those things that worked less well too; The need for artistic inspiration;
• And, amongst all these, the need for enjoyment and fun! 

And so the day ended – but not for Helen and I!   We had an evening without other commitments and took the opportunity to go for a walk round part of Singapore City.   We took a wander over to the Raffles Hotel for a Singapore Sling (!) and then – right at the other end of the market – sat in a small local street cafe for an incredibly cheap but delicious meal of local rice and noodle dishes!

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