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Posted on Tuesday 17th July, 2012 by Tanya Roberts, Artswork

Day 2 of the Singapore Youth Arts Syposium


The final morning of the Youth Arts Symposium was dedicated to the sharing of vibrant and dynamic youth arts case studies drawn from the United States, England and Singapore.

Connecting with self-expression
James Kim, Co-founder of BEAT, New York City, talked about the work of his organisation and why providing access to new, exciting and culturally relevant programmes and activities for inner city young people in under-served areas is important.   Highlights included an insight into their work with visually impaired young people using beat boxing as a medium - including the relationship for one young person between his enthusiasm for beat boxing and the work with his speech therapist.   We also saw the innovative use of iPads to create and make music. 

Youth arts transforms lives – learning from youth arts practice
Helen and I then shared 4 case studies from England – all illustrating the diverse range of ways that quality engagement with arts practice can help transform lives as well as facilitate individual growth and learning.  These included:

• Wessex Dance Academy - A long term sustainable in-depth and intensive partnership project between Wessex Youth Offending Team, Hampshire County Council and Dance United -  delivered full-time, 5 days a week over a 3-month period. Young people were referred on to the programme by the key stakeholders including the Youth Offending Team.
• No Labels – an arts project for young people experiencing mental health issues led by A Word in Edgeways and lead artist, Philippa Tipper
• Pimp my Bike – an OYAP Trust project using the arts as a tool to engage with communities and involving young people, their bikes, graffiti artist and bike mechanics
• My Summer – the world of work:  an Artswork pre-employability programme delivered by Strong Ideas Ltd and SOCO to give 2 groups young people vital employability skills as well as hands on experience of all areas of work involved in putting on, planning, running, marketing and delivering a youth music festival and a theatre production.

A range of case studies delivered in Singapore followed:

a) Reflecting on the use of theatre in engaging young people at risk
Delivered by Koh Hui Ling, Community Theatre Artist with Singaporean arts Organisation, Drama Box, we learnt about their work and specifically began to explore the use of Forum Theatre in their work with young people. A short scenario by two practitioners followed with a subsequent invitation for one of the parts to be taken by a volunteer from the audience.  When no one appeared to want to offer to put themselves forward, Helen decided to rise to the occasion and took the long journey onto the stage.   She brought the unexpected into the demonstration – much appreciated by the conference delegates!

b) Finding the Rhythm in YOUths
Musician Walter Lim and social worker Lim Shu Hui, shared examples of ways in which they have used music and percussion to connect with young people.  Walter drew from his experience of teaching in prison school and youth organisations.  He told us: ‘They don’t care what you do until they know that you care.’

Lim Shui Hui told us about Rhythm Kiozk.  She spoke about the democratic approach to a percussion programme with young people including the decision to give the group a name (Rhythm  Kiozk) and the election of a percussion leader from within the group based on both his music abilities as well as leadership qualities.  She also spoke about the additional pressure on him as a result and the need for him to have additional support to facilitate him to play this role.  As project co-ordinator, Lim described the three roles she felt she played – as the bridge between artists and young people, as a mentor, and as the group’s biggest fan!

c) The impact of using creative arts to engage young people at risk
Finally, Calvin Hong, Life Coach, Trybe/Singapore Boys’ Hostel, shared his observations on the benefits of using the arts to engage with young people in his Hostel. He drew on the work he had undertaken in a creative arts pilot programme he had launched in December 2011 - the STAR programme – to make the following points:

• Young people want to be noticed
• Young people want a sense of belonging; this also builds confidence, a sense of team and aspiration for the future.
• Young people need to have practical opportunities to apply their learning to move towards transforming their lives.

Summing up the Conference
Kok Tse Wei, Deputy Director Youth Arts, National Arts Council, summed up the key issues that had been identified during the YArts event:

• The importance of investing in co-partnerships and real partnership working
• The importance of identifying inspirational artists with the right skills including those of working well with young people at risk
• The need for collaborations and also for young people to have spaces and time
• The importance of sustainability - the need to have long term approaches balanced against the challenge of short term funding
• The affirmation that young people have received through youth arts programmes – that someone cares and believes in them
• The importance of evaluation and impact measurement with refection and review as integral aspects of this process
• The need to keep the focus on young people, their needs and achieving better outcomes for them
• The importance of opportunities for young people to celebrate and to show case their work
• The transformational power of the arts
• The potential for facilitating young people’s voice, influence and leadership
• The importance of joy and enjoyment: ‘How can we replicate the joy we see in our kids on a sustained basis?’
• And finally - a reflection on the works of BEAT Director, James Kim,  who said –“. . . it seems we have all the right pieces here in Singapore.  You are knocking on all the right doors – you just have to find the doorknobs.”

While this was the end of the formal conference, Helen and I were not finished yet!  After a short lunch (in an intriguingly simple but extremely delicious food hall - a Hawker Centre - of diverse cookery stalls from across the Asian world) we went on to deliver the final 3-hour training workshop of the three-day event: -

Artswork Training Seminar - Youth Arts and Partnership in Practice.
• With about 25 people – again a range of artists, youth workers, probation officers, social workers and government officers - Helen set about re-energising them and looking firstly to define youth arts and creating a collage reflecting young people and the arts. It was clear from this that there was amazing creativity in the room!   When asked to come up with a sentence describing what youth arts is, an interesting and complex set of group definitions followed.  The key words however amongst these sometimes complex sentences were all very appropriate including platform, empowerment, sustainable, discovery, personal, identity, imagination, connection, society, life, passion, dynamic, growth, bold and expression.

• We talked about the nature of partnerships and the ingredients for successful youth arts projects.  We explored issues around evaluation.  Delegates then worked in groups to prepare their dream youth arts project and then presented this to one another.

• During this process we spoke about the importance of having real clarity around the what, why, when, where, who with, how much, evaluation etc ingredients in project planning; we spoke about the need to remember the ‘What’s in it for them’ when considering asking for corporate sponsorship. We spoke about the need to demonstrate how projects would meet the aims and objectives of the Government in seeking funding.   We talked about the importance of involving young people in the project planning process and of embedding artists at the earliest stages.

• We also underlined the value of partnership and the way that working together can create a stronger and more creative project or programme with greater potential for more effective longer-term outcomes for young people - than could be achieved by any single partner working in isolation.

And so ended the 3-day event in Singapore.

However, there was yet one more treat to come!  Following a very brief early evening shopping foray in the Little India area of Singapore City, Helen and I  - together with the US BEAT team  - were invited to join Ms Nancy Ng, as her guests, for a wonderful and generous Chinese meal.

This gave us time to experience yet another fantastic example of culinary excellence.  But it also gave us some very valuable discussion and reflection time with Ms Nancy Ng and with colleagues from the National Arts Council in Singapore, about all aspects of the Symposium and to share some of our thoughts. Furthermore it gave us all the opportunity to discuss together a range of issues, including very early consideration given to potential ways in which to build on the Symposium’s clear success and consider next steps.

Helen and I promised to send some further reflections and observations by email once we had had time to digest and consider the questions and discussions we had with delegates both in tea and lunch breaks as well as during workshops.

It was a wonderful way to draw our visit to Singapore to an end.  We both had an excellent time, met some wonderful and committed people and have received for ourselves considerable food for thought as well as artistic and cultural refreshment.  We have also been welcomed with enormous hospitality and generosity and have learnt a great deal from the experience.

Thank you so much to all and particularly to Minister of State, Mr Masagos Zulkifi, to Ms Nancy Ng and her team in the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports, to Kok Tse Wei and his team at the National Arts Council, to our fellow presenters and colleagues from Singapore and the United States – and most importantly, to the conference delegates for their willingness, openness and enthusiasm to engage with us and share their skills, expertise and experiences.

Jane Bryant
Chief Executive


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