15 April 2019

Today is World Art Day, an opportunity to celebrate arts and culture around the world. Fortunately for me, I get to celebrate the diverse ways that people engage with art every single day. I feel incredibly lucky that my job basically consists of roaming around London visiting youth clubs, community centres, galleries, theatres and public spaces where young people and communities are doing amazing things.

I’m passionate about the creative and cultural opportunities we offer at London Youth because art has always been important to me. Art plays many different roles in the lives of different people; maybe it’s the excitement of the new, a vehicle to share your ideas and opinions, maybe it helps you bond with others, or offers an escape from your worries.

Personally, art helps me to pause and enjoy stillness. Stillness can be hard to come by in a hectic, modern city, but it is so positive for our wellbeing. More than almost anything else, seeing or making art forces you to pause, to look, to focus, to look again.

So that’s what I’m doing today; pausing and looking again. I’ve been at London Youth for 18 months, and there have been so many highlights! The youth worker who said she had discovered ways of engaging her young people that she had never imagined before. The reaction of parents when their children were recognised for their talent at our Visual Art Competition. The group of young people who told me a drama club in the local youth centre had sparked new friendships, and given them something they didn’t get at school. Looking around the cafeteria during our arts weekend last year to see that young people from seven different communities across London were sitting together at the lunch tables, integrated so completely that you’d never be able to separate them back out into the groups they came in.

I’ve also learned a lot, had my mind changed many times and discovered a dozen new questions for every ‘answer’ I find. On World Art Day, I wanted to share three things I’ve learned from 18 months of supporting grassroots arts activities:

  1. Most of us are still too hierarchical about where art happens. When I started, I’m afraid to say that I kind of thought there were spaces (like galleries, theatres, art centres) were young people make art, and other spaces (like sport centres or youth clubs) where they don’t. That was way too simplistic. There is no way to rank, classify or define the spaces where young people make art. Because people make art wherever they go.
  2. I haven’t met a single person who hasn’t ever felt that when it comes to art, they’re not good enough, they don’t get it and that if they try they’ll be wrong or look stupid. Some grow more confident over time, but we all feel that vulnerability. We need to build our confidence in ourselves as creative people!
  3. There is a large and broad coalition of people – young people, youth workers, artists, educators – who agree that young people need more opportunities to access art. But we don’t always ask ourselves why we think that, and it turns out there are a whole bunch of different but equally valid reasons. For many people, it’s because we want to develop tomorrow’s talent. Or we want to ensure the galleries of the future reflect the diversity of our city. For those of us in the youth sector, it’s about giving young people what they tell us they want and need. And somewhere in all that, there’s the belief that having creativity in your life is simply good for the soul, that it makes us happier, healthier, more open-minded, more empathetic human beings. It’s okay that we have different whys because all of these goals overlap.

But I think it’s important that we ask ourselves why we’re doing what we’re doing, because if you know the answer, it can keep you on course.

Art is a part of all our lives, and it has transformative potential. It makes me happy to see how many people are working in London to create more opportunities for young people. Today is World Art Day, but perhaps for now let’s just focus on London: I think we can make a real difference in this city, but we’re all going to need to come together to do so.

Emily – Arts Development Officer


Find out more about our arts programme, Young Culture Makers.

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