There is no theme to my final post from this exhilarating, whirlwind of a project. Our co-design session and reflections covered all my previous themes and then some leaving it impossible to pick just one. The only notes I gathered from today have been a collection of reflections from each member of the group in our final meeting. While everyone had such beautiful things to say, I have selected some of my favourite quotes to finish my blog with.
‘We are fairly groovy in Scotland but Denmark is still cool.’
‘Scotland responds to the people it needs to serve.’
‘Every time it’s a bit shit at the office, I will keep this in my heart.’
‘The endless amount of curiosity is something I will take away.’
‘Scotland is pretty great.’
‘Being passionate about creating a world with acceptance and love.’
‘The best culture is not to be found in the stable institutions but within the colourful, most fragile bubbles.’
‘Thank you for being open and honest.’
‘We are really lucky to be here and that Transposition as a part of our lives.’
‘We have started a spark.’
‘Learning more about how to love oneself.’
‘It is nice to see the future is a little brighter than before.’
‘Let us be trout!’
How easy is it to give young people a voice? Extremely easy according to our talks today. Full of power and passion, we saw plenty of examples of young people’s voices reaching higher levels of influence, demonstrating the capability we have.
‘We youth-ified the place!’
Y-Sort It was an amazing institution in Clydebank which acted in a similar fashion to a culture house but which catered to all the needs of young people, rather than only those that are arts and culture based. They work with young people of all sorts on large-scale projects such as filmmaking and hut building to simply being available for a chat. They also created surveys to ask the young people what they wanted from Y-Sort It when first began. Once again, we see the value in the youth voice – they expressed what needed from an institution like Y-Sort It and it was created to suit their needs and has been extremely successful because of this. The adults that work there actually listen to their young people and adhere to their needs as far as possible and putting young people at the heart of the decision-making process. The place felt welcoming and wholesome; a home away from home even, which shows what a special quality it has.
Back in Edinburgh, we were treated to two talks about nationwide initiatives run by young people. Communic18 were the team at the heart of the Year of Young People, facilitating all kinds of youth engaging events throughout the year, both cultural and non-cultural. The Scottish Youth Parliament give a platform for young people to create waves in the political world and raise issues they feel passionate about such as gay marriage, lowering the voting age to 16 and fairer treatment of young carers in Scotland. Both talks were refreshingly non-arts related which helped to give the Danes a sense of the wider achievements of Scottish young people outside of the arts and culture scene but tie into the theme of voices. The young people involved with these projects display the tangible differences that can be accessed when young people are allowed to speak up and I hope this will only act as inspiration for further youth-orientated projects in the future.
‘We need to be appreciated and valued as actual people.’
Our third co-design session which finished the day allowed us as the Transposition collective to use our voices. We split into pairs to work on reflections to include in our report for the project before coming together as a group to share. The best way to see how passionate we all were about our discussions and findings in through our slight overlap of time, whereby we finished an hour late due to all the questions, comments and presentations! Every voice in the group was valued and together we debated and discussed our findings like adults, proving that we are capable of having a say. No matter what the issue, I can guarantee young people will have an opinion worthy of listening to and they should never be undermined or ignored purely based on age. There should be an end to the supposed barriers that do not allow young people into adult discussions and spaces because, in my eyes, we have every right be there.
I would also like to add that tonight I was awarded the ‘Keen Bean’ award for best reflections on the Transposition exchange thanks to this blog! I really have put a lot of hard work into my writings throughout this project with the intention of making it an enjoyable and insightful read so I can only hope that it has fulfilled this aim.
What I feel is important to address, not only in this blog post but on wider platforms as well, is the individual aspirations and success stories that young people have achieved through the arts. Today, we got to learn more about two of these success stories from our own NYAAG members Lauren and Cahal.
‘We are all embracing the art of being an amateur.’
Our first meeting was at the Edinburgh City Council meeting with the Eurocities youth programme organisers which Lauren had successfully become a part of. Eurocities is a network of various European cities who hold an annual conference to share ideas to improve the lives of those from within each city. This year’s conference will be held in Edinburgh with the first ever youth programme which made our visit very poignant. I was particularly interested in Lauren’s involvement as one of the youth representatives from Edinburgh. It is the perfect example of how we can succeed through the arts and how opportunity leads to opportunity. Lauren’s hard work with NYAAG has led to these other opportunities, showing how the arts develop key skills that benefit young people in the long run. Lauren is now reaching higher levels than before by succeeding in becoming a part of the Eurocities conference and more people should follow in her footsteps and start reaping the rewards that the arts offer.
‘Youth shouldn’t be added on the side but embedded.’
Our other visit displayed the artistic talents of our own very own Cahal. Stills was a photography centred gallery that aimed to allow young people who faced barriers, regarding finances or geographical location, to take part in photography courses to develop their skills and engage in the arts. We were able to explore the space, see some of the latest exhibitions and even experiment with one of the earliest forms of photography. I loved seeing the work of young people being displayed proudly on the walls of the gallery and the attention they were gathering from the visitors. As one of the youngest member of NYAAG, having his first exhibition at this early stage in his life is no mean feat and is incredibly encouraging for the future of artistic young people. The arts are not a dead end but an opening to greater things. In order for this mentality to be embraced, the success stories of Lauren and Cahal ought to spread far and wide for all to hear.
Despite spending an entire day cooped up in an office, I found today surprisingly insightful. We spent our time in the Creative Scotland offices for a day of sharing: sharing between us and TUK and the wider Creative Scotland team. We began the day with a meeting with the Creative Learning team who each explained their individual roles within the team and how their work benefits the lives of young people. They explained to us the Creative Learning Plan that they have used to create partnerships with the public bodies which manage education and how this emphasises four main qualities they would like young people to gain through the arts and education. Open-mindedness, imagination, problem-solving and curiosity. It was great to hear how much these qualities are valued in young people at such a high level.
Following this, we had a working lunch, where Lauren and I presented about NYAAG, the transposition project and about TUK to various members of Creative Scotland and opened up conversations about our influence and the work each group does. We only gave a snapshot of the large amount of work we have undertaken in the name of youth arts but this sharing will hopefully only be the beginning of NYAAG branching out and gaining more agency and recognition for our efforts, perhaps leading to more exciting opportunities in the future.
‘Someone showed me that I was good enough and that I could do stuff.’
Split into groups, we each got a chance to talk to the officers of the various sectors of the arts within Creative Scotland, such as dance, visual art and music. Through these discussions, I began to understand each individual sector and job within that sector and gain a greater appreciation for the vastness of Creative Scotland.
‘You’re not just a young person who doesn’t know anything.’
Finally, we engaged in another co-design session, focussing on our future of potentially being international advisors in youth arts and culture and how that might work. The sharing that was most interesting for me was from those who were entirely opposed to the exercise, believing that it was not in our immediate interests to discuss this. The fact that we could openly share our views like this, even when they completely contradicted the entire exercise, shows how far we have come as a group and how meaningful our work is. With honest opinions being the basis of what we do, we can create a stronger network between ourselves and be examples of best practice if there comes a time when we wish to spread our wings. Sharing our feelings, our questions and our experiences only enriches projects like these so I can only say how happy and proud I am of the development our two groups have made together to be at this stage of honesty with each other.
A truly inspiring day, witnessing young people of all types of artistic abilities engage in culture and the astounding impact it can have on them. We based ourselves in Glasgow and visited three cultural centres – The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Sensatronic Lab and SambaYaBamba. Each of these visits affected the creation of the theme for today – comparison of traditional and alternative arts and culture.
The Royal Conservatoire offers a multitude of space to its students and a wealth of resources which makes it an incredible place for young people who have already discovered their talents. They gave us a tour of their building and then allowed us to ask questions about the courses offered, student influence on the decisions made regarding the school and accessibility. What was discovered was that while the place is incredible for those who make it in, it is incredibly difficult to get into in the first place which may make it seem quite prestigious and exclusive. Furthermore, students have very little to no influence on the decisions made of what shows will be produced that year, though they are apparently given plenty of freedom within the production. The formality and traditional elements of the Conservatoire are evident through these revelations; the teacher gives the students the task to complete. While I understand that, for such a large establishment, full student control and influence on what is created may be too difficult to achieve but I believe that changes should be made. A more student-led process, where young people choose their own path with teachers there for guidance when needed, may make for a more worthwhile and valuable degree, rather than just a piece of paper.
Our second visit to the Sensatronic lab was really something else. Far away from the traditional educational methods of the Conservatoire, Sensatronic embraced the alternative to great effect. They worked with disabled young people to create new instruments that they could access, allowing them to experience music like never before. They used the many avenues of music to create communication links between disabled young people and the wider world and encouraged experimentation and expression. I found the freedom they allowed their young people was astounding and the impact it has made on their lives so far was incredible. They prove that traditional is not always best – many of these young people would not be able to access or play normal instruments and would have therefore been excluded. Sensatronic promotes inclusiveness through alternative methods and succeeds where traditional would not have, which makes it so special.
‘Rather than focussing on their disabilities, find their abilities.’
Our final visit to a young people’s samba band group where we got to take part in their evening performance on the streets of Glasgow! SambaYaBamba had the blend of traditional and alternative mastered to perfection creating a vibrant atmosphere where young people are guided and taught while also having influence in what music or instrument they play. When we went out to perform on the streets, the air was full of energy; a type of energy only young people can create with their enthusiasm and talent. I saw value in both the traditional and the alternative throughout this day and believe that both should be encouraged and maintained.
‘We encourage exploration – not instructions.’
We visited Dundee today – a place I felt I already knew well having grown up so close to the city but I discovered far more than I intended. Our first visit was to the newly constructed V&A museum in Dundee. Having been immensely excited to visit the museum, I was amazed by the architecture and contents of the collection they held. Having had time to explore, we then met the Young People’s Collective – a group of young people who worked with the V&A for their opening ceremony. It was here that my first theme began to emerge – the issue of outreach. The group talked a lot of the work they did within the museum but said they came into difficulties with outreach programmes. With such a fantastic archive and a wealth of knowledge, it is a shame that outreach does not seem to be high on their list of priorities. I believe if they reached out to young people, through schools, youth groups, external projects, that they could help to take down the stigma of museums and make them more accessible to young people, rather than just expecting people to come flooding in. However, it is still very early days for the V&A so I am excited to see what happen next, especially for Dundee’s youth.
‘Everything’s ok until you’re told no. So just ask!’
There were more issues of outreach within the DCA. There were plenty of alternative spaces available for film, visual art and printing within the building and they had some youth involvement for their Discovery film Festival but mentioned again that they lacked in finances and resources to branch out of the building to other areas in Dundee. They even expressed this frustration and how they wished they could make changes, so they could reach the areas of Dundee that were not in the West End. While the issue of outreach is very much prevalent, their enthusiasm was inspiring. We gave them our contact details in the hope we can do future work with them to achieve their aims and reach out to places in need of young artistic influence.
‘What we could offer young people is always in the back of our minds.’
Our final stop was at the Hot Chocolate Trust in Dundee. The closest we have come to experiencing a Scottish version of a Culture House, they renovated an old church into a creative space for young people to use as they pleased and tailored it to their needs. Here, I considered the potential that the Hot Chocolate Trust had utilised – they started off as a small group who gave hot chocolate to young people to keep them warm in winter and grew from there. A need was found, and they used the potential of the church to meet that need. I thought about the potential that the V&A and the DCA have to draw in the youth and create a brighter, artistic, youth-led culture.
We also engaged in a late-night Co-design session which further displayed the potential of our two groups and the amazing opportunity we have to make an impact. We can outreach to the whole of Scotland and Denmark and we even aspire to reach further international levels with our work. Despite the physical exchange nearing its end, the potential is only just beginning to be discovered. It’s an exciting future ahead.
It feels like just yesterday that we were back in Denmark with TUK only just getting to know each other and beginning our cultural journeys together. Five months later and it’s as though nothing has changed.
After greeting them at the airport, we were thrown into our first and only visit of the day at the National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh. We were introduced to the outreach team at the gallery who talked us through their previous projects with young people, local communities and even prisoners helping to enable these groups to engage more with the arts. They aimed to tackle challenges such as the perception of the gallery – its large depiction of dead white men and how the art did not expand out with the walls of the gallery. Their true passion was shown when they said that they did not do art for art’s sake but when it had meaning or a story to tell.
‘Taking the art off the walls and into people’s lives.’
The theme I gathered from this visit today can be summarised in one word: toolkit. A phrase our hosts constantly used, in a literal and metaphorical sense. They gave literal toolkits of basic materials to allow the young people to create the art however they wanted but they also provided a metaphorical toolkit through opportunity, space and resources. After our talk, we were given our own toolkits to work with, creating artwork based on original works from the gallery. We could have simply just have engaged in a conversation about their work but instead, we got to experience the value of toolkits and witnessed the inspiration they can spark in the minds of young people. I further explored this idea by considering that we have all been given a toolkit for this exchange – the time, space and questions for us to delve into and create projects for us to carry forward into the future of both NYAAG and TUK. Toolkits are what we need more of – more chances, more resources and more assistance to get young people’s ideas outside of their heads and into the public eye.
‘Anything they [young people] say, we take seriously.’
How can it be that a group of relative strangers can start the week with polite introductions and civil conversations and end it with tears, hugs and heartfelt goodbyes? I’ve lived through this strange phenomenon in the past few hours and as I sit on the plane about to go home, I can’t help but reflect over this past wonderful week as well as today’s work.
I originally dreaded the three-hour co-design session planned for us. I imagined it would drag on and that we’d go round in circles but thankfully, I was very much mistaken. Since we had overrun in other sessions, we had rapid discussions with very fruitful outcomes and action points. It was fun and energetic to work with the team and I get the impression that everyone had a sudden last burst of energy which was hugely beneficial. I feel extremely positive about the future of our two working groups – it seems like an impossibility that our enthusiasm and passion could end. Our ideas are full of creativity and the essence of what it means to be young and I can say for a fact this is some of the most productive group work I have ever partaken in.
I have made some incredible friends this past week and experienced things that many don’t have the opportunity to experience. I’m extremely lucky to have been here, I’m so thankful to everyone involved for making it so incredible and it’s only at this point that’s it’s truly hit me that I’m leaving beautiful Denmark. I’m honestly heartbroken to be going but I must look on the positive side. We are only at the beginning of a fantastic partnership that will only grow stronger over time. The Danish group will come to Scotland in October and before then we will be working on exciting new developments and projects digitally. There’s so much more to be done – it’s not the end.
My theme for today has to be the realisation that we never stop learning. You’d think by day 5 of a 6-day exchange that we’d have covered all the major points of discussion and that there would be nothing new to talk about but I discovered today that I was gladly mistaken in believing this. Our visit to the International People’s College in Helsingør was a refreshing take on high school life. Every person I spoke to approached me with a smile and were willing to talk about anything with complete openness and honesty. This helped me to gain a full perspective of life at the school. Our presentation from the vice principal was full of inspiring anecdotes and quotes which conveyed his passion for the school and its aims. The more he told his about the place, the more I came to realise that learning doesn’t just stop after school but it keeps going no matter what you do in life. The positivity that oozed from the schools’ ethos was energising and it’s this energy I would love to be able to input into arts and cultural activities in Scotland.
“Go and break the culture of silence”.
Our second co-design session was extremely rapid since our time schedule overran but when we thought we would barely cover any meaningful work, we were actually very productive in the limited time. Relating to my theme, I think this showed that we can never stop learning about different methods of learning as well – maybe we need to be quick and make snap decisions to get things done or maybe we need thorough discussion to come to a clear conclusion. We can always try new methods to make our work better and comparing out last two co-design sessions has highlighted this.
Finally, we visited Loppen, a music venue in the Christiania. The venue itself was a good space and seemed to offer a lot of opportunities for different bands to perform but what a number of people in our group picked up on was that there seemed to be very little youth involvement in their work. Some questioned this but it seemed they had not considered youth contribution too much. I originally left the venue confused about how to consider the visit a positive experience for the exchange but then I thought about how we never stop learning and it occurred to me that this time, maybe they were the ones who learnt something. Having been confronted by young people asking them directly about these issues, it may have opened their eyes to the opportunities they were potentially missing out on. I hope that while I discovered today that we never stop learning, they also had the same discovery.
I was going to make my general themes for today about the removal of jargon and barriers but on second thoughts, I believe focusing on barriers and jargon more broadly would be a more beneficial use of my reflections. It’s not to say that I did not witness barriers being overcome but I noticed that there are still areas that need to be improved.
We opened our day with a meeting with the Culture minister of Denmark, Mette Bock. We all agreed she seemed like a cool and friendly lady who was open to discussion with us and asked us plenty of questions about our experiences of the trip so far. While I feel the meeting was very beneficial and it felt good to have her support in the Transposition project and further Scottish and Danish cultural collaborations, my only issue is when we asked her questions I found her answers were full of jargon and lacked in concrete thoughts. I pondered on this further as we walked to our next meeting and I concluded that she may have spoken in such vague terms because that was the only way she could respond to us. She explained to us herself that Denmark is split into municipalities and each one is governed individually by separate state bodies who oversee the smaller institutions such as the culture houses whereas her role is much broader and incorporates all of Denmark. Thinking about this, I realised that she may not have the time or ability to know about the current happenings of every youth cultural institution based on a local level and the majority of what our group have been exploring here in Denmark are these smaller, more localised cultural settings. Therefore, what we experienced is different to what she has the ability to experience so when we talked about the specific places we’d been and our ideas she could only reply in vague jargon. Despite being happy with this justification, I still felt it brought to light the need to cut out more jargon: the big and fancy but empty and meaningless words and statements which have no solid plans to support them. We need more fully formed ideas and plans in order to create change.
As a follow-up, we had a couple of presentations from the Youth Democracy Festival and the Danish Youth Council who gave us introductions to what they do before answering questions. Both talks, again while not being directly culture related, they gave us good ideas for possible future networks and for how to organise and run future events in order to make it more accessible to young people. Both presentations exemplified the taking down of barriers in some form to help connect the young person to the right contact and removed unnecessary complications in their foundations to appeal to young people. We only had time to briefly engage with each organisation but both helped to stir meaningful discussion throughout the rest of the day.
In the afternoon we held the first of out co-design sessions. What I found most interesting was the second activity where we had to attempt to answer the outcomes of this exchange’s objectives. Why I found it so interesting was because of the dreaded jargon rearing its ugly head once again. There was confusion as to how the task was supposed to be carried out but the general consensus was that it was to note down abstract ideas on how to achieve each of our aims. As we went through each idea the groups had come up with, I couldn’t help but wonder about the need for it. The answers we came up with were things like “empowering the youth” and “connecting the young people to the stakeholders” etc. but I can’t help but feel we already knew this. Both the Danish and Scottish groups are surely aware that we want to empower the youth for example but we don’t have solid ideas of how we want to do it – I.e we focused on the jargon more than actual content. I personally feel that that might have been a better exercise to try but I hate to be so negative about this fantastic exchange and everyone’s hard work. So I will say this: the discussions that began in that meeting room today answered some long-awaited unanswered questions I had had about the perception of youth culture and burning desires for discussion have finally come to the surface thanks to the conversations we had today through the co-design model. I only hope we achieve even more in the next two sessions.
“You can get married at 16 but God forbid you have an opinion on a gallery at 16!”
Our final meeting was with Super 16, an alternative film school. It was really quite inspirational to see the incredible opportunities they give to young people in the film sector in Denmark and to see short clips from some of the films they had made. We ended on a high as we could all see how this school was breaking barriers by offering young filmmakers an alternative to traditional film schools in order to break into the industry. They cut out the complications and make it simpler to engage which I think is the true aim of all our work.