Nottingham Case Study: An Overview
The first task was to find someone who could coordinate the programme, recruit the artists, approach the arts and cultural institutions and link with our participants. Ruth Lewis-Jones had experience of working on a range of projects with refugee community groups and was the New Art Exchange’s representative at the city’s ChalleNGe Cultural Education partnership meetings. Through Ruth, we secured the support of New Art Exchange as a key partner for the project in Nottingham. Having worked in different cultural organisations and with experience of working with schools and colleges as education officers in these galleries, Ruth was well-placed to act as a gatekeeper to the arts and cultural sector across Nottingham. Ruth became the Cultural Rucksack Champion for New Arrivals in Nottingham. Through her experiences we clarified and then defined the role of the Cultural Rucksack for New Arrivals.
"The Cultural Rucksack Champion works as an agent or creative producer to identify artists abd cultural venues who will work with the young new arrivals. Artists are selected through an interview process with several committed young refugees sitting on the selection panel alongside the C.R.C., alongside other invested adults such as teachers or youth workers. Wile the artists facilitate regular art sessions and build up close relationships with the refugees, cultural venues may host one-off visits, offering tours and practical activities on site."
Ruth’s initial tasks were to recruit participants and to set up the programme of activity and visits. The decision was taken to recruit participants from NEST. NEST’s age group matched our target ages and most newly arrived refugee and asylum-seeking young people are directed to NEST initially if they cannot access full-time mainstream education. Ruth approached the leadership team at NEST to ask if young people could be involved in the selection of the artists to deliver the programme. Following this, Ruth worked to recruit participants from NEST to volunteer to take part in the Art of Belonging programme. It was made clear to the potential participants that they could still fully participate in the planned Art of Belonging programme if they chose not to participate in interviews for the research study.
Interest in the project was generated through two specific activities. The first was a trip to New Art Exchange (NAE) where young people from NEST attended the Phoebe Boswell HERE exhibition6 and were given a tour of the gallery and of the exhibition itself. Later the selected artists attended an afternoon session at NEST and delivered an arts workshop to the young people there to try and generate interest in the project. 31 (5 female, 26 male) new arrivals attended the workshop and were invited to express an interest in participating in the weekly CR project. 15 participants (all male) attended the first session of the project two weeks later.
The Art of Belonging CR programme was initially intended to run from July to December. However, because of the summer vacation and concerns about potential moves to further lockdown in the winter due to the government’s proposed Plan B response to Covid, the arts programme was adapted to run from September to Easter 2022 with a weekly two-hour programme of activity, to fit in with NEST’s college timetable. By the end of the programme this comprised 52 hours of activity. A few participants attended throughout this time but many joined and left at different times during this period. Forced migrants arrive in the city throughout the year and the programme was intended to be flexible enough to accommodate those who had just arrived at any stage of the iteration of the programme. By the end of the programme 39 participants’’ work was showcased in the final exhibition.
During the first half of the programme, the intention was to develop a ‘buddy’ system – where migrants who have previously settled in the city are trained to welcome and support newer arrivals through engagement with the cultural offer at NAE and other cultural organisations within the city. The intention was to work with the NNRF youth project in this endeavour to help identify potential
buddies. Because of COVID and financial cuts, the Youth Project was not running in its usual ways during this period and so this was not possible. Thus, the team at NAE tried to contact individuals who had been involved in Ruth and the main artist, Shamila Chady’s previous activities with young new arrivals. However, it was difficult to recruit volunteers for this because those contacted through informal networks needed to prioritise their fairly precarious work commitments (e.g. with zero hour or informal contract arrangements).
The programme involved trips to cultural venues in the city and its environs as well as workshops at the NAE and other venues where the young participants were introduced to different modes of visual art and encouraged to make their own, drawing on their own skills and experiences. The trips to different spaces within the city were deliberately chosen to reflect formal and informal cultural opportunities within the city. The programme of activity was coordinated by Ruth but co-designed with the artists, with other cultural organisations and with representatives from NEST. Although the recruited participants were initially all male, attention was paid to ensure that issues of gender were considered (e.g the Cut and Mix exhibition1) and that the programme reflects the diversity both of the city and of the participants themselves. The range of arts processes encountered by the participants across the programme was deliberately designed to enable individual new arrivals to draw on their prior experiences and skills and develop these with the support of the artists. Ruth and Shamila knew from previous projects that practical skills development is popular with young new arrivals, and they built on this and further developed approaches to suit the project aspirations e.g. encouraging self-expression and voice, expressing heritage through the use of symbols from home, making maps to become familiar with the city, drawing or frottaging to really see the detail of the city.
Throughout the design of the programme, there has been an emphasis on opportunities for the participants to draw on their developing relationship with places within the blog.
All the artworks created by the participants displayed in the exhibition The Art of Belonging Saturday 11 - 25 June 2022 at the New Art Exchange gallery in Nottingham.