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The Art of Belonging. Nottingham. The project launch!

The project begins with a workshop held at Nottingham Education Sanctuary Team (NEST). NEST is an educational provision for new arrivals in Nottingham aged between 15-19. NEST have agreed to act as gatekeepers for the project so that Ruth Lewis-Jones, can focus on developing the Art of Belonging cultural rucksack programme without needing to also recruit participants from those newly arrived in the city. Ruth and I have worked together previously, she has years of experience of working with cultural organisations and local artists within the city and so is well-placed to coordinate the programme of activity for the Art of Belonging project.

This introductory workshop is offered to 31 NEST participants with a view to encouraging voluntary participation in the remainder of the Art of Belonging project. There are two artists running the workshop. These two artists were selected by representative students from NEST who were involved in the interview process for these key roles in the project.

There are only five females within the workshop which is proportionate to the ratios of male and female newly arrived in the city. Shamila Chady, the lead artist explains that at the end of the workshop people will be invited to sign up for the 15 places on the Art of Belonging project. The workshop involves making small booklets of Nottingham drawing their favourite places and using pictures cut out from a range of magazines and newspapers and a second activity making a postcard to represent themselves.

There is a sense of some anxiety within the group as for most this is their first experience of ‘doing art’ and of working with professional artists. However one of the participants stands out as being very confident and enthusiastic about the workshop, he was involved in the interviewing of the

artists and says to me that he ‘loves art’. I ask if he has done much art before and he laughs and says ‘of course not, how could I?’

A volunteer teacher who speaks Arabic joins the session and one of the boys goes to her with a National Geographic magazine as he says he sees that there is a reference to Islam and wants to know if it is respectful. She reassures him and offers a quick translation of the article.

The two artists work quietly and supportively with individuals as they circulate the room. They are very encouraging often showing the rest of the group something that they think is particularly interesting in a participant’s work. The quality of the collages and sketches in the booklets about Nottingham is very impressive and there is a recurrent theme of iconic local landmarks such as the Castle, the Market Square, and of course Robin Hood. Many use their phones to copy pictures of landmarks.

I note that very few have worked on representations of themselves in the postcard task preferring perhaps to use the scaffold of the pictures in the magazines and newspapers.

This first session though clearly enjoyed by the participants- evidenced by laughter and sharing of ideas and praising each other’s work illustrates some of the barriers in terms of confidence and cultural sensitivities that the artists will need to overcome if they are to encourage the new arrivals that this kind of project could be for them. I wonder how many will volunteer, especially when they realise that most of the activities will take place away from the familiarity of NEST.

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