National Care Leavers Week 2017: Everyone is Creative

Following their exhibition as part of our National Care Leavers Week programme, Element told us more about their work with young care leavers.


Everyone is creative‘, Lemn Sissay declared in the Q&A after his electrifying show Something Dark. It was a fitting mantra for a jam-packed few days, curated by Bobbi Byrne and Liz Moreton at the Battersea Arts Centre in celebration of National Care Leavers Week.

Element was lucky enough to be involved in the programme, as a social enterprise running creative arts projects with care leavers. Using the luxe red walls of Battersea Arts Centre’s upper foyer, we showcased artwork that recent Element participants had produced. The pieces reflected different areas that were explored during the project: from vinyl CDs decorated with personality strengths; to collages illustrating future aspirations; to photographs depicting positive relationships; to zines outlining strategies for dealing with difficult emotions.

Many of the young people we work with will be trying these different artistic disciplines for the first time. At the very beginning of projects, we often hear things like ‘I’m not a creative sort of person’ or ‘I’ve not done this before so I won’t know how to start’. We design our projects knowing these kinds of thoughts may come up: rather than focus down on one specific art form, we change it up each session, so that participants have a fun and flashy introduction into photography, painting, crafting, spoken word, performance, creative writing…There really is something for everyone, and it’s always fantastic to hear, at the end of a project, those very same young people who didn’t consider themselves creative saying ‘now I am an artist’.

What’s more – and what Lemn articulated so well, is that once recognised, creativity can be found everywhere: our Storeys projects are not about pushing our participants into the creative arts (although for some this may be the case!), but to encourage them to realise – through creative arts practice – that they have reserves of their own unique creativity and potential that can be applied to every aspect of life: from problem solving to planning to socialising.

The importance of the arts in everyday life was also emphasised in Janet Boddy’s incredible, insightful talk Hearing a Different Story: Learning from Young Adults who have been ‘In Care’, also programmed as part of NCLW. Janet’s research used music as a way for the care leaver interviewees to represent significant moments and emotions in their own lives to their interviewers. This offered a unique and personal window into different experiences, showing how effective creative arts can be in self-expression.

And so on to Battles, a performance by Redefine, a theatre company for care leavers led with creative vision by Henrietta Imoreh. One of the main ‘battles’ of the piece was between care leavers and the system they find themselves in: of being resilient superheroes, at the same time as being exhausted human beings. Although the piece was specific to the care system and those with experience of it (national statistics of care leavers were written on the walls and on the floor as the audience came in), it was ultimately a story about not being labelled (the statistics were torn up into tiny, indecipherable pieces).

When we conceived of exhibiting the artwork made by our Element participants, the artists themselves had a brilliant idea to increase viewer engagement and participation in the exhibition: they came up with open questions for each section of the exhibition, providing blank paper and pens, to widen the conversation. The exhibition was entitled ‘Metamorphosis’ – and as one of the young artists explained: “we’ve started this with our artwork, but it can be transformed by the viewers: that’s metamorphosis”. The public responses to their questions were fascinating: someone’s best strength was ‘a willingness to learn from and connect to those who are different to me’; the phrase ‘I want to be more …’ was answered with ‘giving’, ‘full of love for myself and others’, and ‘unapologetically human’. Almost all responses rather fittingly seemed to follow an emerging theme that everyone involved in Battersea Arts Centre’s programming for NCLW promoted: a rejection of negative labels and an embracing of human connections.

The reality can be that young people are leaving care each year, often with little or no holistic support, and being forced into independence far too early. This is not only the concern of government, but something we should be responding to collectively. Having organisations like Battersea Arts Centre provide opportunities and platforms for care leaver voices is a huge and exciting step in the right direction, and we’re proud to have been part of it!

If you’d like to find out more about Element and our creative arts projects, visit our website and get in touch!

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