Sometimes even the most straight forward arts process with young people can end up saying some pretty remarkable things. In this, his third blog John Johnston discusses the importance of meaningful engagement with young people and the outcomes that may emerge.
The process of making art is often difficult to nail down to one method or one approach. This is no truer than when making an artwork in collaboration with youth workers and young people. In my experience the artwork and the relationships formed during its making, tend to blur into one form of practice. That is why I think it is really important for any artist who enters into a project with an organised youth group to spend as much time as possible building trust and relationships with all those involved. This form of engagement can lead to a number of significant outcomes that go way beyond the art product, particularly if they are made in public.
Art in public can offer an opportunity to share a social or political concern with a broader community. The confidence of young people may grow as they take responsibility for the development and delivery of the project. This inevitably creates new spaces of interaction between young people and the community and can take the form of public performance, a song, a play, a reading or the painting of a mural. All these are vehicles of communication between and across public space and offer the public a different view of young people as active, caring and thought provoking citizens. Such events can create what a friend of mine calls ‘little publics’. Anna Hickey Moody believes these ‘little publics’ can become sites of resistance were the work is used to draw attention to a specific issue be it local, national or global.
John is a native of Belfast. His work is deeply influenced by his experiences of growing up in an acutely divided community. Born in 1962, his first experience of that division was a pivotal moment in the development of his identity and commitment to social justice.
He recalls an incident when aged 8 he and his elder brother were confronted by a group of older boys who asked them to recite the alphabet. When they passed the letter ‘H’ both John and his brother were punched and kicked.
Returning home with bloody nose – John struggled to understand why he had been beaten. Years later while making an artwork in his local youth club entitled ‘H’ – he came to understand the power of language and the significance of the symbol as a means of defining difference. He also recognised the power of art as a means of learning that breaches the space between private and public, giving voice to those who would otherwise endure silence.
John is the head of art education and the co -director of the research centre for Arts and Learning at Goldsmiths University of London. He believes that ‘art can change the world, It certainly changed his….