In this blog, Youth Worker Emma O’Brien, discusses her motivation for delivering arts programmes with young people, also explaining in the process, the importance of defining roles when engaging an artist to work with young people in a youth work context.
I’ve been lucky enough to have been a youth worker for the past 10 years. I came from a background in drama, performance and art and brought that experience with me into my youth work. In particular I have used the medium of the arts a lot with teenagers as a “buffer” if you like for having important conversations and tackling personal and social issues that are important to them. Issues range anywhere from low self-esteem, poor body image to teen pregnancy, alcohol and drugs misuse, antisocial behaviour, domestic violence, mental health issues to name a few. It is my preference to tackle these issues through the medium of film making, writing and recording music/rap or graffiti/mural, art projects etc., depending on what the group prefer and are willing to do. I also love to embark on arts projects just for the fun of it when young people approach me with ideas.
Working through the medium of arts allows young people to explore the way they are in the world it gives them the opportunity to examine their own morals and beliefs and to explore issues from different perspectives in a way that they wouldn’t normally have the opportunity to do in their every day life. When young people are invited to be creative it opens their mind, breaks down barriers and relaxes them in a unique way enabling them to free up their thinking; it helps to break down personal barriers and beliefs that may not be serving them.
It is through the process of these projects where the real learning and relationship building takes place, the finished product, in my opinion is secondary. My focus is on the individual’s needs and the group dynamics; I need to make sure it’s fun and engaging otherwise they just won’t continue to show up or they will start acting the maggot, young people have a great way of not very subtly telling you if something is boring or lame!
Over the years the most meaningful youth arts work I have done has been in partnership with professional artists, arts students and volunteers who have a specific skill set. Working alongside a “youth friendly” artist who is tolerant and sympathetic to the youth work process is magical as we can each concentrate on what we do best. I can focus on the youth work while the artist can concentrate on the art form and together we can complement group dynamics and individual requirements and guide things to a tangible end.
It is so important for the relationship between the artist and youth worker to be harmonious and productive and that takes lots of preparation and planning and problem shooting. Both parties need to be willing to give and take and fully commit to the process and to be completely honest about what they need from one another in order for both agendas to be fulfilled. It is wonderful when this working relationship works well as amazing things can happen and the real winners are the young people as they can gain so much through a truly creative and most importantly fun process.
Emma O’ Brien has been a youth worker for almost 11 years for Crosscare Youth Service (formally Catholic Youth Care) working at present in Dun Laoghaire. Emma works with many different groups of young people and runs “the beat” youth café. Emma has a back ground in drama and performing arts which plays a big role in the work that she does.