Why Deliver Arts Programmes for Young People? A Community Development Worker’s Perspective
Why deliver Arts Programmes for young people? For this series of blogs, we decided to ask some experienced youth workers, who are at the coal face of youth work, to discuss both their rationale and motivation for trying to engage the young people in the Arts.
If I were to describe my childhood in relation to my interests and hobbies, it would be filled with sports and outdoor activities. An upbringing full of smelly sports gear, cup matches, cuts and bruises with plenty of mud behind my ears and under my finger nails! You could say ‘sport was my thing’. I found confidence with each achievement and felt my character mould with each minor success.
My younger brother, his ‘thing’ was art. He’s currently employed as an animator, sitting around all day (possibly in nothing but his underwear) sketching backgrounds and musing over colour tones, I believe he is currently partial to cobalt blue. Also a drummer with a jazz band, he ruins long car journeys with homemade mix tapes of obscure musical solos.
Until recently, my exploits into the world of the arts were quite limited. To imagine my participation in a collaborative, contemporary, interpretive dance workshop was not only terrifying, it was frankly not believable…..or so I thought. It was equally shocking when I found myself mid manoeuvre between transitions, thoroughly engaged and enjoying the experience. Was art my thing after all?
As a youth worker with a background in outdoor activities, I signed up for the NYCI Certificate in Youth Arts, to further my knowledge and appreciation for art activities as a medium by which to engage young people. Exploring the topic and experiencing all that the arts have to offer made for a colourful and enlightening journey. Appreciating the value of arts related activities and their purpose within a youth related context and practice, has most certainly changed the way I think and work.
One of the greatest difficulties I experience when attempting to engage young people in arts related projects involves challenging the fundamental perceptions and beliefs they have for the arts. I too had certain opinions and feel I have an appreciation of where they are coming from. An incredibly diverse range of activities exist that could be described as ‘the arts’. It is perhaps unfortunate that all these activities often get bundled under just one umbrella term.
In our project, we have placed a great focus on working with young people through the arts. We recognise the many benefits to this approach. Whether we work through music, drama, dance or arts and crafts, outcomes are often quite similar. Young people get an opportunity to build confidence, develop personal and social skills, make friends and learn new skills in a safe, inclusive, non-competitive, welcoming and most importantly fun environment. We as youth workers get an opportunity to learn about the young person, build a relationship with them and crucially learn what their needs are. Projects designed and planned in a creative fashion can serve as an excellent starting point to assess the needs and issues young people face.
With an open mind and a willingness to try new things every young person will find some element of enjoyment within. The question at this point is not ‘what is the value of youth arts’? It is ‘how can we change the perception of young people to get involved in youth arts?’.
Barry Dillon is a community development worker with Clann Resource Centre in Oughterard, Co. Galway. He has a strong interest in youth affairs and outdoor activities.