Freedom to Participate and Create

As a child I remember wanting to go to dance and music lessons, but it was never an option, my Mum simply couldn’t afford such ‘luxuries’. There’s no doubt that experience has influenced my work and my attitude – I’m passionate about arts and culture, and determined that it should be available to everyone (not just those who can afford it). Everyone has something to give and something to gain from taking part in creative projects.

So, I’m three months into my role as Education and Participation Coordinator with Freedom Studios in Bradford, and have already been wowed by some amazing people. Young people at Carlton Bolling College and Grange Technology College, supported by some top-notch drama facilitators and incredibly hard-working teachers, really got stuck into using drama as a tool to explore the Magna Carta. Alongside young people from Mind The Gap, and Freedom Studios’ Thursday Thespians, a drama group for older people, each school group devised their own short theatre piece and performed these in the amazing (and really rather posh) Council Chambers in Bradford City Hall. The two groups had such unique, but equally impressive responses – one explored ideas of fairness and equality through a short piece about bullying, and the other taught me loads about Legal Aid. These are big themes, massive subjects, and they tackled them without hesitation. To see a 12 year old write their own ‘charter’ that demands no racism, no sexism, and calls for fairer treatment of immigrants, left me feeling pretty confident that they’d do a great job of running the country if we let them (and in this climate, where casual racism about ‘migrants’ abounds, we probably should).

What does ‘community arts’ and participation mean to me?

It’s about having the opportunity to take part, regardless of perceived skill or talent.

Often the taking part is greater than the art form itself. Three months of weekly drama workshops that give participants new experiences, broaden horizons, build their confidence and give them a voice, can be way more valuable than the bit where they put on a show.

It’s about equality of opportunity. Not everyone can afford to join the local Youth Theatre, or have piano lessons. Why should they miss out?

Finally, art isn’t all pomp. Art is about experiencing different people, communities, stories, cultures and traditions – which are massively rich and diverse in Bradford!

Whether social circumstance, lack of exposure, or even our increasingly challenging climate in education restricts access, it’s important that we continue to find ways to give young (and all) people opportunities to experience, enjoy and create art and culture. (And, sorry to drop the F-bomb, but funding is vital for this, too).

We’ll get a lot back in return, trust me.

by Maria Spadafora

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