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Powerful Interventions: Reflecting on the journey

After three years of creative workshops, Covid and plenty of challenges, artist Bethan Marlow reflects on her incredible journey to deliver Powerful Interventions, an exciting youth-led commission.

Three years ago, I walked into the Soar Centre for the first time ever to run a week-long 'Artist Hub' that involved loads of young people from all over the Rhondda Valley.

It was such an amazing week of multiple creative workshops happening at the same time, tons of young people being bused and driven in, focused and ready to engage, lunch provided for all and all workshop spaces set-up and ready to go.

It’s only now, three years on, having worked very closely with Sparc and their team of youth arts workers on our youth-led commission Powerful Interventions, that I have a true understanding of the massive task of making that ‘Artist Hub’ happen.

As freelance artists, we’re often invited to join youth theatres and community art groups to run workshops or lead on a project or play.

I have a real passion for doing that kind of work and have been doing it for many years but it’s only during this project that I both took the time to learn and was given the chance to be in the room to watch the youth arts workers at work.

It is very easy for us to forget that every other week throughout the year when the invited freelancers aren’t in the room, the youth arts workers are the ones leading the young people in creative engagement.

Coming up with the idea for Powerful Interventions with the brilliant Miranda Ballin and Jason Camilleri was all about structuring a process that feels from the ground up, that feels like it has young people’s wellbeing at the heart of it and that also feels like a part of the continuous work that the youth arts workers are doing and not something that is plonked on top of an already sizeable workload.

We had all had experiences of how not to do it!

Whether it was me feeling like I had been parachuted in and out of a community, or young people feeling like they had been yanked out of their drama sessions and placed on a professional stage with a professional company, only to be told “stand here, say that, you must come to rehearsals every day for long hours.”

Or youth arts workers that were meant to be collaborating with artists but found themselves doing nothing but counting heads on buses and providing lunch.

The end product, of having young people participating on a stage in a professional production, might look the same for an audience member, but we were all adamant that we were going to be focused on a process that felt positive, encouraging and let’s not forget fun!

If we are to open the doors of creativity and the arts to young people, then surely the most important thing that we must protect is the actual enjoyment of it.

If we get so pressured and precious about the production that we find ourselves barking directions at these young people (who, let’s remember, are not there on a salary) in order for it to be perfect then surely, we’ve missed the point haven’t we?

Or maybe the question that should be asked is: what is the point of inviting young people to participate? Is it to support the next generation of artists or is it because they’d look great in your show?

Together, and I mean that word in its most genuine meaning, we have created ‘Powerful Interventions’ which is a collection of performances, in a variety of art forms, where the young people and youth arts workers involved have all responded to the word “power”.

When you come to watch Powerful Interventions I imagine that what will happen is that you’ll enjoy all the pieces not only for the brilliant work that they are, but also because now you have an insight to the process behind it.

You will know that this work has been imagined by the young people, has been carefully crafted and moulded and developed over two years of weekly sessions by the talented and experienced youth arts workers and that it has been produced by people and companies that have insisted the young people remain on the front line all the way up until they will receive the applause for their creations.

And then, the following week, we will return to our weekly sessions because youth arts work exists, before and long after the show is on.

Bethan Marlow

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