Arts Projects

GemArts East by North East – Blog by music leader Izzy Finch (Nov 2018)

Here is a blog by Izzy Finch, who is one of our music leaders on GemArts’ Youth Music funded East by North East music project.  Izzy gives fantastic insight into working with young people from Syrian communities living in Gateshead to develop their musical and life skills, whilst providing a safe space for young people’s voices to be heard, develop leadership skills and for them to be empowered.   

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As project musicians, Pav and I first developed a relationship with members of this group when they had been in Gateshead less than one year whilst working on GemArts’ Dispersed Belongings project in collaboration with Durham University. Our initial sessions were based around the concept of belonging, identity and feelings of home. The participants had no previous experience of music making and we were working with an interpreter. During those early sessions we talked a lot about identity and I realised that there is a complexity of emotions surrounding belonging for most of the participants as there have been interim homes between Syria and Gateshead. Working on this project has changed my perception of not only belonging, home, identity but the value of music as a tool for discussion.

I am comfortable knowing that over time we created an environment where the participants developed trust and were invested enough to talk in depth about their aspirations for the project and were given a platform to write songs about things that were important to them. I think sometimes there is a fear when working as a music practitioner with marginalised communities that our own agenda/ expectations will interfere with the creative hopes and dreams of young people. We were careful to navigate a balance between guiding and leading, making sure participants were not exploited with the content of what they write about.

One of the first songs the group wrote is titled Syria. The lyrics to the song describe the country as their mother and Aleppo as their blood. It is a love letter to Syria. In the very beginning when we first started working together I facilitated an exercise where participants would describe colours, sounds, sights and smells of home or a significant memory. The group seemed unsure at first but soon everyone was writing in Arabic and absorbed in the task. I hadn’t prepared myself for how emotionally raw the content would be having elicited those feelings. I realised afterwards that I had expected the content to be about dislocated items or events but instead we uncovered that there is still a strong and prevalent sense of belonging to Syria and that this is something that the young people want to share and write about. One member said “I want to deliver a message to the people here about the situation in Syria” and continues to bring new lyrics in each week exploring this.

Sometimes a song idea will begin with a young person showing the group a song they like and we will begin talking about what aspects of that we like and what we will use as inspiration to create an original piece. For one song, we used Eminem- Stan as inspiration, and sampled the sound of rain to evoke emotion and used the structure of Eminem’s hit as a template with Arabic verses poetically describing a lost love and a chorus in English featuring female vocals working as a call and response.

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Our session structure changes depending on the ideas of the young people. Sometimes we all have an instrument and work as a band collectively, and other times we will use a MIDI controller and laptop to make electronic beats that vocalists want to put lyrics and a melody to. Within the current group, there are multiple song writers and the participants are self-motivated when it comes to organising their time within the session. For example, if we worked on one member’s song the previous week, they will talk amongst themselves and decide fairly that it is someone else’s turn to have their song rehearsed. New members are always welcomed and encouraged by the group to suggest ideas or lead a rehearsal. Lyrics are often in Arabic and sometimes have an English chorus with themes around the war in Syria, politics, nostalgia, love, lost love and friendship.

This year the core group are brimming with confidence and creativity. The sessions are very much participant led and we are preparing for a performance in a few months and introducing Arts Award. The group enjoy sharing and communicating their ideas in English, we rarely use the interpreter although sometimes we need one to translate lyrics and help with meaning but I l love that Arabic lyrics are a constant thread in everything we create. If new members come along and are struggling to speak English or understand what we are doing, the group enjoy interpreting and helping each other articulate their ideas.

It is a pleasure to be able to work with these young people and help them achieve self-belief and provide a creative outlet. I feel that this project has demonstrated the capacity Gem Arts have to meet the growing needs of marginalised groups within the North East.

East by North East is a Youth Music funded project led by GemArts. Building on the success of previous projects, during this third phase, we have expanded the prorgramme to provide more opportunities for professional musicians and young people living in challenging circumstances from BAMER and wider communities across Newcastle and Gateshead to work with one another, sustaining high quality music making regionally, and addressing community needs and issues.  A key element of the programme is to further diversify the music skills and workforce of music practitioners in the North East through offering CPD, training, peer to peer development and mentoring.

https://gemarts.org/projects/116/east-by-north-east

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Merry Christmas

Roopa Panesar

Each year when I look back at the previous 12 months, I get a sense of awe at the achievements of our small (but mighty) team, and the wonderful artists, communities, volunteers and organisations GemArts has worked with. It’s also a time for me to consider how generous our donors, funders and audiences are, so thank you for supporting our work in so many ways.

Throughout 2017 we continued to do what we do best, showcasing the best and brightest artistic talent from the UK and abroad, championing creativity and diversity, and always ensuring artists received the support and profile they deserve. GemArts’ audiences were given access to unique cultural experiences, with people of all ages and backgrounds joining us in making exceptional music, dance and art, while developing new skills and building confidence along the way. Communities continue to face inequalities and challenges, but through our arts projects we have seen the people of the North East come together, to inspire and support each other, and celebrate diversity.

This year we strengthened relationships and developed new partnerships, increasing the reach and impact of GemArts work, for which we were recognised with awards and accolades. We’ve picked a few of our highlights from 2017, click on the red text to find out more about each, and I’m sure you will have your own favourites.

In February I will travel to London to collect my MBE for services to Arts and Culture – a huge honour and privilege! I personally feel this achievement recognises the collective efforts of everyone who has supported GemArts over the years. I am eternally grateful to you all.

On behalf of everyone at GemArts and GVEMSG, I would like to  thank you for your continued support, and wish you a very merry Christmas, and all the best for a happy, healthy and peaceful New Year.

Best wishes and see you in 2018.

Vikas Kumar, MBE
Director, GemArts

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Masala Festival – Following a Journal Culture Arts Council Award win, our week-long festival returned in July. Thousands of people joined us for a mix and blend of the very finest South Asian arts and culture, enjoying live musicexhibitionscooking demosspecial festival menusfamily fun daysworkshopspoetry readingstheatrefilm screenings and lots more. The festival returns on the 16th July 2018 packed with even more exceptional art!

GemArts Riverside Ragas – Presented the best of raag based music, accompanying concerts with informative pre concert talks, masterclasses and demonstrations. 2017’s Riverside Ragas featured; Guiliano Modarelli (Routes), Kobini Ananth and Yarlinie Thanabalasingham (An Inner Voice)Baluji ShrivastavRoopa Panesar and Bhupinder ChaggarDebasmita Bhattacharya and Gurdain Rayatt, and we’ve an incredible line up for Spring Summer 2018.

God and Mortals – Our first collaboration with Sunderland Stages was a stunning performance by an ensemble of the country’s finest Odissi dancers and musicians, staged within the breath-taking setting of Sunderland Minster.

Health and Wellbeing – To help tackle social isolation we worked with Gateshead Carers BME groups to create “arrival and survival” a showcase of art work representing Identity and Isolation. Members of GVEMSG’s Feel Good Group were also extremely busy creating unique glass, sharing skills, developing support networks and using new creative and enterprise skills to raise more than £358 for their project, meaning more women will benefit from the support and activities on offer. Read the Feel Good Group’s blog here.

East by North East – Our Youth Music funded project offered music making opportunities to over 190 young people each week throughout 2017. Watching young participants grow in their musical skills and confidence has been a real highlight of this project, and this would not have been possible without the strong team of committed, talented and awe inspiring music leaders and partners we have on board. Here’s to another two years!

Dispersed Belongings – From Syria to Gateshead explored belonging among refugee-background Syrian young people living in Gateshead, in partnership with Durham University and Gateshead Council. Young people participated in workshops with professional visual artists and musicians, and produced works that reflected their ideas and experiences. The project culminated in an event at BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, and a week-long exhibition in the Shipley Lounge as part of the national Platforma Festival.

GemArts Mini Melas – Between February and October we packed in a whopping FOUR Mini Melas, bringing free family arts activity to GatesheadNewcastleSouth Shields and Durham. In total over 1500 children and their families visited us at a Mini Mela in 2017, joining in arts activity from around the world, and some even completed Arts Award in a day (an incredible 101 young people achieved Arts Award through GemArts in 2017). Thanks to all the partners who provided a venue for or supported one of our Mini Melas this year.

 

Kathakali schools performance – 200 local primary school students had the unique opportunity to take part in workshops and watch the world renowned Kala Chethena Kathakali Company, perform in Gateshead. Pupils experienced the entrancing world of ancient Hindu storytelling through this sacred theatre art form with its striking visual imagery, ancient sign language, superb singing and movement.

Anti Hate Crime work – Continuing this award winning work with young people, pupils from Brandling Primary School, Gateshead worked on a creative writing project exploring the theme of “respect”, with artist Laura Degnan. Pupils developed reading and writing skills using creative storytelling techniques and film making. Members of Gateshead Muslim Centre young people’s group (age 6-15), used animation as a creative tool with artist Lesley anne Rose, discussing Hate Crime and how to report it. Learning story boarding and animation techniques, the young people created their very own animation which you can watch here.

Great North Run- Thanks to a grant we were able to purchase places in the GNR 2017. Not only did our runners (Anj, David, Jamie, Stuart and Tom) complete the worlds largest half marathon, they also totally smashed their fundraising targets, donating an impressive £2200 to our charity! All donations help GemArts deliver life enhancing arts projects, you can sign up to Run and Raise or simply contribute to GemArts here.
GemArts Spring Summer 2018 programme launches on Friday 19th January.
Follow this link www.gemarts.org to find out more. 

Images from top: Riverside Ragas Roopa Panesar by Anna Miller, The Gandharva Choir Masala Festival by Anna Miller, Mini Movers Masala Festival  by Anna Miller, Riverside Ragas Debasmita Bhattacharya by Anna Miller, Feel Good Group jewellery stall by Anna Miller,Gods and Mortals Sunderland Stages by Richard Kenworthy, From Syria to Gateshead My country is unforgettable by Mohamad, The Kala Chethena Kathakali CompanyRajasthan Heritage Brass Band Masala Festival by Anna Miller