Music

GemArts is strutting into Summer with Masala Festival 2019!

GemArts award winning Masala Festival is back, strutting into summer like a Bengal tiger from 15-21 July 2019, as we bring you another magnificent line up of classical, traditional and contemporary artists from the UK and Indian sub-continent, exploring themes of home, belonging, freedom, resistance, luck and hope. Download your Masala Festival 2019 brochure here.

Launching on 15th July, at Sage Gateshead, with an incredible collaboration and special evening of music composed and performed by the internationally renowned Sarod maestro Ustad Wajahat Khan with a String Quintet from our region’s fantastic chamber orchestra Royal Northern Sinfonia.

Followed by two of the most prominent women on the contemporary jazz scene, on 16th July Zoe Rahman and Laura Macdonald.

For spoken word and poetry, look no further than Luck and Hope: an evening of poetry  with two of the best poets writing today Mona Arshi and Imtiaz Dharkar at Culture Lab, and a stellar line up of regional spoken word talent in Strictly Spoken with our partners at Arch16.

We have a fantastic line up of films this year with: heartwarming, ‘feel good’ comedy of the year Eaten by Lions following half brothers Omar and Pete on a journey of discovery via Blackpool, featuring Jonny Vegas and Jack Carroll; stunning cinematography and subdued tension with The Sweet Requiem, showing an unforgettable reflection on an ongoing and forgotten Tibetan refugee crisis and contemporary film shorts about freedom, desire and resistance in Woman.

Writer, performer and professional wrestling manager, Pariah Khan brings his ‘shrewd and bitingly funny’ An Indian Abroad to Northern Stage on 20th July, where we follow the story of Krishnan, who is stifled by life in middle class India and decides to visit the exotic island of Great Britain. What will he learn about himself? And what happens when he falls in love with one of the natives?

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If you want to get yourself moving, why not try out Bollywood dance,  yoga on the beach or if you are if need of a little TLC before the summer try out an introdution to Meditation.

Not to mention the amazing menu being cooked up by Dabbawal throughout the week, watch here for their menu reveal soon!!

Masala  Festival ends on Sunday 21st July at Live Theatre’ Garden with a spectacular fun packed Mini Mela finale, with FREE South Asian arts, craft, music and dance workshops for all of the family to enjoy. This year enter a seafront arcade in a caravan with ….. Elvis’ Bingo Balls, neon, sounds of the slots and an Indian Elvis as your bingo caller! Not to mention Circus Raj, a circus troupe from India performing throughout the day, with stilt walkers, extreme juggling, sword swallowing and acrobatics, plus dancing marionettes and much, much more…..

There really is something for everyone. Visit www.gemarts.org to find out more and book tickets.

Look out for our beautiful brochure around Newcastle and Gateshead or download your full brochure here GemArts Masala Festival 2019 Brochure

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Spring Summer 2019 Season Launch

We launch our Spring Summer 2019 season with another exciting concert series, featuring emerging musicians to artists whose family musical history spans five centuries, with everything from Sitar and Sufi devotional music to a re-imagined String Quartet.


This season we have a special focus on dance, showcasing incredible commissions and performances that tell those untold stories. Crackle.Dust. by Company of Others, is an unveiling of women’s resilience, inspired by women of the North. Jaivant Patel’s YAATRA shares a fresh perspective on South Asian LGBTQ+ narratives, faith and spirituality; and A Thousand Faces blends Kathak dance with physical theatre and mime, subverting the imagery of Bollywood beauty and Hollywood glamour to explore the objectification of women.

For young people and families, February welcomes the return of our popular half term Mini Mela event in Gateshead, with FREE, family arts workshops including Steel Pans, Bollywood Dancing, Chinese Arts, Persian Calligraphy and more. Come along and create your own artwork to take home.

Our work with young people around the region continues with diverse arts workshops in schools and communities across the region, working with pupils of all ages and abilities.

We are very proud of our young Syrian musicians, part of our EbNE project, who have been commissioned for Poetry Despite, Music Despite, part of Aaron Hughes work for BALTIC Artists’ Award 2019. Creating their own poetry and songs as a re-imagining of Wilfred Owen’s poetry using their own experiences of war, belonging and home,  they will perform at BALTIC early February.

In April, we celebrate the culmination of our East by North East youth music project with a performance event at Sage Gateshead, recognising the achievements and talents of 170 young people from across Newcastle and Gateshead who take part in our weekly music sessions.

To find out more about our upcoming programme scroll down, and to see our full Spring Summer 2019 season visit www.gemarts.org or download your copy of the brochure here: GemArts Spring Summer 2019 brochure.

Also watch out for Masala Festival updates. Masala Festival 2019 returns from July 15 – 21st.

Merry Christmas from GemArts

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The end of the year is always a time for reflection, and across GemArts performance and participation programme, we are reminded of all of the wonderful artists, communities, audiences, volunteers, partners and funders we have worked with in 2018.  We would like to thank every one of them for continuing to support our work in so many ways.
 
Although each and every performance and project has their highlights, we have picked a few below to show some of the work we have done this year. I hope you enjoy looking back at GemArts 2018 year, where we have supported the best and brightest artistic talent, both emerging and established artists from the UK and abroad; continued to champion creativity and diversity; and have offered unique cultural experiences, to people of all ages and backgrounds, enabling exceptional opportunities to participate in diverse music, dance, literature and visual arts.
 

Masala Festival – following last year’s Journal Culture Arts Council Award win, we were proud to be a finalist this year for the Best Event Tyneside for Masala Festival, which returned for the third time in 2018 and celebrated an outstanding selection of artists and producers from the North of England, a fantastic range of South Asian art forms from poetry, dance and film to jazz and classical music, family fun days to amazing new visual arts commissions, including a new sculpture created by robotic arm! Keep an eye out for Masala Festival 2019!

 

GemArts Riverside Ragas continues to present the very best of raag based music concerts alongside informative pre-concert talks, masterclasses and demonstrations. 2018 featured some of the finest musicians from the UK and India: Shreya Devnath, Arnab Chakrabarty with Talvin Singh, Shashank Subramanyam, ONE (ensemble of Vainikas), Purbayan Chaterjee with Gurdain Rayatt, Jasdeep Singh Degun and ended with an incredible premier of Simon Thacker’s Svara Kanti’s new album Trikala. We have an incredible line up for you in Spring Summer 2019 check out our website for our programme announcement early January.

Every year we work with thousands of people on participatory projects, making diverse arts opportunities accessible to all. In April this year, we worked alongside  Durham County Council and schools across Durham, Stockton and Hartlepool, to mark the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, delivering cultural arts activities that celebrated the 53 nations, including Steel Pans, Indian Dance, Sri Lankan, Indian and Malaysian visual arts, African Drumming and Storytelling. On the 25th April, 1000 young people processed through Durham city centre to the cathedral to take part in a special service to mark the event.

In the centenary year of the Representation of the People Act, GemArts were invited to be part of PROCESSIONS, a UK-wide mass participation artwork to mark 100 years of women’s suffrage, produced by Artichoke and commissioned by 14-18 NOW, based on an idea by Darrell Vydelingum.

Our Feel Good group created a banner that represented what the vote means to them, what it is like being a women in the UK today, highlighting their past, present and their hopes for the future. On 10th of June, the group processed through Edinburgh, proudly showcasing their banner, with thousands of other women and girls across the UK. Wearing either green, white or violet, the colours of the suffragette movement, the PROCESSIONS appeared as a flowing river of colour through the city streets.

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October saw the launch of our new film #endmatecrime for National Hate Crime week. The film was made by participants from The Gateshead Housing Company’s customer led Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Group and charity Changing Lives. Through creative arts sessions, working with our artist Tommy Anderson, participants created a series of hard hitting artwork, that have been designed into postcards, a poster and an animation film featuring real-life personal stories of victims of mate crime in Gateshead. You can watch the film here.


Our Arts, Health and Wellbeing strand continues to work with communities across Gateshead and Newcastle using creative engagement to address isolation and loneliness. This year we have worked alongside Gateshead Council to embed the Making Every Contact Count (MECC) approach, offering training to artists, staff and volunteers to support our creative practise.

Our flagship East by North East youth music project, now in it’s 5th year, engages with 177 young people on a weekly basis. Young people from diverse communities, living in challenging circumstances, take part in a wide range of musical genres. The project is committed to supporting a diverse music workforce ensuring gender equality across the programme.

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You can find out more about our work on our website www.gemarts.org

On behalf of everyone at GemArts and GVEMSG, we 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.

 

GemArts East by North East – Blog by music leader Kay Grayson (Nov 2018)

Here is a blog by Kay Grayson, who is one of our music leaders on GemArts’ Youth Music funded East by North East project. Kay’s blog gives a fascinating snap shot of her own amazing journey as a female rapper, and how she has used her skills through the project to support young women to develop their musical talent and confidence.

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As a rapper, I have been performing around the UK for nearly nine years as well as writing, mixing and mastering my own music including my underground 2016 mixtape ‘Morning After Music’. Now I am working with producer Suski to release my first EP and hopefully will continue performing across the country.

Alongside this I have been working with GemArts as a music leader. I started as a volunteer for Chat Trust: The Base, which is a project I attended from twelve years old and where I learned to use studio equipment. As a volunteer working with the girls group I found a passion for supporting young people with their creative interests and after a year I became a worker on the EBNE project.

The girls, that myself and the other music leaders have been working with, have faced many obstacles in their lives when it comes to wanting to create their own music, for example, English is not the first language for many of them which can add difficulty when it comes to writing music, and also create a lack of confidence, which is something they all struggled with at first.

Over time I have watched the girls become confident and competent musicians through their dedication and willingness to learn. They have gone from not wanting to sing in front of the microphone to learning to deliver their own raps in the studio and even showing an interest in how the studio works. Musically this has inspired me, and helping them to write and record has helped to develop my skills in both these areas. It is easy to write a rap when it is me alone, but it was altogether a new challenge to help someone else speak about their experiences in a group of four or five of their friends.

My favourite thing about the sessions is that they create a safe space for young people who live in areas where there may not be many opportunities available to them. As a female rapper I have faced barriers due to my gender and therefore know that it is invaluable to a young person’s confidence to be free to try things without fear of judgement. The openness of the sessions proves to the young people that music can be used as a tool to bring people together and promotes a positive message of diversity and acceptance.

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

 

 

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

GemArts Autumn Winter Season 2018

As the lovely warm weather continues our Autumn Winter Season brochure has arrived and brings an eclectic mix of new commissions, exhibitions, workshops and events to the region for that Indian Summer glow. Download your full brochure here GemArts Autumn Winter 2018 Brochure

Thank you to everyone who came to our Masala Festival in July and made it such a huge success! You still have time to see Sumit Sarkar’s fantastic Everything Nothing Exhibition at Gateshead Central Library on until 2 October, featuring new commissioned work by GemArts, including a new marble sculpture created by a robotic arm!

Sumit Sarkar Image - Anna Miller

Launching our exceptional Riverside Ragas programme this Autumn we have spectacular Sitar players, Purbayan Chatterjee , accompanied by Gurdain Rayatt on Tabla, and rising star Jasdeep Singh Degun presenting groundbreaking sounds from the traditional to the contemporary.

Setting a new benchmark for Indo-Western collaboration, later in the season we are excited to present the official launch performance of GemArts supported, Trilaka epic double album of Simon Thacker’s Svara-Kanti.

 

With something for all the family, you can delight the kids in October half term, with Jungle Book, where you can follow fearless Mowgli’s wild adventures through the jungle with inventive shadow theatre, powerful music and colourful digital projections.

4. Jungle Book
Marking the festive season, November brings our annual Diwali festival of lights with delicious Indian food and a night of Bollywood and Bhangra Beats, bring your dancing shoes!  Outstanding vocalist Swati Natekar will take you on a musical journey in December with an evening of Ghazals, Thumris and old Bollywood Songs and we have a fantastic opportunity to hear novelist, Preti Taneja, reading from her debut novel We that are Young, a powerful retelling of King Lear set in contemporary New Delhi and winner of the Desmond Elliott Prize 2018.

Celebrating the New Year we welcome star of the future Kaviraj Singh on santoor in January, as part of the exciting New Year, New Artists Festival at Sage Gateshead. Visit our website for more information on this soon.


As always we will be delivering workshops and projects for schools and with community groups over the coming months and launching our new animation to raise awareness of Mate Crime. Projects aim to support equality, promote diversity and tackle inequality. For more information about projects please visit GemArts Projects.

We look forward to seeing you over the coming months. Keep up to date on our news by following us on Facebook and Twitter.

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

 

New Opera Development Opportunity

INTERESTED IN OPERA?

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We are looking for music-makers, theatre-makers and writers from BAME backgrounds who are interested in exploring new possibilities in collaborative artistic creation.

This is an opportunity to;

  • be commissioned to develop an original idea
  • be mentored on the development of your project
  • work with singers and musicians to develop your idea
  • present work-in-progress and receive feedback
  • develop a project with GemArts, Lyric or Curve, supported by Opera North and Royal Opera

We believe opera is where music, theatre and movement meet.  It is the most vibrant and flexible of genres, and is the perfect platform for telling diverse stories in diverse ways.  Our definition of opera is broad –embracing music, theatre and movement from all cultural traditions – and we are seeking new stories and innovative approaches.

At this stage, the scale of your proposal does not matter.  But it must meet the following criteria:

  • your project must involve one or more collaborators
  • the lead artist for your project must be based in the UK.

We will select three projects for a development commission and fully support those artists as they develop their work.

If you’d like to know more please email or call Anwar Ibrahim at anwar.ibrahim@roh.org.uk or 020 7212 9387.
When:                 From December 2017 to July 2018

Who:                   Writers, Composers, Directors, Theatre-Makers

Cost:                   We will commission the artists selected to develop their work

How to Apply:   Click on the link below, or complete the expression of interest form and send to anwar.ibrahim@roh.org.uk by Monday 23rd October.

Expression of interest form – New Opera Development Opportunity Oct17-July18

Link to online version of form – https://www.surveycrest.com/s/5926e630efc34

GEMARTS EAST BY NORTH EAST PT2

East by North East is a Youth Music funded project led by GemArts, providing opportunities for young people from diverse communities to come together and make music.  The project has already enabled over 190 young people to develop and share their compositions and performance skills in a wide range of genres, while addressing issues relevant to their lives, developing life skills and achieving Arts Award.

In addition, GemArts has further diversified the workforce of music practitioners, and East by North East offers training and development to ensure that creativity and diversity is thriving in the North East!

To celebrate the project we’ve asked some of our music leaders to share their thoughts on East by North East, their own development, and the groups they worked with. Read on for our second blog post.

GemArts East by North East Blog by Izzy Finch, Music Leader 

In 2016 I became one of the musicians for the GemArts project East by North East (EbNE), working with young women aged 13-16 from the Czech and Roma communities in the West End of Newcastle. When we first began our weekly sessions at CHAT Trust, the group were shy and their conversational English was emerging. This meant that, without interpreters at the sessions, we initially found communication problematic with regard to expectations and outcomes for the project.

Over the course of the year, we began exploring different genres of music and the girls began singing. This developed into rapping and gradually evolved into writing their own material and performing locally in both their heritage language and in English. Some of the issues we encountered early on included communication barriers, low self-esteem, social and gender related tensions and even tensions between our project and the perceptions of the school the young women attended.

There was one session where one of the young women told me that she had fallen behind with homework and was struggling at school. Having recently discovered that she was unable to read or write I had wondered how she would be managing at school and if she was accessing support. We stayed behind and worked on some of her assignments and discussed things she could ask her teachers about. This was a significant moment for me, in helping me to appreciate how a safe, creative space enabled the development of BAMER women who joined our project completely unable or unwilling to engage with seemingly inaccessible tasks or assignments that demanded a grasp of English to writing and performing original material and developing their ability to articulate their hopes, fears and aspirations within the group. Without the support of interpreting staff, the two factors that played the most significant role in empowering the young women were trust and time. By the time the project drew to a close, all of the young people were demonstrating engagement and the ability to take creative risks.

17553924_10154549287012613_8637290395246012482_n[1]Young women take part in a session at CHAT Trust

Forming a band and attending regular rehearsal and workshops was challenging for the group at first as it required commitment, determination and practice. All the young women obtained their bronze Arts Award which was a huge achievement and for many, their first experience of achieving any form of accreditation.

17757355_10154549286992613_7043715450843202856_n[1]Young people at CHAT Trust achieve their Bronze Arts Awards

The final celebration event took place at Sage Gateshead, and was a vibrant celebration involving participants from a wide representation of heritage and culture across the EBNE projects in the city.

This project serves as a good example of how, as defined in The Creative Case for Diversity, “experimentation leads to changes.” In offering young people the chance to express themselves in an inclusive space, and by using this experience to initiate creativity and original compositions, we learned that all of the participants experienced feelings of enhanced self-esteem and of a future where they had skills and strengths they didn’t know existed. “ Now I know girls can rap just as good as the boys. I didn’t think I could write a song that would sound good. I’m always going to love performing now.” –  Vanessa

In 2005, I had been invited to join a refugee integration project based in Newcastle. Mongrel UK was issue-based music and theatre exploring concepts of identity, migration and social justice. I was a 13 year old participant, yet I felt was being nurtured and mentored by strong female role models. I feel I was one of the first people to experience the grassroots evolution from participant to practitioner. Many of my professional values were shaped at that time and I feel that I experienced first-hand what a positive impact involvement in projects like EBNE can have on a young person. I have this experience at the forefront of my practice with all of the groups I work with, particularly young BAMER women, with whom I have an affinity.

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Life Transformation Church band perform at EbNE celebration event at Sage Gateshead

It is clear that the experience of the young person is at the centre of the project when GemArts initiates a project like this one, but what isn’t that obvious on the surface is how the journey of arts practitioners is equally important. We are actively encouraged to reflect upon and document our own learning and journey. My learning and observations have been centred around the themes of culture, heritage, gender, perception and diversity. Although my musical knowledge and experience is clearly valued, there is a finer less tangible aspect to projects like EBNE that is centred around celebrating and promoting not only the diversity that exists within communities but also that within the practitioners who are matched to deliver the programmes.

Gem Arts partner musicians who have different but compatible strengths. Working relationships must evolve to make the most of competencies and skills we have between us and what this ultimately brings to the workforce is adaptive resilience. There have been occasions where I have felt that my co-workers have had a stronger skill set for a specific young person or circumstance, but there is always the opportunity for me to support and restore the balance within another situation.

I am so proud of the individual journeys of self-expression as well as the incredible creative outcomes that demonstrate how valuable projects like East by North East are. Beyond the creative and musical end products, we have opportunities to develop self-belief, affirmation of cultural identity and values and on a very basic level… happiness!

Gem Arts develop and build pride in identity in often marginalised groups within the North East. On a personal level, my involvement in this project has made me realise how passionate I feel about working with young women; confronting and challenging negative cultural stereotypes.

If you are interested in the project please contact GemArts – info@gemarts.org

Izzy Finch, EBNE Music Leader

Watch our East by North East 2017 film here

GemArts East by North East 2017 from GemArts on Vimeo.