Youth Arts Network

Talking to Youth Arts Network Cymru’s Sarah Jones

For the past few years Youth Arts Network Cymru (YANC) has been working to facilitate exchange between youth arts practitioners in Wales. The network is a dynamic project which brings together professionals working in the youth sector in Wales to share best practice and resources. From 28-29thApril the organisation will be hosting its third annual Casgliad, a conference which draws together practitioners, organisations and individuals involved in youth arts in Wales for a dynamic weekend of workshops and discussions.

Ahead of the 2018 conference Emma Schofield spoke to the network’s Chair, Sarah Jones, about YANC’s work and what to expect at this year’s Casgliad event. Sarah is also an artistic director for Mess Up the Mess, a theatre group for young people based in the Amman Valley and one of YANC’s many participating organisations. Here, Sarah talks about the history of YANC and how it’s bringing together practitioners to push youth arts forward in Wales.

Sarah Jones

Emma Schofield: YANC has been running for a number of years now, drawing together youth arts practitioners from across Wales. Tell me a bit more about how the network operates and what it hopes to achieve for the youth arts scene in Wales.

Sarah Jones: YANC is a collaboration between established youth arts workers, students and emerging artists coming together to share and collaborate. We do a mixture of things, so we do a lot of CPD, with masterclasses, workshops and skill sharing events. We also try to bring together people from the sector who have never met before but share links, it’s an important way for practitioners to reduce feelings of isolation and feel that they’re part of something wider, rather than simply working out there on their own.

The steering group is made up of quite a wide range of organisations, big and small, so there are national organisations such as the Wales Millennium Centre and the Welsh National Opera on the steering group. These larger organisations work on the steering group alongside established youth arts organisations such as Mess Up the Mess and Valleys Kids, freelancers and smaller youth theatres from across the country. We have representation from across the whole of Wales and the last few years we have had a sharing together grant from the Arts Council so we’ve been able to run different sharing and networking events across the whole of Wales. That’s important to us, we want to ensure that YANC is for North Wales, South Wales and Mid Wales and supports activities within all of those areas. The network is also bilingual, so sessions are run in both languages, depending on demand and the area in which they’re being held.

YANC is totally volunteer-led, so everything the network is achieving is being done by people who are using their own time to make things happen.

With that background in mind, what are the benefits of taking up membership with YANC and who is eligible to join the network?

There are so many benefits to being a member of YANC. We have a regular newsletter which is circulated to all our members to tell them about opportunities and events which are coming up and also to provide information about relevant jobs in the sector. We have deliberately kept membership costs low to make membership as accessible as possible and members

Youth arts workers can join, as can students and individuals, as well as organisations. We’ve got a sliding scale of membership fees to ensure that we enable as many people as possible from the sector to be able to become part of YANC. In particular, we have reduced rates for students so they can still afford to get involved with the network.

So how did the network come to be established?

We’ve been trying to make things happen since around 2011, but initially this was on a very informal basis at first! Originally the network arose as National Theatre Wales brought over a theatre company from New Zealand to do a tour of workshops around youth theatres in Wales, partly to see if there was potential for collaboration in the future. At the end of that week they had an event with young people and arts workers and asked them what they thought would be the one thing which could be done to develop the youth arts sector in Wales. They grouped respondents into two groups: practitioners and young people. The practitioners responded by saying that they would like to run some kind of skill sharing event and the young people said that they would like to have a youth arts festival. Within a few months of that meeting we’d had our first skill sharing event, but there was absolutely no funding involved and that point; it was just those of us who were there trying to organise it as best we could.

Following that we ran for two or three years with very limited funding and tried to find out what people would want from the network in different parts of Wales. We were finally constituted in 2014 and we’ve now done two national events: one in Aberystwyth in 2015 and one in Llandrinod last year. Feedback at both those events was that people would like us to hold a two day event, which is why we’ve arranged a full weekend programme for this year’s Casgliad event.

This year’s event is being held in Cardiff, which is the first national event YANC has held in South Wales; is the plan for the national event to keep moving around Wales in the future?

Yes, in all likelihood. We were really committed to the idea of holding the national event in mid-Wales to begin with, because we liked the idea of the event being held in the centre of Wales and being accessible to everyone. That didn’t entirely work from the perspective of transport and getting everyone to the event, and we felt we might improve attendance by the holding the national event in different venues. This year we were looking at how we might be able to hold the two day event and the Wales Millennium Centre and WNO were both happy to provide rooms in kind which has enabled us to do the full weekend. It’s been brilliant to have input from these organisations and the opportunity to hold the event in Cardiff this year, but I think next year’s event will have to be held in North Wales because we want to keep that opportunity to attend there for everyone. We’ll definitely be talking about this after we’ve had the 2018 event!

So Casgliad 2018, is taking place at Millennium Centre, tell me more about what delegates can expect this year. What’s happening on the weekend of Casgliad?

What’s not happening?! On the Saturday we are kicking off with a provocation on diversity to get everybody thinking for the two days ahead and there’s going to be a short workshop to encourage participants to think about what they want to get out of the weekend. Then we’ve got three workshops on the Saturday which delegates will rotate around, one is with theatre company Cardboard Citizens, one is with 20 Stories Highwho are a mixed arts collective that make work with and by young people from Liverpool and I’ve seen some fantastic work from them. Finally YANC are hosting a session which will give everyone a chance to come together and think about what direction they’d like the network to move in. Once the workshops are finished, Tinshed Youth Theatreare going to be doing a sharing in the Glanfa and then we’ve got a social in the evening on the Saturday, for anyone who wants to come along to that and eat some food with us!

On the Sunday is a focus on Welsh practice, so we’ve got various different Welsh companies running sessions. Operasonicwill be running a session, we’ve got a games exchange run by Flossy and Boowhich worked really well at last year’s Casgliad as it gave people a chance to try out something new, Pete Duncan from Circus Network UKrunning a session on games with meaning and a masterclass on Manchester-based spoken word group, Young Identity.

We’ve also decided to hold this year’s AGM in the middle of the day on the Sunday, in the hope that everyone will want to come along and be involved in that. We’re hoping to see a good turnout at that and it’s going to be quite speedy, just an hour!

There’s a lot packed into the weekend!

There is, but that’s what we wanted to do and it’s really excellent value for money to attend this year’s event. We’ve included catering for the weekend, so we will all be having lunch together on both days and I think that’s a really important feature as well as it’s another chance to bring people together. We’re closing the Sunday with a final masterclass so there will be lots to think about.

We have included a lot in this year’s programme and we’ve gone for a mix of styles and a range of sessions; some sessions will be more practice based and some will be discursive, so there should be something for everyone there. That’s the approach we’ve taken with every event we’ve held so far, we want to lead with things that people can actually use in their work and that’s also the best way of building real connections between people.

Is there a theme for the conference this year?

We did do some consultation through the Facebook page about what people wanted from the conference and so we do have a focus this year on nurturing youth arts in Wales and how we can be more inclusive in our practice, especially how we can involve young people with mental health issues in our work and reach out to young BAME people. We’ve taken that as a starting point and compiled the programme around that theme, but there’s obviously quite a range of things happening as part of the Casgliad.

The conference title, Casgliad (collection), indicates a coming together across the sector, have you seen that reflected in the participants and organisations who have taken part in the conference in previous years?

Yes, especially for freelancers because it’s such a great opportunity for them to meet people they wouldn’t normally be in the same room with and make new connections. That works across all levels, so you can see the same pattern reflected on the steering group, we have regular exchange projects and so many opportunities which have arisen for the young people involved in each of the organisations we’re involved with because of YANC. From the point of view of Mess up the Mess, I’d never worked with this range of people before YANC and now we have regular exchange trips with Valley Kids, we take groups to go and watch Narberth theatre, there are so many opportunities for the young people involved in the organisations which are part of the YANC network. I think that’s probably the strongest thing that the network does.

There’s also the information side of the network. YANC offers so many opportunities to share, whether that’s sharing of information and good practice, or updates on what’s happening with the Arts Council, performance licences or child protection updates. Then you’ve got events where we get to all come together and share the work we’ve created and have an opportunity for the young people to get together and work together as well.

YANC is all about bringing out the very best practice in the youth arts, what makes youth arts in Wales so vibrant and unique?

How engaged young people are in creating that work, the amount of original, peer-led work we produce which is genuinely collaborative is brilliant. I think a lot of the organisations in Wales are taking risks and being very brave, leading the way and talking about subjects which mainstream theatre isn’t talking about yet. We do that incredibly well in Wales and there are a number of organisations which are very well embedded in their communities and are often a real lifeline for young people, especially those with disadvantaged backgrounds. That’s something which is happening across Wales, in many different groups and it’s a sign that we’re doing really well.

 

YANC will be hosting Casgliad from April 28th-29that the Wales Millennium Centre. All are welcome and information can be obtained through YANC’s website.