How long have you worked for Arts for All?
I’ve been part of the Arts for All organisation since 2012, first as a mentee, then as a volunteer, and as an arts facilitator. Eventually a job came up as an administrator and I applied and was offered the job. I am now working also as the Project manager of the Inspire Project.
What is Arts for All’s mission?
The basis of Arts for All is to increase access to the arts for people in North Belfast. We use the arts to allow people to connect with their creativity in a safe, secure space. We see how being creative increases confidence, it creates bonds between people and it works to increase people’s social skills as much as their talents in the arts.
All of the projects we work on and the activities we undertake are designed to allow for positive change to take place through access to the arts and allowing people to be creative.
What is the Inspire Project?
It is an initiative funded by the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust and the key element of the programme is to deliver workshops, art and music, throughout Belfast, for people experiencing learning difficulties.
We have workshops in venues right around the city. Some of the workshops look at an introduction to art which allows participants to learn how to go about creating visual art and other workshops offer an introduction to music. Sometimes we combine music and art. We have also offered a workshop on photography.
Would the participants be people who might not otherwise get access to art workshops?
There is a stipulation regarding participants in that they have to be independent of day centres. Many of the participants are very isolated and often our arts and music workshops are an essential part of those people’s lives.
From being part of the workshops participants have, not only worked on their skills, they have visited art galleries, they have participated in a showcase at the Duncairn Arts Centre; the Inspire programme is quite extensive and we aim to give everyone who is part of the programme a learning as well as a social experience.
What is the impact of the workshops?
We can show that the workshops are having an impact. We can see people gaining skills, making bonds with other people and generally seeing improvements in their social skills as well as the artistic skills.
All the participants get a sketch book and so we have had people sitting in the Ulster Museum or the MAC with their sketch book working away on their drawings. They take the sketch book home and work on their drawings there.
We get feedback from carers and family members who let us know what differences they see as well as witnessing how important the activities are to the people who attend the workshops.
A good example was the showcase in the Duncairn Arts Centre. Not only did a lot of participants perform at the showcase, the students who went through the music workshops wrote their own song, we had a community choir made up of people with learning difficulties and we had the participants art on display. That event drew a large and appreciative crowd.
We have also had people who have gone through this project and helped out at the East Belfast Arts Festival. We are very confident that the Inspire Project is making an impact.
And some of the workshops are part of the North Belfast Community Arts Festival?
We felt that we wanted to do something which would bring the community together. In the face of all the funding cuts, we thought let’s do something that shows how important access to the arts is and why participation is important.
All of the strands of work that we are part of come together to present the North Belfast Community Arts Festival and apart from allowing people to have access to arts projects who otherwise wouldn’t, or showcasing what participation in the arts can offer people, we also make sure that we use venues, alternative venues, that wouldn’t normally be used for arts activities.
The festival is a good example of how hopeful we are that we can keep doing what we are doing, making a difference using the arts in our local community.