I went along to a conversation event today about the the Medway and Swale Creative People and Places bid. One of the discussions was about engaging people in the local creative opportunities outside of the usual suspects, those already interested or involved. This is a familiar problem. I’ve been working as a youth and community worker for the past 11 years, there are always groups of people willing and ready to get involved, whilst some who might benefit the most can need a bit more encouragement. Some people will always complain about poor publicity or lack of information, but I think this is sometimes a distraction. Another problem can be geography, lack of transport or that some places seem to have a monopoly on things like creative activities, whilst others have little going on. Some places have more resources to attract activity and others might have acquired a reputation that puts people off. Some people will travel quite far from where they live to get to something interesting, but ignore things closer to their doorstep. This can seem a bit like a tube map, where some journeys are connected by a direct route, but may take longer than a quick walk and others can seem complicated, but save loads of time. Maybe tracing the routes people think and move around a place could help understand how to better communicate opportunities and involve more people in fun stuff. Rather than sending out blanket publicity or creating endless directories of resources, it might be better to look at existing ways people find out or get involved with other things. Most of my time as a youth work was spent as a detached worker (working with young people in parks, bus shelters, shopping centres and other places they already chose to meet). Some wouldn’t have come to a purpose built youth club and others would have liked to, but due to where they lived, didn’t have the opportunity. My role was to develop projects with young people, where they met and based on their ideas, needs and situation. A few would tell us where to go, but the majority spent time with us, getting involved to a varied degree and working with us regularly. Perhaps some creative opportunities could be happen in places where people already meet or pass through, involving people in everyday creative experiences, rather than expecting them to attend an event or show. Poetry workshops outside of Tescos or pottery classes at the pub might seem unusual, but they might be one way of involving people who wouldn’t normally get involved.
Those who are confident and interested will usually seek out activities that interest them or create them for themselves. Some might lack this confidence or have had bad experiences of being part of something or joining in. In the case of creative activities, people may feel they lack ability or that an activity is only for a privileged or gifted few. Like many, they may have simply got out of the habit of joining in to taking part in something.
Through youth work, I have noticed young people stepping back from activities or things they have previously enjoyed due to the judgement or peers and worrying too much about what people think about them. I really wanted to learn how to play the guitar when I was 12, but the same stupid concerns about the reaction of others (not helped by watching them visiting that reaction on plenty of others) put me off until much later. I learnt to hide any sign of interest, excitement or effort for fear of judgement and social isolation. By the end of secondary school, I had almost blended in with the rest of the drones. Ironically, a big part of fitting in with other people was developing a resistance to joining in or getting involved. Of course, most of the drones were hiding something more interesting, and a few had the confidence to stand up and be themselves, whilst others were so unpopular that it didn’t matter either way. Fortunately, I snapped out of it, but I wonder what it would have been like not to have had to? I wonder how many people never snap out of it, either choosing not to or lacking the choice? At the meeting, one person said the great thing about the arts is that people can switch on at any time.