You might have heard of Sunderland Culture’s Creative Age groups, but also, maybe you haven’t, because sometimes the best things are the things that tick along in the background, quietly changing lives. We have two weekly Creative Age groups- one based at Arts Centre Washington and the other at Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens. The groups support people living with dementia and their carers (most often their partner) to work with an artist and make something together. It’s a simple concept, but the effects are quietly astonishing: providing a creative outlet, giving voice and bringing together people who, over time, become a powerful, supportive community.
There is no doubting the importance of the groups, but we have one problem: Jennie and Rachel who run the groups sometimes run out of creatives skilled and confident enough to run them.
At the same time, in my role as Artist Development and Creative Industries Producer, I was having a recurring conversation with the creatives in the city: how do you get experience in different participatory settings? How do you even know you’re good at supporting the needs of specific communities and groups?
There is more demand than ever for creatives to work in participatory settings and greater recognition of the benefits of creativity for building wellbeing and resilience at all stages of a person’s life – yet the opportunity for creatives to see how it works and to build skills seems to be rare. This is especially true for freelancers, who often have to give their time for free or give up paid work in order to train.
So, we hope that our Creative Age Development Artist programme is different and that it’s one of those rare examples of something that works for everyone. It’s an opportunity for creatives to be paid to develop their practice and skills, under the mentorship of highly experienced artists and with the support of both Sunderland Culture and Equal Arts. It’s opportunity for Sunderland Culture to broaden the pool of creatives who work with our Creative Age groups and to support the careers of creatives who live or work in the city. The programme will allow us to test this approach and help us to embed training and support for artists into Sunderland Culture’s core programme.
We’re excited that our first Creative Age Development Artists are musician Holly Rees and visual artist Stephanie Smith, who will shadow and support lead artists Claire Ford and Lindsey Grieves at Arts Centre Washington and Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens, building to the Development Artists devising and delivering their own sessions with the groups.
Holly says: “Throughout all my work as a community musician, one of the things I’m most passionate about is lifting up unheard voices and using music as a vehicle to connect with people, especially people who have been historically excluded. I do a lot of work with young people and one of the things that really interests me is the crossover between Youth Voice and working with people living with dementia – the need to listen, give space and respect, to create choices within your sessions, to find ways to communicate that caters to the individual. I’m really excited about the opportunity to develop these skills specifically to work with people living with dementia, their families and carers.”
Stephanie says: “The art I create is in response to the physical sensations I experience in my own body. It is quite a meditative and mindful process. I’m eager to build up a relationship and rapport with the group and learn what creative experiences they enjoy taking part in.
And to shadow and then assist two experienced artists during the workshop sessions is just the best way to learn.”
We will be keeping you updated with updates from Holly and Steph as the project progresses.
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Do you have a story to share? How have you unleashed creativity during lockdown? We would love to hear from you! Let us know of your creative ideas by emailing us at [email protected]
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