SUNDERLAND Culture has awarded two more artists New Encounters bursaries.
The bursary scheme was launched last year as a way to help artists from diverse or disabled communities realise their cultural ambitions. The artists are given bursaries and a mentor to help them gain experience in their chosen art forms.
The latest recipients are Steph Robson, an emerging spoken word artist, and Brent Marriner, a dancer.
Steph, who has dwarfism, plans to use the bursary to work on a new spoken word piece about her lived experience.
She said: “The piece won’t really about educating people, it will be about my own experiences and those of the dwarfism community. I like to add elements of humour to my writing, so it won’t be all serious, but I want to look at how society sees us – too often we’re described as inspirational or victims, but we have no real voice in that narrative and that’s what I want to bring out.”
Steph will be mentored by writer and poet Kirsten Luckens, and is considering a public performance of her piece once it is finished.
Originally from Teesside, Steph is an MA Radio graduate from University of Sunderland who writes the Hello Little Lady blog and was the photographer behind the You’re Just Little exhibition of pictures taken from her height perspective.
“That exhibition was a powerful way of getting our message across – we invited people from the UK-wide dwarfism community to send in their pictures and we had a great response.
“The bursary gives me another opportunity to raise the profile of the community and the challenges we face. It’s also about giving others in our community the confidence to find their voice.”
Brent has been dancing for about 15 years and will be working with mentor Connor Gribben on a breakdancing piece.
Brent, who has Down’s Syndrome, enjoys several forms of dance including breakdancing, modern, contemporary, ballet and street dancing.
He said: “I really enjoy dancing it makes me feel happy and gives me confidence, although before I perform I can feel nervous.”
He has weekly classes at dance and performing arts company Tin Arts in Durham and also attends The Twisting Ducks theatre company at Arts Centre Washington. Brent also used to be part of Braena, a community dance company co-directed by disabled and non-disabled dancers.
Brent’s mum, the Rev Jacqui Tyson, who is an Associate Priest at Sunderland Minster, added: “Connor is part of The Lawnmowers Independent Theatre Company, who are from Newcastle and who specialise in working with people with disabilities.
“The aim of the bursary is to increase the experience and broaden the horizons of performers and that’s exactly what it will do for Brent. Bursaries of this type are really important for disabled dancers, giving them opportunities and experiences without them having to pay.”
Helen Green, Head of Performance at Sunderland Culture, said: “We want to nurture artists from all of Sunderland’s diverse communities, and our New Encounters bursary scheme helps us do that through supporting brilliant people like Steph and Brent.
“We look to provide a wrap-around package of support to our bursary recipients so that’s why we provide a mentor to each artist. Where appropriate we’ll also provide space for rehearsals, recording and performance space if required.”