Youth voice, leadership and activism

Top Tips for co-creation with young people

27 April 2022

How do arts organisations collaborate with young people to authentically platform their voices, support their leadership and amplify their activism? Arts Award Consultant Jordana Golbourn, shares top tips for using Arts Award to support youth leadership.

With a growing youth activism movement, artists and organisations have to consider how to effectively support and amplify youth voices and share their skills and expertise to learn and develop alongside our young people. As part of our Arts Award programme I was joined by Gloucester Youth Community Action (GYCA) and Strike A Light to reflect on their co-created project I Stand for What I Stand On.

You can watch the full show here.

In this blog post, I will share key tips for an authentic co-creation that enables youth voices to be heard, and suggest how this project could lead to a Bronze Arts Award.

1. Forming Relationships

Taking time to form relationships is key. Invest time in getting to know the young people and what they really want to say with their work, as well as for them to build trust and confidence that you are the people they want to share it with. Too often, these participation projects work on the assumption that we are building this from nothing. It is important to get to know what the young people are already doing in terms of youth activism, leadership and voice and how you and this project can support and platform this. How can you work slower and with more depth to your relationships?

2. Non-Transactional Support

When Strike A Light’s collaboration with Gloucester Youth Community Action began, it was simply as an offer for space to hold their weekly meetings. There was no expectation to create a show or anything in return for this. When they met these young people protesting on the streets of Gloucester, Strike a Light reflected on what resource they had as a company to offer these young activists. What they had was spare space and money to buy them a loud speaker system so they could quite literally be heard. What can you and your organisation offer young people at every level of engagement?

3. Owning Expertise

In co-created work that platforms the stories and voices of the young people, it is important to interrogate who the experts are. In this case, the young people were absolute experts in activism, climate change and protests and the Strike a Light team learnt just as much about all of this as they shared their expertise as theatre makers. What do you want to learn from the young people you engage?

4. Challenging the Timeline

In the typical co-creation model we see with participation projects, a lot of decisions are made before the young people have even been met. Strike a Light are consistently challenging this model, notably on this project with how they engaged a director. After a period of time of GYCA using the office space weekly, they had an inspiring visit to Battersea Arts Centre for Youth Arts and Activism Symposium where they met other theatre makers using the artform to share their activism. It was on the mini bus home that they first expressed an interest in making a show and it was then that the young people led a recruitment process to engage a director to help them craft their activism into a show. They lead interviews and had the final decision on who to employ. How can you engage the participants in the decision-making processes of the project?

5. From the Streets to the Stage

If you’ve followed these tips, you are probably at the point of thinking how to literally take young people’s words from the streets onto the stage, and a technique used to develop I Stand for What I Stand On was freewriting. This is a process where participants are giving a prompt and encouraged to write whatever comes to mind in response- this could be a list of words, a poem, a song, a story, a letter or a combination of random thoughts and ideas. At this point, it’s not about writing something perfect, but getting out all the thoughts that are in your head. This text can then be edited and shaped to create a monologue, or perhaps everyone picks three of their favourite lines to shape into a collective group speech. A prompt used for I Stand for What I Stand On was ‘Things I’m not allowed to say….’ What prompts might enable your young people to express their thoughts on what you are exploring?

Bronze Arts Award Model

How then could, I Stand for What I Stand On have been used to enable the young people to achieve their Bronze Arts Award.

Part A: Explore Arts as a Participant

The young artists could make a video diary for workshops they participated in as part of the Youth Arts and Activism symposium at Battersea Arts Centre, or create a rehearsal journal of photos and written reflections documenting what art forms they are exploring, what skills they are developing, what they enjoyed and were challenged by and what they could do to improve.

Part B: Explore Art as an Audience Member

The young artists could write a review of the When it Breaks it Burns that they saw at Battersea Arts Centre and share these on their twitter page or the Strike a Light website.

Part C: Arts Inspiration

The young artists could interview their Director as part of the recruitment process to find out where they trained, what inspires them and what tools their use as a director to lead a co-created theatre making process.

Part D: Skill Share

The young artists could create their own rehearsal scripts, showing their blocking as well as dialogue. They could record their show and lead an audience Q&A post-show to unpick how they created it, what was most challenging for them and what they discovered about themselves whilst making the show. They could create vox pops with the audience to find out their feedback.

The flexible model of Arts Award would enable you to adapt this to fit your own projects.