Summer Arts College

In summer 2016 Engage Cymru piloted Arts Award projects with young offenders at Parc Prison in Bridgend and Hillside Secure Unit in Neath. The 14 offenders who took part all achieved a Bronze level award, which for many was the first qualification they had ever achieved. Pip Lewis from spacetocreate was the lead artist at Parc Prison, working with Simone Bizell-Browning.

Unitas who run Summer Arts Colleges for young offenders in England and Wales, provided training for the artists involved, which focused on understanding and preventing non-productive behaviours, safeguarding and challenges to engagement in the arts. In addition, the artists involved had undertaken their Arts Award advisor training and were familiar with learning outcomes from previous Engage programmes supporting vulnerable young people including Visual Roots and Envision.

The flexible nature of Arts Award allowed for a bespoke approach to completing the tasks and incorporated the young people’s interests from the outset. Ice-breaker activities included ‘five-minute’ sculptures, logo design and quick-fire activities to highlight the range of mediums to choose from.

The Bronze award requires young people to collect evidence of their experience with an artform in an individual art log or portfolio. In addition, they have to attend an arts event, research the work of an artist who inspires them, and pass on a skill they have learnt to their peers.

Leaving the secure setting to attend an arts event was not an option. Instead, the artists had to bring the art to them, which they did via virtual tours of gallery exhibitions and screening a selection of contemporary art films and videos.

With restrictions on tools and materials, the artists had to be resourceful and ingeniously devised ways to engage the young people using the most simple of resources. For example, as scissors were contraband, they experimented with paper ripping to create Matisse-like collages. Without access to the internet, the young people relied on art catalogues, magazines and other printed matter that the artists brought in to satisfy the research element.

The learning from these projects was shared at a recent Unlocking Potential training event run by Engage Cymru, where Dusty Kennedy, Head of Youth Justice Board Wales, highlighted the potential power of the arts to turn young peoples’ lives around:

“The opportunities for really meaningful engagement with some of our most troubled but potentially creative young people are clear… We in Youth Justice Board Wales want to work with the relevant national bodies to develop a national strategic approach to capturing this energy.”