Discovering, rewarding and recognising creative potential
BY: Guest Writer
01 Aug 2022
We hear from Alex Rees, Creative Learning Lead at UCAN Productions, a performance and creative arts co-operative for blind and partially sighted children and young people, based in Cardiff. Established in 2005, they are a not-for-profit arts company existing to develop confidence and life skills in vision-impaired young people. Alex tells us how Arts Award has enabled their young members to unlock their creative potential, personalities and confidence as well as improving their general engagement with life.
A good fit
Last year, UCAN began its pilot phase of delivering Arts Award. I was quickly surprised at what a good fit it was for us, and at the positive responses of early members who tried it. It became clear that this is an excellent framework to fit around the work we already do.
So many young people don't have a great experience with learning; the academic model truly does not fit everyone. This is certainly true of many of our vision-impaired members. So often there is great creative potential which doesn't always get discovered or rewarded, yet this really can be the key to unlocking a person’s personality, confidence and engagement with life.
'A new lease of life'
This is how 24-year-old SK described his experience of doing his Bronze Arts Award. A few years ago, SK was an accomplished and talented young rapper. During the pandemic, an ongoing health condition led to significant loss of hearing, causing his confidence and wellbeing to plummet. He also lives with sight loss.
Then he met UCAN Productions and got back in the recording studio. As part of his Bronze Arts Award, SK learned how to get back to recording, now with cochlear implants. Within months he was performing at open mic nights around Cardiff and organising his press pack and photoshoots. He is inspirational.
Life skills and recognition
At UCAN, we are big believers in creative learning, ways of working which inspire collaboration, communication, persistence, imagination, leadership - skills for all aspects of life.
Recognition for even small achievements can be quite profound too. TN is a great example - his Bronze Arts Award covered music, song composition, and music software. The artist he chose to research was his favourite band - The Beatles. Together he and I watched a documentary, and recorded ourselves talking about his observations. I quickly realised that his knowledge of The Beatles was already bordering on encyclopaedic - he already seemed to know more than the documentary, in one case telling me about the tie a certain person was wearing on the day of a particular event.
And yet by 'normal' educational standards, he had not done well and found it hard to engage. Why should he not be recognised for his deep knowledge of guitars, song writing and classic rock? He certainly knew more than me.
It's also interesting to note that when I mentioned that we would 'research' The Beatles, he began to stiffen and glaze over - the word had so many negative associations for him. I backtracked and redefined it as simply 'finding out about' - he relaxed, and we were on our way.
Do something exciting
We are now raising funds and ramping up our Arts Awards delivery, running Discover, Explore, Bronze and Silver so far. We have members starting their Silver Arts Award, which clearly holds exciting potential for growing leadership skills, something we are very interested in.
Used appropriately, Arts Award can inspire young people but also give them a real stretch. As David Bowie said ‘Always go a little further into the water than you feel you’re capable of being in. Go a little bit out of your depth. And when you don’t feel that your feet are quite touching the bottom, you’re just about in the right place to do something exciting’. We think that you can build this into Arts Award and give support and structure for the learners to really start to step up, get focused and get cracking.
Photos by UCAN Productions