Going Places Festival: A Blueprint for Arts Institutions Everywhere?

On Wednesday 24th October - the official start of National Care Leavers Week 2018 - Battersea Arts Centre opened its doors for a week long festival celebrating the talent and work of care experienced artists, speakers, and creatives. Going Places Festival, named after Lemn Sissay’s poem of the same title, with its beautiful and heartbreaking image, “I think I’ll paint roads/on my front room walls/to convince myself/that I’m going places”. Lemn Sissay himself closed the festival with his brilliant new piece You Never See an Alien with an Afro, with an electrifying post-show conversation with Stewart Lee. Sandwiched in between were sharings by academic and writer Sally Bayley, and Observer Food Monthly editor and memoirist Allan Jenkins; performances from the extraordinary Bobbi Byrne, and Conrad Murray; and talks from social innovators including Emmanuel Akpan-Inwang. Oh, and Element young creatives were around throughout the week, exhibiting the artwork they made on Element projects, designing and delivering a kick-ass zine making workshop for both young people with experience of the care system, and professionals working within it. They engaged with the shows whilst also creating their own pieces of magic.

If you ever needed convincing that care leavers were talented, creative, thoughtful, and innovative, this remarkable line-up - all of whom have care experience - would just about do it, we reckon. Given the blatant talent on display, and the chock-a-block programming of the festival, it seems mind boggling that arts institutions up and down the country are not taking advantage of this national week of celebration, to programme their own festivals and events championing care leavers from their areas. NCLW is a great opportunity for raising the profile of the creative work young adults and adults with care experience achieve, opening up discussions and raising awareness, and demanding the best support for those still within the system to flourish and grow their own creative identities. Arts organisations are surely uniquely placed to do this: central to and influencers of their communities, the presentation of interesting, creative work from underrepresented groups is well within their remit. Where better to look? What more relevant discussion to have, and narrative to flip: care leavers are not the sum of the statistics we so often hear on the news. They are individuals with purpose and potential. They are young people - just like all other young people - in need of support, encouragement, and recognition. They are artists, forging their way in the world. This is what should be celebrated. This is what should be announced from the rooftops - all the time, but especially during NCLW.

The Element team has recently been awarded a grant from Esmee Fairbairn within their dedicated Leaving Care funding stream. It’s meant we’re able to think transformationally about Element’s future: its reach, progression, and focus. We’ve expanded our team, expanded our clients, and carry on experiencing first-hand the need for creative, enriching programmes supporting care leavers to be the best that they can be. Part of the joys of being part of the funding stream has been sharing learnings with some wicked organisations working with care leavers up and down the country. We had an incredible day in Derby last week at the Culture Cares Conference, run by Derby care leavers, who told us more about Derby’s award-winning Plus One scheme, Curious Monkey Theatre Company’s access work, and the theatre’s plans to implement and integrate even more voices from care within their programming. This weekend, we’re going to a special centenary production of War Horse, through the brilliant Young People’s Programme at the National Theatre. It’s so exciting to hear about arts institutions like these - and the BAC - working in genuinely inclusive, reflective, celebratory ways. Let these be the blueprint, and let’s see more!

Do you know other theatres/galleries/art spaces with innovative care leaver engagement? We’d love to hear! Tweet us or drop us a line.

Eloise Acland