A few days ago an invitation dropped into my inbox that was impossible to refuse. It was from the South London Gallery (SLG) inviting me to a Noise Summit. As a dedicated noisemaker there was no question about whether or not I should go.
So this afternoon Zoë, Leftwing Idiot and I headed over the road to the Gallery to take our seats for the Noise Summit – a symposium on young people and sound. The event set out to explore the sorts of noise children and young people make in public spaces and how noise-making in our cities defines social or anti-social behaviour.
The event was fascinating, with artists and young people talking about all sorts of projects relating to sound and public space. The Summit showcased the work of two artists Barby Asante and Tom White. Both had worked with children on local housing estates to make and record noise. It was interesting to hear about both the joys and challenges of doing this.
The SLG has a really interesting participation programme. It includes SLG Local, a community outreach project that goes way beyond what I’d usually expect of a gallery. I’ve been involved with the SLG on and off for several years as an artist, a playworker and a local resident. What’s always stood out is how genuinely they work with local people and the innovative approach they take to nurturing creativity and community.
I particularly enjoyed a presentation made by the Gallery’s Art Assassins, a group of young people who meet regularly to devise and undertake creative projects supported by the Gallery.
They talked about their recent 24-hour take-over of Resonance FM. They’d collaborated with arts facilitators, the Gallery staff and the station. What impressed me about their presentation wasn’t just the quality of what they’d done or their confidence in speaking about it in public, but how balanced their relationship seemed with the people who’d helped them. They weren’t speaking from a script or responding to questions, they were asking questions of each other, the audience and the Gallery.
Too often young people’s engagement with arts organisations is static or prescriptive and it’s all too easy for ‘community engagement’ to become an empty slogan rather than a meaningful relationship. But the SLG proves that when programmes like this are done well they can have a transformative effect for individuals, the organisation and the whole community.
The SLG’s engagement with local people makes it a more interesting gallery and a stronger creative force, just as the community’s made stronger and richer by the opportunities the Gallery offers.
In the spirit of the event I squealed and shouted “Biscuit” throughout the afternoon, without at any point feeling this wasn’t completely how it should be.