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Who’s who: Siobhan

Hi Siobhan! Maybe you could start by telling us a bit about yourself. What were you up to before you joined Artsadmin?

Hello! Before I joined Artsadmin I was working with male adult prisoners. I worked one-to-one as well as delivering programmes to prepare them for release. The men I worked with were three months away from being back in the community and the programme aimed to support them to make positive plans.

Before this I worked for arts organisations such as LIFT, Frantic Assembly and FreeWord. I loved working at these amazing organisations but I knew I wanted to work with marginalised groups and vulnerable people so I decided to get some experience in a non-arts and public sector contexts. This was important to me as I really felt that I needed to gain an understanding of what day-to-day experience is like for the groups I wanted to work with. I went to Tanzania and delivered an employability skills programme, I then came back to the UK and worked in education settings, homelessness and mental health charities and in prisons, which I loved. My dream was to combine these worlds and get back into the arts to work with vulnerable people and communities. And that’s what I am planning to do with the Education programme at Artsadmin.

What particularly excited you about working with Artsadmin?

I’ve always loved the work that Artsadmin does. What excites me is our capacity to work across many different art forms, to celebrate the art that doesn’t quite fit into one label. The answer is never ‘no’ at Artsadmin, it’s ‘how could we make that work?’ We are risk taking. We are bold. Working with the groups I want to work with in an arts context can be challenging – I think Artsadmin is the perfect fit for this type of work.

Coming up, which artists and groups are you working with?

We’ve got lots of exciting things coming up – a project on masculinity, hopefully more work with schools and I will be returning to prisons with Take Up Space.

Take Up Space is a performance poetry project delivered by an amazing artist called Joshua Idehen. This project is happening at H M Prison Thameside and Young Offenders Institute Feltham. The young men will be exploring how we act differently depending on the physical and emotional spaces we inhabit. Whether at work, at home, on the street, in a nightclub, or in prison, our environment and the people around us dictates a lot of what we do and how we act. These groups of men are in a very unusual environment, being in custody has an enormous effect on mental health and wellbeing and hopefully through this programme, they can explore who they are in different spaces and who they want to be when they are released from prison.

What has the response been like so far?

The response has been brilliant. We have waiting lists in both prisons, as our groups are full. There is a real mix of participants, some of them write lyrics and are known on the wings as rappers and others who tell me they do not like poetry but are willing to give it a go! I am excited to see how the groups form and what support I can give in the run up to the sharing of the work.

You’re re-launching the Artsadmin Youth Board with a brand new event this November. For those who don’t know, who are the Youth Board and what do they do?

The Youth Board is a group of young creatives aged 16-25 years old. We currently have ten members, all from different backgrounds and different parts of London. The Youth Board produces arts events and support each other to develop their creative practices. They are the young voice of Artsadmin.

We are currently planning an event to celebrate ten years of the Youth Board. (TEN) PERAMENTAL will take place on 16 November. The evening will be full of performances by members of the board. Expect live art, some digital work, there will also be live drawing on the night. It will be a real party!

What are your hopes for the Youth Board’s future?

In the future I hope we continue to diversify the Youth Board. It would be great to get more local young people involved, people who live nearby but have maybe not visited Toynbee Studios before. I would also hope that people see the Youth Board as a space for trying things out, making mistakes, learning… it is for anyone who is interested in the arts. You don’t have to think of yourself as an artist to be involved! 

So a lot of the projects we’ve spoken about are above and beyond compulsory school education. How do you feel about the way in which art is being taught in schools in the UK currently?

I think teachers do an amazing job. Schools are under increasing pressure with the focus on data and assessments and so, unfortunately, the arts are side lined and undervalued. I think you can use art to teach any subject! We need more performance and live art opportunities for all children in all schools. I remember when a theatre in education company came to my school, I didn’t know it then but to this day I still remember how it made me feel – that is so powerful. Pulling out a box of crayons and saying to a group of nine year olds ‘this is your art class’ is not exciting.

How can arts organisations and individual artists work with schools?

For me as an arts practitioner, it is about listening to the school and understanding that they are really up against it in terms of securing grades and standards. We can’t just swoop in with an arts project and save the day! You have to be flexible to the needs of the school and also to the curriculum. It’s about asking how you can fit in, how your project can work within the limitations of the school. Basically, it’s a question of listening and being as flexible as possible.

Education for young people is just one piece of the puzzle. What does education mean to you more broadly?

Education to me means listening more. I don’t think that as a society we are listening to one another. Tolerance, opening up dialogues, being able to debate and have critical thought and self-expression are at the core of education. I don’t think that many of us are getting taught that at a young age, so it’s no wonder that we’re in a situation where such a select group of people are running our country. They are the people who have always been told that their voice matters. True education is listening to everyone and trying to understand other people’s point of view. We have to keep the conversation going, talk to people who don’t agree with you! That’s the only way we can move forward.

Want to chat with Siobhan about her future plans for Artsadmin’s Education programme? Drop her an email on