By Steve Shaw, Paddington Arts – “How Do We Know It’s Any Good?”…

…is a fair question in relation to Youth Arts/ Community Arts/ Participatory Arts or any Art or Arts come to that.

Actually, we can ask the same question in relation to a film or a restaurant. We make the decision for ourselves, or listen to what our friends/people we trust/critics have to say.

We have to look at who is asking the question and why now?

I welcome a debate amongst practitioners, and, personally I would welcome a national Youth Arts Conference. The last one I remember was in 2001.

(BBoyz/girlz from Paddington Arts on Vimeo)

In terms of assessing quality we have to recognise the age-old debate ‘Process v Product.’ To me, and my organisation, both are equally important, but I know disagreement will follow, when I qualify this: Process and Product are both important, However, if pushed, then I would say I would put Product on 51% and Process at 49%.

I can offer criteria on which to make a qualitative assessment: for Process the most important aspect is engagement, and I could attend any activity session and give marks out of 10. Other criteria would be, to what extent do the ideas from the young people get incorporated; what is the relationship between the tutor and the young people, in particular ‘respect’ between them.

For Product, the criteria would be originality, interpretation, engagement/enthusiasm, inclusivity.

However, the most important advice I would give to funders would be: get out of the office and come and see the work (process and product). The most valuable evidence you can collect is by using your eyes and ears; a form, even if it runs to 100 pages with 1000 questions is still not going to provide you with the definitive proof you are hoping for. In fact, less is more. In my opinion, if a funder cannot discover the answers they are looking for in five questions, they are not going to find it in twenty.

Funders want reassurance and guarantees that their investment is going to produce the results they want. The great thing about working in this sector, is that young people and the arts are both unpredictable, and also what works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for another. All we can say is, look at our track record and experience, we know that what we do can transform lives, and help people in all sorts of ways.

If you want to measure the impact and evaluate our work, look at our core values, which have remained the same for more than twenty years, and decide for yourself if what is written on paper is reflected in our actions and in the lives of the young people who come through our doors.

Paddington Arts: Core Values – Access; Excellence; Education; Fun

Access means recognising, and attempting to remove, barriers to participation. We have a safe, friendly and fully accessible building. By having ‘open’ classes, and performing groups we offer young people a fully flexible approach to joining in on their own terms and at their own level. Young people are encouraged to make their own choices and commitment.

By Excellence we mean striving for the ‘best’ possible; to do one’s best; to work for oneself and for each other. Our members love to perform; and the drive to excel and produce top quality work in the arts, is not only an achievement for the individual and the group, but an inspiration for other young people in the audience.

All our work is Educational in the broadest sense. Performing arts develops the body and the mind, stretches the imagination as well as one’s limbs. Media skills are essential in today’s technological world, and it is important for young people to become producers as well as consumers. Learning social skills, developing an understanding of group dynamics, engaging with wider society is also be part of our programme. It is also important to remember that adults working with young people will also have a learning experience, as well as the other way round.

We believe that Fun is good! That people learn far more if they are enjoying themselves; that as well as offering hard work and qualifications, a ‘good time’ is both a motivation for ‘disaffected’ youth, and also an objective in itself, especially for those who have had more than their fair share of struggle and hardship.

Steve Shaw
Paddington Arts
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One Response to By Steve Shaw, Paddington Arts – “How Do We Know It’s Any Good?”…

  1. Phil Blume. Project Manager for websites in the social and cultural heritage sectors. says:

    I think Steve understates the importance of the work done by organisations like Paddington Arts. To me, the ‘product’ of what they can achieve with young people is measured in greater respect for the community, better citizenship, a pride in the neighbourhood they live in and, as a consequence, less inclination to burn it to the ground.

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