Inclusion Through Art

Mara Lockowandt received her PhD from Royal Holloway, University of London in 2012, and has been working with us for the past four months thanks to a grant from the AHRC. As well as the research she writes about here, she ran a course at the College of North West London using Drama to teach literacy to young people with basic English literacy.

How can participatory arts be effectively utilised to increase young people's critical thinking, communication skills and integration into host communities?


What ethical issues do organisations and facilitators need to be aware of before embarking on the development of participatory arts initiatives?

For the past several months I have been working with RSN on addressing these questions as part of an AHRC CulturalEngagement Post-Doctoral Research project in collaboration with Royal Holloway, University of London. Inclusion through Art: an organisation guideline to using the participatory arts with young refugees and asylum seekers' is the culminating report.

I have drawn upon the wealth of contemporary materials on using the participatory arts with young refugee and asylum seekers to highlight some of the crucial political, ethical and social issues involved in these projects, and offer practical recommendations for organisations seeking to develop robust and holistic participatory arts projects. 'Inclusion through art' offers a unique addition to the current debates on participatory arts as the guideline examines a number of different mediums including photography, drama, creative learning, and digital projects.

Here, specific challenges and recommendations for each medium are addressed in an effort to ensure organisations have a wide range of tools and techniques for undertaking the planning, delivery and evaluation of participatory art projects. In particular, the guideline raises critical concerns regarding the relationship between participatory arts and political advocacy.

For young refugees and asylum seekers who face a multitude of issues surrounding resettlement, overcoming traumatic experiences and combating negative stereotypes, participatory activities can be an important step in appreciating their unique skills and building their confidence to tackle some of the problems they face. As Dr. Jen Couch from the Australian Catholic University notes:

Participation can be a vital and powerful ingredient in helping refugee young people change their often very negative images of themselves and, in the process, raise their sense of self-esteem. Involving young people actively as participants might help them to value themselves as people who are contributing both to their families and wider society. 

According to Couch, and echoed in much of the contemporary literature on refugees and the arts, participatory activities may increase the commitment of the young people, positively contributing to young people's self-image, enhance young people's resilience, change social attitudes towards refugee young people, and increase young people's independence and integration into new social and cultural systems.

For RSN, this research project will be jump-starting a new creative programming initiative, as they are starting a participatory photography project, 'Captured', working with young people aged 16-25 who are facing difficulties accessing higher education due to their immigration status. 

Here, young people will be using a range of exercises, discussions, and games to creatively share opinions and perspectives on education and integration in the UK. ‘Inclusion through Art’ offers an important step for RSN and similar organisations to take crucial steps in using the arts when working with young refugees and asylum seekers.

Mara works as a research and evaluation consultant and manager of creative learning projects. To find out more about Mara and her work, go to her website, find her on Google +, or follow her on Twitter @mlockowandt.



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