Message from the Chair

by Katrina Kurowski, Chair

I am so proud of our Charity. This year the Valley and Vale Community Arts team has facilitated another vibrant programme of creative, transformational and high quality opportunities for people that are disadvantaged, at the margins of society, at risk, vulnerable, or hard to reach; we have reached them, engaged them, and worked hard to sustain this work. Thank you to our talented creative facilitators, development workers, Director, admin team and Board of Directors. Thank you also to all our funders who believe in the work and enable us to keep on doing it with so many amazing and inspiring people every year.

As a Community Arts organisation, our core funding from The Arts Council of Wales and Bridgend County Borough Council is the essential foundation upon which we are able to build and develop our projects to offer creativity as a way of improving the quality of so many people’s lives throughout South Wales and beyond. In the current financial climate we are aware that funding for the Arts is extremely tight and is competing against funding for other Sectors such as Health, Education and Criminal Justice. We believe however that our creative programmes add benefit to many fundamental and strategic programmes that offer life changing opportunities for a wide range of people in our communities. Our partnerships across many Sectors increase the value of our creative opportunities, adding both support and sustainability, and also increasing the positive impacts for the people we work with.

Highlights for me this year have included:

In the ‘Creativity for Wellbeing’ programme – ‘Up for It’, a Youth Drama piece which was commissioned by Healthy Schools Bridgend for presentation at a Substance Misuse Training Day for young people in Bridgend at the Hi-Tide in March 2014; the Active Age project, developed in partnership with Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Health Board and with Valleys2Coast (V2C), working creatively with older people in the Bridgend area and offering visual arts and crafts, dance and movement activities in a range of settings; Barnardo’s Cymru Seraf Service partnership launches of the ‘Hear Our Voice’ and ‘Building Bridges, Here to Listen’ projects, celebrating exhibitions and work created with us by young people, using creative approaches to support them in dealing with their trauma. This work was developed with Barnardo’s Cymru Seraf Service in association with the Cardiff Council Cultural Scheme, The Arts Council of Wales, the Welsh Government, South Wales Police, and Bawso; #noblurredlines – a powerful theatre performance and participatory theatre project addressing issues of sexual consent and compliance, funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and supported by The Arts Council of Wales and Bridgend County Borough Council; ‘Where are the Boys?’ – a Children in Need project that creatively explored issues of sexual abuse with boys; our Person-Centred Creativity Programme delivered throughout the year under the Social Care Workforce Development Programme, working with managers and care staff teams in Day Services, Residential and Domiciliary settings, as well as adults with mental health issues and a wide range of groups.

In the ‘Cultural Connections’ programme – a new ‘Girl Talk’ initiative, building skills, cultural connections and positive role models for girls, developed with a first exchange visit for Valley and Vale Community Arts and Gem TV to Maji Moto in Kenya; a ‘Make it Happen’ International Women’s Day event event that bought together people from Kenya, Ethiopia, Wales and Bristol who are working to improve the rights of women in their communities; we supported ’I am a Woman’ – an integrated dance collaboration between Dance Development Workers Jessie Brett (UK) and Meseret Girga (Adugna, Ethiopia), creating a new contemporary dance show performed by five female disabled and non-disabled dancers from the UK and Ethiopia; and we welcomed Anke, who came to us having just finished her studies as a Social Worker in Darmstadt, Germany, for an internship to develop her knowledge and skills in creativity and Community Arts practice; Czech Us Out film project took place at Eastmoors Community Education Centre in Cardiff, funded by Film Nation UK and The Arts Council of Wales; and we supported a visit to Wales by DESTINO Dance Company from Ethiopia, who taught many dance workshops across Cardiff and Bridgend.

In our ‘Creative Communities’ programme – we facilitated a successful outdoor learning ‘training the trainers’ course with our ‘The Raven in the Woods’ programme; our annual creative summer arts projects for local children were a huge success; Taking Flight Theatre Company brought the magical world of Shakespeare to the families of Betws; Young Promoters drama projects worked with support from The Arts Council of Wales and Bridgend County Borough in local venues; Betws Community Choir continued to thrive, creating their own sense of direction as well as supporting the celebrations and charities of different groups of people during the year; and we facilitated another wide range of Community Arts projects across South Wales, working with people of all ages, supported by The Arts Council of Wales and Bridgend County Borough CouncilFamilies First, Communities First, Barnado’s Cymru, The Bridge Alternative Curriculum project, Film Nation, and The Esmée Fairbairn foundation.

We have a reputation for being pro-active and dynamic in our commitment to both the creation and development of the Arts, and especially for bringing creativity into areas of life and to people that others may not reach or engage. We believe in, and strive towards, enabling  ” … arts that reach out and touch us; arts that ignite our imagination and creativity; arts that challenge us to search for a better understanding of our being and the world around us.” (“Strive to excel…” A Quality Framework for Developing and Sustaining the arts in Wales, Arts Council of Wales)

Our creative programmes and workshops are fundamentally about inspiration. The effect on the participants is life-transforming. We set out to challenge assumptions and the participants are able to overcome personal barriers, organisational barriers, and cyclical and often negative behavioural patterns. In every training programme and workshop, individuals, groups and institutions are challenged, inspired and enabled to integrate these creative life-changing experiences into their lives. In the workshops individuals are enabled to collaborate and mutually support in ways which seem often impossible before the workshop begins.

One of our key aims and proven achievements is in the ability of our creative workshops to inspire and motivate our participants; this is of high importance, because many of the people we work with come to our projects or training sessions with low self-esteem, low confidence levels, and so being motivated through the creative process is extremely life-changing and inspiring. This new feeling of a possible and positive self image and identity can help participants move towards more pro-active life choices that might include re-connecting with education, further education, developing increased social networks, taking on new challenges, continuing with creativity, more creative and less inhibited thinking, and also increasing employability.

We have a track record of tried and proven successes since our establishment in 1981, and we will continue to build on these in the years ahead. We aim to be flexible enough to develop and learn, to take new but assessed risks, to be spontaneous, to learn from the work, to be reflective in our practice, to make new partners to add value to the work, to continue to seek new funding sources for the work, and at all times, seek to be relevant in the work that we do. We will continue to invest in our staff CPD, as well as ensuring that employ the highest quality team members to take the work forward.

As a passionate and energetic advocate for the arts and specifically for the power and value of Community Arts, we also aim to demonstrate the impact of our work in a range of ways, including dissemination via our website, publications, new e-books, new mobile phone and web apps, sharing and performances of the arts works created, attending and showcasing our work at relevant conferences, events and gatherings across Wales, the UK and internationally. It is vital for us to disseminate the outcomes of our work, to promote the impact and to create a wider social impact, as well as celebrating the successes and benefits to wellbeing that Community Arts can bring – transforming and changing lives into the future.

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