Earlier this year we launched a new Emerging Artists Placement which offered early-career artists the opportunity to develop meaningful skills as participatory arts practitioners.
The three-month placement consisted of in-person training sessions in Art for Wellbeing and workshop planning and delivery, independent work, shadowing established artists and online sessions including: website building, networking and budgeting which were also opened up to the wider sector. We hoped to remove some of the barriers early-career artists face when accessing a career in the arts and thanks to funding from Arts Council England were able to offer fixed-term contracts, paying individuals for all their training and delivery.
Two of our Emerging Artists, Sky and Beth were supported to design and deliver their own workshop at this year’s Darnhill Festival – a large scale cultural event that attracts audiences of up to 2,000 people from the local community. We asked them both to give us some feedback on their experiences.
Sky Byrne is a fantastic non-binary artist who started out as a poet and spoken word artist before moving on to painting, drawing and, more recently, creative wood burning. You can see some of their art on Instagram here.
I'm a multidisciplinary artist. I dabble in poetry, painting, drawing, pyrography and whatever takes my fancy. I like to blend these disciplines in my practice. I take inspiration from nature, community, my queer experiences, and being neuro-divergent.
When I first saw the advert for the Emerging Artists programme I was not very confident in my status as an artist. After a while of hemming and hawing about it I decided to bite the bullet and apply. To my surprise I was invited to interview which, with a great deal of anxiety, I attended - I figured I had nothing to lose.
Though I was very nervous I immediately had the impression that the staff at Cartwheel are very warm people who want nothing but to prop up and support artists and the community. They were very encouraging and listened intently. Again to my surprise I was accepted. This experience would sum up all my time working with Cartwheel. It's always so refreshing and comforting when first impressions remain true.
As I began attending the wonderful workshops which were leading up to Darnhill Festival my confidence grew. We learned about the basics of Art For Wellbeing, planning and facilitation, and we got to shadow a participatory artist working in the community.
On a lovely warm day, I set off to Our Lady and St Pauls Primary School in Heywood, again with much anxiety, to shadow Jo Foley as she led a craft session with Year 1 children making decorations for bikes in preparation for Darnhill Festival. Jo was incredibly knowledgable and helpful. She made me feel right at home, and told me about what it was like to be a working participatory artist. I relaxed into it and, as the kids piled into the room and we explained what we'd be doing, seeing the smiles on their excited little faces as they began making their paper flowers and curiously asking questions left me with a great amount of joy.
I felt very much that I was doing something I had a passion for. That is one of the biggest things I've taken from the Emerging Artists programme - experiencing the work and knowing that in practice I truly love it and find it fulfilling and exciting.
During the lead up to Darnhill Festival I was again very nervous about my ability to come up with a workshop and deliver it to so many people, but as I have said before all the people at Cartwheel were extremely supportive and encouraging. Working with the other Emerging Artists we all developed our workshops and encouraged each other's creative process and ideas. When it came down to it I decided to do a workshop on Mycellial Networks as a way to talk about the importance of community and resource sharing by dyeing string with the community and creating a network on the day.
The network represented how everybody in the community was connected to each other and how they could lean on one another for support. Though there are things I maybe would have done differently, I again felt that sense of vocation and passion, and that I had learned about being an artist practicing in the community.
On top of all the experience and support I got from the programme Cartwheel Arts also delivered very practical sessions for us to attend. We were given Safeguarding, Equality Diversity Inclusion, and Health and Safety training. These certificates are essential for being a participatory artist and working with groups of people. We were also given crash courses in budgeting, marketing, and building a website that is fit for purpose. These workshops ensured that as we finished the programme we would have the knowledge of how to continue as freelance artists. It was wonderful to know that Cartwheel were thinking about sustainability, that they see value in our work and wanted us to continue working even beyond our engagement with them.
Overall the Emerging Artists programme has been fun, exciting, and a great learning experience. It has shown me that I have value as an artist and I truly have a passion for being one. It has emboldened my sense of confidence and given me valuable skills I will take forward into the rest of my artistic life and practice.
If the Emerging Artists programme runs again I would encourage anybody who has even the faintest idea that it might be for them to apply. You will be supported and encouraged all the way, while learning invaluable skills and gaining great allies. Thank you to everybody at Cartwheel Arts for all your support and care.