Case Study - Young at Art

Young at Art is one of Northern Ireland's leading children's arts not-for-profit companies and home of the Belfast Children's Festival and Young at Art Events.

Young at Art aims to provide children and young people from all backgrounds with access to, and education in, arts and cultural activities. It promotes work of artistic value in different artforms, promotes international cultural exchange and supports local artists to develop their understanding and skills in working for and with children and young people.

With the principal benefit of its work being the contribution to children and young people’s imaginative wellbeing, creativity and cultural access, we recently talked with Kelly Anne Collins, General Manager at Young at Art, about their role in providing benefit to society through the arts.

Young at Art exists to provide children and young people from all backgrounds with access to, and education in, arts and cultural activities. It promotes work of artistic value in different artforms, promotes international cultural exchange and supports local artists to develop their understanding and skills in working for and with children and young people.

The principal benefit of the work of Young at Art is to contribute to children and young people’s imaginative wellbeing, creativity and cultural access. Indirectly, our programmes and services also support their wellbeing, education, realisation of their skills and potential, and enhances the capacity of adults around them to support their entitlement to cultural participation and creative expression.

The primary beneficiaries of the work carried out by Young at Art are children and young people in Northern Ireland, however the secondary beneficiaries include parents, families, teachers and carers, emerging artists, and children and young people outside Northern Ireland.

We engage with, on average, 20,000 children, young people and adults per year, primarily through the Belfast Children’s Festival as our Education & Engagement programme.

Our current work is carried out through 7 employed roles however in 20/21, we also provided work for up to 300 artistic and other freelancers. The past year has been somewhat stanage in trms of volunteers however under normal circumstances we normally have approximately 40 volunteer roles including Festival volunteers, student placements and Board Members.

Although the primary public benefit that Young at Art provide is the promotion of arts and culture, our services also helps to tackle poverty and disadvantage as well as deliver education, skills and learning.

Young at Art is NI’s leading arts provider for children and young people. We produce the annual Belfast Children’s Festival. In 2022, the Festival will include 9 days of programming including ‘hand picked’ international and the best local performances, exhibitions, talks and events for all the family, not just children/young people, including theatre, dance, music, comedy, visual arts, literature and immersive/interactive activities. The festival includes a stream of industry events focusing on key issues in arts for children/young people.

Belfast Children’s Festival 2021 Highlights video



In addition to the festival, Young at Art have developed an Education & Engagement Programme comprised of arts-based interventions. As part of this programme we run a series of projects including but not limited to:

· Creative Child: building confidence, imagination, critical-appraisal skills through child-led, process-based drama/dance/visual art workshops and performance visits targeting nursery schools in areas of high-deprivation. Programme also offered in Irish.

· Creative Teacher: supporting teachers to build pupils’ critical thinking, targeting primary schools in areas of high-deprivation

· Visual Arts Engagement Programme: connecting schoolchildren to the visual arts exhibitions and equipping them with skills/techniques to creatively respond to them.

Our Continuing Professional Development programme for Teachers, Student Teachers, Artists and Facilitators supports children’s creativity by developing the confidence and skills of artists/facilitators/teachers/student teachers in child-led arts delivery. Through our Interns and Volunteers Programme, we provide work placements for students, paid internships for graduates/post-graduates and volunteering opportunities for students and young adults.

In addition, we are engaged to develop bespoke arts-based interventions/activities that allow for participants to explore issues, articulate and express their own experiences and develop skills using the visual, literary, and performing arts.

Based in Belfast, our services are delivered primarily to the Greater Belfast area although our bespoke services are available for offer across Northern Ireland. Festival events are delivered from venues, non-traditional and public spaces located across Belfast. Our Education & Engagement programmes are delivered through schools in areas of high deprivation across Belfast. All of our activity in the past has been delivered in person. In 20/21, our entire Festival and Education & Engagement programme was delivered online through live streaming and pre-recorded films. While we hope to be able to return to live, in person delivery in 21/22, should circumstances require, we will adopt a hybrid or fully online model of delivery.

Creative Child

A great example of how our work provides public benefit is the Creative Child project. This project has been implemented throughout some of Belfast's areas of highest deprivation, supporting children/young people and the adults around them to lead more creative lives and contribute to their imagination, personal skills development and well-being. 

From our experience working in these schools, we know the children face many challenges at home including, family members with mental health issues, alcohol misuse, drug addiction, poor nutrition, lack of routine at home, language/cultural barriers for 'Newcomer' pupils.

Even before Covid-19, Save the Children NI evidenced that children from the poorest 20% of the population are 17 months behind in their early language development by three years old. Due to the pandemic, the learning delay encountered by young people from the poorest households will only be exacerbated, and there will likely be a greater imperative for building back up their self-confidence and resilience by providing them with tangible, creative development opportunities.

The Creative Child programme comprises of a series of eight carefully devised arts-based engagements for participants, including:

  • A pre-festival drama session and visual art workshop;
  • A visit to a live performance during the Belfast Children's Festival ;
  • A post-show conversation with the cast;
  • A post-festival unpacking session for both the drama and visual arts workshops; and
  • Accompanied by a teacher's resource pack and a 'prop box' designed to be tailored around the performance.

These steps help to create an all-encompassing experience that allows children to fully engage with a performance they would usually not have access to; and to develop, reflect, and express their feeling around their new and lived experiences, while being supported by Artist Facilitators at each stage of the process.

Focusing on the value of the children's ideas and creative contribution, the workshops provided participants with the confidence to play, explore, imagine, express, laugh, enjoy, question.

For 'Newcomer' pupils with language barriers, the project enabled them to take a full role within the class, forging stronger relationships with fellow pupils, leading to increased confidence in class and increasing their capacity to learn.

Although children and young people are the primary beneficiaries, the project also supported the adults in the children's lives. It encouraged an increase in creativity in the classroom, enabling teachers to learn new techniques and helping the children's development.

In previous projects, teachers have reported improved attention spans and behaviour, increased participation, greater empathy, listening and communication, openness to new ideas and problem-solving. 

Testimonies about the Young at Art 'Creative Child' project

Teachers have noted that children who would previously have dreaded entering the classroom and had a severe lack of social and expressive confidence experienced a boost by immersing themselves in the drama projects. Both parents and teachers also reported higher creativity and confidence in verbal expression and storytelling, with imaginative ‘think-outside-the-box’ approaches and attitudes being used more frequently by pupils.

“Each child is allowed to be an individual and their opinions and ideas are always valued by the YAA team. This has encouraged us as teachers to be more open ended in our teaching, think more creatively and try to be less prescriptive.”​

“We have a different language used at home however I noticed an improvement in English language vocabulary, she used many new and different words like rocket and astronaut.”

“[Creative Child is] invaluable for teachers to see how each child engages and the use of their imagination.”

[Children] felt important to adults, that what they said and their ideas mattered and counted for something – this made them much more confident in sharing ideas and thoughts.”

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