Making the arts accessible for all

No one should face barriers to education – and it’s why the Royal Conservatoire believes people from all walks of life should reach their full potential.

“Education has been my saviour. It brings order amongst the chaos.” For Hannah, being in care meant it wasn’t always easy to prioritise her studies. “It’s important that people recognise how difficult it can be to learn in a care setting. Why should the average young person who stays with their parents have a better educational experience than those of us who don’t?”

Hannah is part of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland’s Transitions programme, which provides care experienced students, and students from postcodes within multiple deprivation areas, with training and tailored support and mentoring in their chosen art form. Education, she says, offers structure and is something she has a choice about: “Out of all the education that I’ve been through, RCS has been the most understanding. Through RCS, I’ve expanded my social circle and built a creative network.”

Jethro was 15 when his family life broke down. He moved in with his brother and met with a Transitions co-ordinator and is also now studying at RCS.

“I don’t feel like I’d be who I am if it wasn’t for RCS. No one should ever feel isolated or that they’re on their own. I know the co-ordinators would do anything for us, it’s such a big emotional support.”

The Royal Conservatoire is a corporate parent, a public body named in law as having responsibilities to young people who are looked after and care experienced. Currently, there are 18 self-declared care experienced students across the institution.

“Everybody has a right to the same education,” says Jesse Paul, Fair Access Manager at RCS. “There is a whole group of people in Scotland who are at a disadvantage in terms of access to the arts either because they can’t afford it or it’s not part of their general experience. We work with MCR Pathways, a school-based mentoring programme, and Who Cares? Scotland to recruit care experienced people to our Transitions programme. The students have one-to-one support and a named person that works with them, and we’re beginning to see some really positive results.”

Corporate parenting is just one of the many ways in which Jesse and her team make higher education accessible for all. Fair Access provides pathways to the arts for young people from all over Scotland, whether it’s offering e-learning to music students in Benbecula and Stornoway who can’t travel to Glasgow for tuition, opening up performance and production opportunities to primary and secondary school pupils or delivering specialist strings and ballet tuition in a partnership with The Prince’s Foundation at Dumfries House.

“Our regional arts hub at Dumfries House, in collaboration with The Prince’s Trust, offers Junior Conservatoire programmes in Music (Strings) and Modern Ballet. We collaborate with East Ayrshire Council which, encouraged by the progression pipeline, has continued to provide every primary school pupil with a stringed instrument as part of their Youth Music Initiative funding and more than 600 pupils are learning to play. The Junior Conservatoire at Dumfries House has 42 music students and 11 dance students and our activity saw us recognised in the final of The Herald Higher Education Awards this year.”

There are nine music centres in Dumfries and Galloway, North Ayrshire, Stirling and West Lothian that deliver instrumental instruction, ensemble opportunities and practical musicianship classes to more than 500 children and young people aged five to eighteen every week.

“We have a duty as a national institution to widen access to arts tuition, to get young people to a level to apply for not just our institution, but other universities and colleges, RCS is brilliant at that, from the Principal down. Everybody believes that young people who have talent and potential people need a fair shot.” says Jesse.

This year, outreach work has increased including a Pre-Juniors dance project at Corpus Christi RC primary school in Glasgow: “It’s a fine example of how early intervention outreach can impact positively on recruiting to pre-Higher Education programmes,” says Jesse.

“Dance tutor Lottie Barker worked with 15 young people over three terms. Seven auditioned for our Pre-Juniors programme and one was successful in gaining a place, which is a great achievement as they had never done ballet before. It gave pupils an insight into the arts and an art form that was deemed inaccessible to them and has given the school confidence to introduce the arts and continue. That’s part of our mission. It’s impossible for us to deliver everything ourselves but we can plant those seeds of creativity and watch them grow.”

At St Albert’s Primary School in Pollokshields, a team of artists delivered an interdisciplinary project that brought together RCS production staff and music and performance graduates.

“The pupils staged a production and did everything from designing the set to the sound and lighting and the entire school and their families came to watch. It was a wonderful way to raise awareness of the creative industries,” says Jesse.”

That collaborative aspect was also mirrored in Transitions’ Experimentation Playground in August, an interdisciplinary piece designed to develop transferrable skills as well as performance-making skills.

On the digital front is an exciting new project with Scottish Youth Theatre, Now You See Me, to create new work and connect communities and artists across Scotland, from Glasgow to Shetland. Aspiring, emerging and experienced artists who are people of colour, will explore and share practice in filmmaking, music production, spoken word and new writing. Each location will create digital gems for online consumption to inspire and inform further new work.

The idea came from our joint 2017 symposium, Where you Fae? Where we Gaun?, which explored equality and identity in the performing arts,” says Jesse.“It’s part of a long-term partnership between us and Scottish Youth Theatre to create better pipelines for a more diverse Scottish arts sector.”

Elsewhere, Fair Access’ Widening Access to the Creative Industries (WACI) works with senior pupils from 37 FOCUS West schools in Glasgow – an organisation that supports young people into higher education, whether it’s at a college or university – who are interested in exploring music, dance, drama, production and film.

“Digital resources have been created for WACI, as well as the North East Arts Hub in Aberdeenshire, in a new pilot that will provide teachers with video toolkits to help them deliver lessons in traditional singing and choreography lessons.

“Also in WACI, we piloted an ambassador scheme this year which has been incredible and we have 30 ambassadors. Seventeen young people from schools across the west of Scotland have helped to shape the programme and significant changes are happening, including more work in communities at their request.”

Life never stands still for the Fair Access team and Jesse loves how every day is different.

“I get to connect people across all ages – artists with educators, young people with organisations and I get to think strategically at the same time as deliver creative work. I have a really brilliant team who are all motivated and committed and who are excellent artists in their own right.

“It’s a privilege to work in such a dynamic environment.”

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