Next month 10 North West-based emerging European artists will team up with local primary schools in a mass arts project exploring the region’s multicultural heritage and what it means to be ‘a European’.
Led by Manchester’s Z-arts, over 300 youngsters will take part in various creative activities from making puppets and plays to creating pots and poetry with visual artists Clare Pollen and Ivan Liotchev; theatre practitioners Sinead Emery and Yusra Warsama; musician Sarah Atter; flamenco dancer Yinka Graves; animator Cristina Pedreira; poet Yussuf M’Rabty; sculptor Pascal Nichols; and, puppeteer Molly Hawkins.
Together they will explore notions of multiculturalism and what it means to be ‘European’ whilst creating work which will be presented at Z-arts this summer.
In partnership with the European Commission in the UK and Instituto Cervantes and with support from The University of Manchester and Manchester Metropolitan University, Z-arts aims to encourage young people from across the North West to explore feelings and thoughts on Europe.
Liz O’Neill says: “As a referendum on Britain’s role in the EU is still on the political agenda, we thought it would be timely to explore our children’s ideas about Europe. At Z-arts we are passionate about diversity. It is integral to the success of Manchester as a multicultural metropolis that represents the North West and we want to reinforce its place within Europe as a vibrant and creative city.
“We have identified 10 primary schools from across the North West, focusing particularly on diverse and multicultural communities. These schools will be linked with an individual artist who will create a bespoke project from a range of different disciplines inspired by their own European connections.”
The schools are: Summerville Primary School, Salford; Holy Name RC Primary School, Rolls Crescent Primary School, Crosslee Community Primary School, Armitage CofE Primary School and Gorse Hill Primary School, all in Manchester; Roundthorn Primary Academy and Friezland Primary School in Oldham; Pikes Lane Primary School in Bolton; and, Cheadle Heath Primary School in Stockport.
The project will culminate in a mass installation at Z-arts, incorporating the whole building. Each school will take ownership of its own space and turn it into one of the stops of a journey around Europe. Each of the 10 spaces will be an immersive exhibition or performance that is facilitated by the young people in partnership with the artist.
Liz O’Neill concludes: “This is the start of an amazing project which will unite language, creativity, culture and art in all its forms to inspire a generation of children across the North West and hopefully teach us all something about the world in which we live.”
It’s a big topic – a conglomeration of 28 countries with over 500 million people speaking 24 (official) languages. In the UK, politically a hot potato: should the UK be ‘in’ or ‘out’; how much say does Brussels have over domestic policy; immigration; the Euro? The very word ‘Europe’ conjures images of vineyards and warmer climates as well as bureaucracy, farming subsidies and legislation.
So what does it actually have to do with our day to day lives? What does ‘being a European’ really mean? Especially when you’re at primary school.
That’s what the team behind ‘My Europe’ are setting out to uncover – seeking to explore the notion of being ‘European’, what its relevance is to children between 7 and 11-years-old and why it’s important in an increasingly diverse and multicultural UK.
The brainchild of Z-arts CEO, Liz O’Neill, she explains: “At Z-arts we feel very multicultural. We serve a wide and diverse demographic that encompasses many different European cultures. And this has a hugely positive impact on our work and our aspirations. When we work with children they come from very different cultural backgrounds and it is a sharing experience for all of us watching and experiencing how they play and learn together. For us, it’s very important to have artists from all those cultures to teach children in ways that are relevant to their lives and to embrace different societies.
“So we view multiculturalism and Europe in a very positive way. It impacts on our lives by opening, sharing and experiencing different world views as well as different languages and art forms.
“For the children that we’re working with throughout the My Europe project, many of them will have little understanding of ‘Europe’ as anywhere other than a possible holiday destination. Yet, Europe is embedded within our culture and I feel that it’s important that we start to explore that more fully with young children – so that they can start to see Europe in an inclusive light and open up to the culture and opportunities that Europe holds, giving them a more globalised outlook in life as they’re growing up and a sense that they can take part in it.”
The 10 artists taking part in the project come from a wide-variety of countries and cultural backgrounds: Poland, Ireland, Bulgaria, Spain and France as well as the UK. What unifies them is their inquisitive and playful exploration of other cultures which infuses their work, teaching and learning.
Musician Sarah Atter will be working at Roundthorn Primary Academy in Oldham. She explains the influence that Europe has played in her career so far: “My classical music training places me squarely within European musical heritage. The vast majority of the music I have played over the years as a soloist and in ensembles – since I first began to play the flute and piano at the age of seven – was written in Europe, most frequently France, Germany, Italy and England. Without this huge body of European work to learn and explore, learning the flute would have been significantly less rewarding and interesting. It was down to the French that the flute repertoire developed so much in the early 20th century and we are left with amazing music as a result.
“For the My Europe project, I’m going to work using the musical heritage of the group and its individuals to explore the idea of music as both a common and yet also distinctive language, to think about what music can say to the listener and to think about the wider musical community and sense of belonging music can provide. We will create something new to unleash upon the world to express their feelings and ideas around Europe!”
Flamenco dancer, Yinka will be working with children at Summerville Primary School in Salford. She says: “To engage children in the arts is a real priority for me. Having already done one workshop it was hugely enriching seeing how willing and open they were to participate. I really hope to give the children I’m working with an opening into a completely new way of expressing themselves, one which might allow them to feel a direct link to Spain in particular.”
The school’s deputy head, John Shawcross concurs: “The exploration of being European is something that our children should be proud of. We hope through the My Europe project they continue to tolerate and celebrate our cultural differences.”
Theatre practitioner Sinead Emery will be working with pupils at Crosslee Community Primary School in Manchester who will work together to create a performance fête showcasing European traditions, rituals, habits and celebrating their diversity in an immersive, colourful showcase.
Sinead says: “I was fortunate enough to grow up encouraged to embrace all the varieties of cultural influences from within our family and to be proud of the varying nationalities that contributed to who I am – born to an Irish mother and a British father with a French aunt and bilingual cousins and also a non European nationality of Chinese in the mix too. As a result I am lucky enough to enjoy the richness that comes from not considering myself to be of a singular nationality but instead to be a colourful mix of European heritage and background and this is something I am keen to aid in others.
“In an age where our social spheres are shifting into that of heightened diversity, it is paramount that young people and communities alike develop alongside these shifts. There is an ever increasing need to foster tolerant, open, compassionate and balanced modes of interaction and I am passionate about aiding this through creative practice.”
The My Europe project is taking place in partnership with the European Commission in the UK, Instituto Cervantes and Manchester’s two universities.
Kepa Gonzales, Cultural Director, Instituto Cervantes explains what attracted them to the project: “It is interesting to see what the children think about being European, and what they think the good and bad aspects are. Since its birth, the European community has been constantly called into question.”
“As a cultural and educational institution, building bridges with English institutions is our main goal. We also bear in mind that we are part of a major community, the European community, which represents and reflects the solidarity and cooperation between countries.”
Pupils from Pikes Lane Primary School are working with Cristina Pedreira on animated postcards. Says Christina: “I am a Spanish artist currently living in the UK and, in my opinion, it is this exchange of cultures, languages and knowledge that makes Europe and the UK so enriching and powerful.”
Liz O’Neill concludes: “At its heart, what’s important for everyone involved in the My Europe project is a collective sense of broadening horizons and embedding possibilities with the children we work with. Manchester is brilliant in its multiculturalism and diversity but we can’t avoid the fact that in other areas people live in more disparate and marginalised communities. We want to find the positive in that diversity and celebrate those differences.”
The project will culminate on Friday 4th July with an explosion of European culture at Z-arts. Each school will showcase its element of the project taking each other, their parents, staff and guests on a journey through Europe whether it’s an art installation, a film or a performance. The results will also be open to the public on Saturday 5th July.
Sarah Atter : Music
Sarah is a Manchester based music practitioner and facilitator, with her classical music training placing her squarely within European musical heritage. Sarah will use this as inspiration for the project and take the musical heritage of the group to explore the idea of music as both a common and distinctive language. She will use music to look at what this can say about the listener, think about the wider musical community, and the sense of belonging that music can provide. She will then work with the group to create a new piece of music using instruments, body percussion and digital music to express their feelings and ideas around Europe. This will be performed at Z-arts for the final immersive exhibition/performance.
Sinead Emery : Theatre
Sinead is a Leeds based theatre practitioner currently studying a Masters in Theatre and Global Development and will use her mixed British/Irish heritage as inspiration for the project. Sinead proposes to work with the children to explore other European cultures and look at what makes them unique alongside shared similarities. She will do this using research, discussion and active exploration with the pupils using drama. This will develop into an interactive performance using the idea of a festive fête as inspiration.
Yinka Graves : Dance
Yinka is a professional flamenco dancer, training in Spain for seven years and will use this medium to explore its culture. Flamenco is born from the coming together of various cultures and reflective of a strong identity for the Gypsy Kale culture in Spain, and as an act of empowerment and self-assertion. Using flamenco, the group will learn to use their bodies in new ways, both expressive and percussive and begin to explore issues around identity, belonging and culture. This will culminate in a live performance or flash mob at the immersive exhibition/performance at Z-arts.
Molly Hawkins : Puppetry
Molly currently runs her own puppet company based in Liverpool called Mr Wolf Collective.
Using the children’s heritage as inspiration, Molly will work with the pupils to create characters based on their own or imaginary stories about where they are from and who they are. These characters will then be developed into puppets and short performances devised with the pupils.
Ivan Liotchev : Visual Arts
Ivan is a visual artist who was born in Bulgaria, raised in the USA and is now living in the UK. Ivan currently also directs an Arts Council funded international collaborative drawing project, and will use his international perspective as inspiration for the project. Ivan will use collaborative drawing workshops and invite the group to collectively imagine visual representations of what a united Europe might mean. Pupils will be able to express their personal thoughts and feelings and explore how, through collaborative drawing, they can weave individual expression into a unified statement. The large drawing created during the workshops will be exhibited within the immersive exhibition. Ivan receives personal sponsorship from Letraset.
Yussuf M’Rabty : Poetry
Yussuf is a poet, music producer and arts facilitator and founding member of Manchester based theatre company Inna Voice. Yussuf will combine music, poetry, rap and drama to explore what it means to be European throughout the participatory workshops. Using these immersive and creative processes, he will begin conversations with the pupils, asking them to explore their own identities.
Pascal Nichols : Sculpture
Pascal is a French/Scottish artist based in Manchester, and will use this mixed heritage as inspiration for the project. Focussing on the French part of his heritage Pascal will use meal times and food as a way to explore French culture. The project will culminate in a ceramic and sound installation comprising of a French feast and a sound piece incorporating audio from pupils own descriptions of food and audio from French pupils that will be linked during this project.
Cristina Pedreira : Stop motion animation
Cristina is a Spanish artist, living in the UK, and proposes to use postcards (a feature of trips and holidays) as a starting point for the work. Using a selection of postcards from Spain, she will open a conversation about other cultures, and the significance of travelling. These conversations will be used as a basis for stop motion animation (animated postcard) created by the pupils.
Clare Pollen : Visual Art
Clare is a Manchester based artist who works with mixed media and up-cycled objects. Clare’s grandmother travelled from Eastern Germany (now part of Poland) to the UK at the beginning of World War Two, a European heritage which she will use as inspiration for the project. Clare will use drawing, painting,
sculpture and objects found to encourage the pupils to look at what it might mean to be a citizen and their perceptions of Europe, exploring impressions made on them by family, experience, community and media. The outcome of the activity with the pupils will be a mixed media exhibition including a three dimensional map of Europe using found objects.
Yusra Warsama : Theatre
Yusra is a Manchester based theatre practitioner, who, is a Somali born in Abu Dhabi and raised in Manchester. Her African, as opposed to European heritage, has given her an international perspective on life. Yusra will use this as inspiration for her part of the project to specifically explore migration within Europe. She will explore personal stories of children within the class, using these stories as a basis for creative writing, with the children writing and recording their stories. For the final exhibition performance, these written pieces of text will be folded to create migrating birds – creating an installation accompanied by recordings of the children reading their stories.
Z-arts was formed in 2000 as a ‘creative space for young people’ with a priority placed on providing participatory activity. Its mission is to inspire and enable generations of young people from Manchester and beyond to use creativity to maximise their potential. The company does this by supporting an individual’s creative journey from their first steps in creative practice to being a practising artist. Z-arts creates an artistic hub in its large building with 12 public rooms including a 230 seat theatre, gallery, fully equipped dance studio, music studio, café, rehearsal and workshop rooms.