Tees Valley Arts is a charity that uses the arts to promote social change. The organisation celebrates its 40th anniversary this year and has taken the opportunity to review how it operates and what its role is within the community.
Executive Director James Beighton is passionate about the charity and believes that the arts and culture create societies and offer challenges to the status quo. We asked him some questions about the organisation and to explain some of the new initiatives they have in place.
Can you tell us about Tees Valley Arts?
We are not art for art’s sake organisation we are an art for social change organisation. We have been around for 40 years and in August will be hosting a summer exhibition in celebration of all the things we have achieved in that time.
Until 2020 we were based in various office buildings, all in Middlesbrough, and would go into communities to work in their location. We didn’t really have somewhere to invite those communities back to so in 2019 put in a bid to run a space in Redcar owned by the council.
How did lockdown impact the organisation?
We spent the time working out what an arts organisation looks like, during and post covid, and that was really valuable time for us to reflect and ensure we were as relevant to our new communities as we possibly could be.
What were your findings?
We looked at our central belief systems and asked the question ‘what if as well as artistic excellence it was about being part of the community?’ and ‘How can we utilise qualities such as kindness and sharing to help others and how could an arts organisation show those values of friendship?’.
We realised that young people struggled particularly. Not only the isolation that everyone suffered but their ability to get a career, to get on the housing ladder, to make friends and to form relationships. We decided young people had to be at the heart of what we were doing.
How did you’re these translate operationally?
The last five years have seen a shift in our activity from bringing artists in to produce workshops (which is very valuable) to now providing long term employment for people from a whole range of backgrounds. We make arts accessible to everyone and open up the sector to people who otherwise may never have stepped into an art gallery.
We created various programmes off the back of our findings:
Bloom and Youth Collective
A young people’s programme with approx. 60 members (16-24 years)
They meet every Monday for a range of activities decided and governed by themselves. They decide what they want to work on, and we just facilitate it.
We were able to make use of the national government initiative to drive youth employment. A lot of arts organisations have taken advantage of the scheme and employed one or two people to fill in the administrative gaps. We decided to try and incorporate it as a programme. We have appointed 26 young people through that programme and have another four positions that we are actively recruiting for.
What is the outcome?
Typically to get into this sector people are expected to do volunteering work, sometimes for a number of years, before funding is available. We wanted to use kickstart to change that so people could be in a position to work in this sector and cover their costs. We have appointed three cohorts and of the first cohort of ten, we retained three long term positions.
The pandemic has been a terrible time for many people but what it has allowed us to do is look at the way we have been doing things and consider improvements.
How is The Endeavour Partnership involved?
Partner and head of commercial disputes at The Endeavour Partnership, Ged Flanagan has been a trustee of the charity for a number of years. He plays an active role in promoting the services of the organisation and supporting fundraising activities. The firm has provided general legal guidance on a variety of matters and has organised several fundraising events including a gallery-style art auction in their offices at Tobias House.