Youngsters, teenagers, lend us your ears! We at Filskit are miffed. It appears that young people have been having a bit of a hard time of late. And as young arts professionals (yes, 25 is still young) we are aware of how tough things can be out there. But this does not seem to stop us and we know how much great stuff our generation is a part of, most of which does not get enough coverage.
Last week, Sophie Heawood, a columnist for The Independent, chose to lambast the graduate generation. A mere glance at the numerous reactive comments listed below the article is enough to lower morale: large levels of student debt, the void of employment opportunities and the expectation that you need to work for free for five years before you could ever be cheeky enough to expect to be treated as a professional under the guise of an ‘internship’ – all these hurdles have left a somewhat despondent youth.
At the other end of the scale it’s almost a year since the ‘London riots.’ A year since Foot Locker, Curry’s and any other unsuspecting trendy footwear/electronic outlets were looted in a wave of juvenility – notably branches of Waterstones were left intact! But even through this minor, sarky quip, judgement has been passed. And isn’t that what everyone does? Cast a blanket of opinion over a situation with sweeping generalisations? The press following the riots at the time bombarded us with headlines such as: “British youths are ‘the most unpleasant and violent in the world’”, and the Mirror’s contribution, “Young rioters say they’re proud to steal”. With this kind of bad press, it becomes very easy to paint a damning picture of today’s youths. We are portrayed as either over-educated and complacent or ignorant and violent. This is grossly unfair.
We’re constantly astonished at how frequently work for young people or by young people is somehow deemed to be something lesser. Mozart composed from the age of 5 for God’s sake! So just to prove our point, this week Filskit has been part of the International Youth Arts Festival (IYAF) in Kingston-upon-Thames. That is twenty-four days of workshops, carnivals and performances, made for young people, by young people. We first took part in this event as part of its debut in 2009 and are happy to say it has grown massively with more events, more people and support, enabling it to reach a wider audience. In terms of IYAF a young person is classified as twenty-six or under – or anyone eligible for a Young Persons Railcard. These young people come from diverse backgrounds: from choirs, touring theatre companies and circus acts, all producing a true mix of exciting work. And what is most impressive is that we were surrounded by young people who are creative, driven, and ambitious. In fact there was a distinct absence of moaning, self pitying graduates, or illiterate, anti-social yobs.
The same can be said for U-Dance – a national programme run by Youth Dance England, an organisation that “champions dance for all children and young people […] all performances count.” Isn’t that great? We had the pleasure of catching some of the acts appearing at the Southbank over the weekend – a fantastic platform where there was a tangible buzz of excitement from all the young people performing.
So, perhaps it is about time that newspapers readdressed their attitude to young people, because our experience of young people in the arts is that they are motivated and are producing work that is challenging, entertaining and socially aware. They are not just sitting back and waiting for opportunities to be handed to them, but are shaping their futures themselves and this needs to be supported. There is so much to celebrate and the more we encourage young people to take their futures into their own hands the better. We need more events like IYAF and supportive organisations like U-Dance to show the world what the Creative Youth of today can do.