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Developing a library arts programme with young people, library staff and artists

Written by · Published Jul 31, 2018

Collage produced at an arts workshop at Sybil Andrews Academy

A collage produced at an arts workshop at Sybil Andrews Academy

Arts programme coordinator Melissa Matthews talks about the next big step in the development of the Suffolk Libraries Arts Programme.

This week is a very exciting one, as we’re approaching the next big step in the development of the Suffolk Libraries Arts Programme. All week we are running a ‘Culture Lab’ artists’ residency at Ipswich County Library. On Thursday 2 August, we will be holding a ‘Meet the Artists’ event, where we will also be unveiling the new name and brand for the programme.

Since finding out we had been awarded National Portfolio status in June 2017 we have done a lot to develop our arts programme. I joined Suffolk Libraries as arts programme coordinator in April 2018 and have had a very exciting and busy few months working on the development of our new Arts Council England funded programme, which will be working to engage young people for the next four years (and hopefully beyond).

I was thrilled to join the Suffolk Libraries team at the beginning of such an amazing programme. I started by meeting as many library staff as possible who would be working to deliver the programme. It was great to see not only how big a part libraries play in their individual communities, but how invested our staff themselves are in their communities.

I have also been reaching out to young people in schools, pupil referral units and community projects to gauge how they are already using the library service and what they would like to see more of.

Things young people would like to see in libraries. Image produced at an arts workshop at Sybil Andrews Academy

Things young people would like to see in libraries. Image produced at an arts workshop at Sybil Andrews Academy

From the offset we decided that we wanted young people to own the programme and have their voices heard. We therefore designed it with, rather than for, them. We went out into schools and approached community groups to ask the opinions of young people from a variety of educational settings and backgrounds from across the county. We asked them what they wanted in their libraries and in their communities and we were flooded with ideas, suggestions… and demands!

We’re very grateful to Sybil Andrews Academy in Bury St Edmunds whose initial session helped us to reimagine what libraries could offer 11–18 year-olds across Suffolk. Their ideas have been the inspiration for the look and name of the arts programme.

We’ll be launching this new branding later this week and we’re very pleased with the results. It feels all the more special to have been designed with the input of Suffolk’s young people. If you’d like to see it, you’ll just have to come along to the event on Thursday or keep an eye on our website!

Things young people would like to see in libraries. Image produced at an arts workshop at Sybil Andrews Academy

Things young people would like to see in libraries. Image produced at an arts workshop at Sybil Andrews Academy

About Mel

My background is in the arts. I studied Art and History of Art and Architecture at Reading University. Following my studies, I worked at an Edinburgh Festival show and later settled at Snape Maltings Concert Hall working with Aldeburgh Young Musicians and the Learning and Inclusion team in a variety of settings such as schools, care homes, pupil referral units and prisons. Being creative and feeling supported during that creating process has demonstrable benefits. Over the years, I have seen young people who have been ‘written off’ because they are not traditionally academic.

I believe the library is in a great position to champion the benefits of learning and developing new skills. Providing high quality arts provision and opportunities in the library means young people can engage in a ‘low-stake’ way and have the freedom to experiment and learn how to be resilient during the learning process.

Melissa Matthews

Melissa Matthews

I'm the arts programmes coordinator