Artistic Director, Christopher Gorry, reflects upon his first three months at The Spark.
One of the first things I set the team the challenge of, when I arrived at The Spark Arts for Children, was for us to publish more news articles on our website to shout about the brilliant work we are doing with our communities across Leicester and with partners across the country. I said I’d do one three months in- and then last week Keith (our Marketing Manager) reminded me I’d missed the deadline that I’d set for myself… safe to say- it’s been a busy three months!
I continue to be inspired and surprised by the amount of work that The Spark do daily- and if the fact that I missed my deadline is anything to go by – it’s an example of just how much work happens every week across the organisation… (Sorry Keith!)
So I’m pulling this reflection piece together whilst sitting in Birmingham Airport- en route to Baboro International Arts Festival for Children in Galway, Ireland. Culture Ireland are investing in the delegate programme to enable as many international delegates as possible to attend, so I thank them for the funding and I’m excited to get a glimpse into the amazing work that is being presented. Engaging in artists work is essential to our organisation- and I’m learning is one of the key elements to The Spark’s ongoing success- understanding the landscape when it comes to Arts and Culture for children and families.
The last three months has been a whirlwind of meeting the amazing stakeholders we work with at Spark and meeting new partners, as well as getting to grips with all the projects and activities the organisation delivers… and for those that think it’s just The Spark Festival, be sure to read on, as the Spark Festival is just a snapshot of the work we do!
I’ve tried to work out what to focus this reflection piece on- because there’s so much. So I’ve set myself the challenge of framing it all in five bullet points. Maybe six months in I’ll go for another five! So here goes…
Small Wonders and Music Champions
Seen the completion of our three year Early Years projects Small Wonders and Music Champions in partnership with Leicester City Council. Where artists work year-round on the ground in communities embedding creativity, play and developing a child led pedagogy for early years practice. We’re linked with a number of other organisations nationally to share practice and develop artists skills and expertise in this area- steered effortlessly by Manya Benenson, Nicola Burke and Liza Foster.
Among Ideal Friends
Wrapped up another large three year project- Among Ideal Friends – taking the best theatre and performance to communities across the region. We’re now in the development stage of how this programme will evolve for the next iteration. Working in partnership with libraries through the year to ensure we continue to take the arts where it’s most needed.
Met with the Vital Spark Ideas Fund Artists and shortlisted the Relationship Programme cohort for 2022-23 of which all will be announced in the coming weeks. I’m excited for us to work with such an exciting array of artists in a variety of different ways – with some very exciting projects in the pipeline!
Worked intensively with our Creative Producers Tom Newton and Gemma Bhagalia. We’ve been planning and evolving the projects and programmes. Reflecting on how we can embed my passion and specialism of Co-Creation into the artistic and managerial process of the organisation. Between Gemma and Tom, they are, without doubt the driving force behind the work. They work tirelessly with such rigour and clarity to ensure that we don’t only deliver exceptional projects, but they hold the need of audience and participants at the forefront of their decision making. I’m excited for the following months, that will enable us a period of collaboration to deepen how the projects we deliver serve each other and most importantly serve the communities we engage, in the most meaningful way.
Working here in Leicester is proving to be an absolute pleasure. Based in the heart of the cultural quarter at LCB Depot, is a joy. It is a city that is dynamic, vibrant and there’s always something going on. Organisations are passionate about partnership working, and it’s not just lip service- there is real investment (time and money!) and shared understanding. Local authorities not only invest in arts and culture- but they prioritise its strategic importance. This investment demonstrates an understanding of how Arts and Culture strengthens place, for the people that live, work and visit here. De Montfort University and University of Leicester’s commitment to the city (alongside Loughborough University) through the Universities Partnership is a pioneering approach to universities investing in place and I think is of significant national importance.
We believe that all children should be able to experience arts and culture, and that they should be able to see themselves represented in these experiences. This is not yet the case for every child and we’re committed to changing that.
Our response is Vital Spark, and it's at the heart of everything we do. Vital Spark is about challenging and changing the lack of diversity in children’s arts and culture; it’s about diverse-led artistic decision making; it’s about not being afraid to stand up for what’s right.
We do this by supporting artists who are currently underrepresented in children’s arts and culture. We also work with partner organisations to create world-class opportunities for these artists and share best practice.