Art has always been used as a way of creating safety and freedom amongst diverse groups and individuals. The city’s link with art and design has flourished in recent years, with many organisations creating inspirational work in Manchester. From the empowering George Floyd mural created by AkseP19, to Out House MCR who are responsible for street art in prime locations across the Northern Quarter since 2010, this inspirational artwork represents the solidarity and revelation that Manchester has for its people.
The sun shone down onto the busy streets of central Manchester as the Manchester Art Gallery stood tall and vibrant awaiting its visitors on 14 July 2022 to the Starling Summer Exhibition. Many artists have teamed up to collaborate with Starling Charity to create workshops that explore positive identity and creative expression with neurodivergent young people. The charity’s definition of neurodivergent is anyone who believes their brain works differently, and includes diagnosable conditions such as dyslexia, autism and ADHD. However, it can also include mental illnesses or early years trauma.
Rukie Elgaziari, project coordinator for Starling charity was diagnosed with ADHD and bipolar disorder in her younger years. She said:
“I feel like young people feel very comfortable in our company because they know that we have a lot of shared experiences with them. The projects in general work as that safe space and the exhibition is an amazing opportunity for young people to have their voices shared which is something that they don’t get in school.
“Often in school, they are sidelined or spend a lot of time outside of the classroom and they don’t get to express themselves and share things that are important to them. I want them to know that they are not an outcast of society and that they have useful and valuable things to bring to the table because we are not really told that.”
The label ‘moderate learning difficulties’ is often used in an overgeneralised way in schools. Research shows that there is a serious gap in awareness and knowledge of neurodiversity in both the medical and educational sectors, followed by a cacophony of intervention, breaking the pathway for diagnosis before it begins and ultimately failing children and their families. When teachers assess children without the involvement of a specialist, there is no reliable way of distinguishing between moderate learning difficulties and specific learning difficulties such as dyslexia. This means that some young people may not receive the support they need, resulting in them being pushed aside without an understanding.
The fulfilling workshops involve a range of activities for young people including creative ceramics, collaborative wall hangings, painting and much more to build a place of comfort and security. India Georgia, one of the art facilitators for Starling charity, has been working with young people after starting her own art business (Indy Arts).
“For the past six months I’ve done a couple of projects with Starling and what I like to do with my entire practice is focused on workshops that can be used as using art as therapy and art of mindfulness. We made collaborative wall hangings and the squares were supposed to represent each participant and what is important to them.
“I wanted to be involved with this because I identify as neurodivergent and I wish I had something like Starling when I was growing up. If you’re going through a bit of a turbulent time with your mental health or with your identity, working on a creative project gives you something to be proud of and it builds resilience and it’s something for you to do each week.”
Tia Hadfield, one of the young participants that took part in India’s workshops said: “I think it’s good for young people to be able to play about with stuff and see if they like it as art is very diverse. It’s good for young people to be able to experience that because some people might not have the funding to be able to do it.”
Starling charity are constantly doing projects in many areas around Manchester, including Trafford, Hyde and Wythenshawe. The charity schedules artists to come and work with them and are consistently encouraging young people to take part and use this opportunity to express themselves in a comfortable space.
The awareness, compassion and calmness of these projects create a sense of security and hope for other young people who often feel isolated. Manchester is forever changing and adapting to create a place that people can call home and feel safe in. “I think a lot of people think that people go to art groups to learn an art skill but it’s not just about that. Art does bring people together and creates a space for people to talk and mingle”, India said. “Creativity is so important for expression and it’s important to note that creativity is not just about skills, it’s about life skills as well.”
You can find out more about how to get involved and the organisations discussed here:
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All images: Katie Johnson