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CREATIVITY AND POWER FOR SOCIAL CHANGE: THE AGENCY AND THE SHIFT IN THE WAY OF WORKING WITH YOUNG PEOPLE IN THE UK

What if instead of looking at council estates as in need of something, we change our way of looking and start seeing them as strong and powerful? What if we start looking at the young people from these areas as potential leaders that can create and produce through art? That’s what UK-based the Agency does. It uses the methodology imported from Rio’s Agência de Redes Para Juventude to enable young people from council estate areas to create social change projects based on their ideas and desires and on the needs of their communities.

Seshie Henry, 23, created the platform I AM NEXT during the first cycle of the Agency in London, in 2013

Since 2013, when the methodology was implemented in London and Manchester, there’s a new cycle every year to empower participant’s ideas and transform it into projects. Seshie Henry, 23, took part in the first cycle of the Agency in London and his project was selected to receive a grant after the pitching session. I AM NEXT is a platform that supports underground artists, having started promoting artists in the UK, and after expanding to the world. Seshie says he already had the idea before being an Agent, but he highlights the importance of the methodology to bring that idea to action: “I had the concept before the Agency, but only after participating I understood the importance of bringing people together and networking. Then, I could take it to the next step”, he says.

The Agency is now operating in four locations in the UK: London, Manchester, Belfast, and Cardiff. In each of these locations, there are partners who help turning young people’s passions into a reality. The Battersea Arts Centre is one of these and helps deliver the methodology in London. The Director of Creativity and Social Change of the centre, Liz Moreton, underlines the importance of the Agency for them: “I think the Agency changed the Battersea Arts Centre massively. If I had to choose one project that has changed us the most in the last 15 years I was here, I’d choose the Agency”, she says. And adds: “It was the first time we were working with young people in this way – asking them what they were interested in, what were their ideas, and enabling them to find their path. It had this shift of making them feel they are trusted. They are given the money, and they are trusted not only to learn, but to learn while doing”.

This shift was crucial for Seshie. Before The Agency, he was part of the Battersea Arts Centre beatboxing project, but his commitment and excitement have completely changed after taking part in the first cycle of the methodology, as Liz points out: “His entrepreneurial side suddenly appeared, and I think it was because he was dealing with his own idea, he was definitely in the lead”. Seshie says he has always felt like a leader, but the Agency helped him feel more empowered to lead: “It gave me a sense of value, it gave me power. It made people aware of the power I have as an individual, and what I can bring to the table”, he says. During the process, Seshie noticed he needed to know the right people and started looking at his network differently, asking himself how people around him could help him move forward. Seshie says this was essential for the development of his platform I AM NEXT: “I’ve build a very respectful brand in and outside the UK, I’ve met a lot of amazing people… I’ve been given a lot of opportunities after the Agency”.

And he is hardly alone. He took part in the first out of six creative cycles during the last years. Liz says the experience has been so powerful that the Battersea Arts Centre changed its mission because of The Agency: “In the past, we would support artists or young people who wanted to be artists, it was all about helping them to express themselves through art. The Agency started to make us realise creativity is a really powerful process for any kind of people and can help different kind of people to have ideas. So now the focus is on the creative process and on the value of the creative process”. That’s what The Agency is all about: connecting young people’s potential with their desires through a language of arts practice. In London, Manchester, Belfast or Cardiff; in Rio de Janeiro or Serra, in the UK or in Brazil, the Potência Practice methodology is empowering these young people to become the producers of their own ideas. As protagonists in their local communities, they are leading and inspiring their peers to become the next generation of leaders in their own territories.

These actions were only made possible in the UK because of our partnership with People’s Palace Projects, that values the creative process and the cultural exchange as much as we do. But this is another story, to be told soon!

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