Our World in Our Words: can creativity drive change?

Photo credit: @immy.keys for Our World In Our Words project

This summer, in the wake of the killing of George Floyd in the USA, there has been a reigniting of the Black Lives Matter movement around the world. There have been widespread protests, many of them driven by, and attended by young people from a variety of backgrounds. 

For some, even if they want to join these protests, physically joining them and marching is not always possible. Health, vulnerability, disability, fear of violence or other restrictions can mean that turning out onto the streets is an impossibility for some. For those people who still want to join the movement and protest, can creativity be the thing that drives change and be their means of protesting?

Black Lives Matter is enormous, in terms of its importance, its power and its ability to bring tens of thousands of people out into the streets together during a national lockdown. For some it’s overwhelming, it triggers a place within us that we’ve kept closed, it brings pain and memories we’ve worked hard to suppress for years right up to the foreground. And it’s frightening, the call to stand up and give our voice. But the sense of responsibility to do so is still there. 

This sense of responsibility has given rise to Our World in Our Words, an art-based voice and identity platform for young people to voice their thoughts about the world during this time. Starting in Sussex, the project aims to reach cities across the country, to create a space for others to join and do the same.

Inspired by images of protest placards made by young people, Lis Long of Apron, who created the project, wanted to give a diverse group of under-represented young people a creative outlet to express where they are in the midst of all that is happening in their world right now. 

Working alongside The Girls Network, YMCA Downslink, Watch this Sp_ce, DMY Creative and Anna Twinam-Cauchi, Apron delivered packs of free sketchbooks and art resources via local food banks and community organisations during lockdown. Each pack came with a simple call to action to young people: to use word art to make their mark on this moment in history. The work could be about anything on their minds – Black Lives Matter, climate change, gender, politics, education – and could be in any style from typography to graffiti. 

Lis said “at secondary school I had an amazing art teacher: you’d leave her class feeling empowered and like you had a place in the world. I think most young people need that. They are the future and it’s their voices that need to be heard. This project will help them to rise up and stand together on the issues that are important to them.”

Photo credit: @annaccoop for Our World In Our Words project

This is not the only creative project we have seen across Sussex. In April, Eastbourne’s Wayfinder Woman launched its ‘Women In Lockdown’ project for women to tell their stories of the Covid-19 crisis. The idea is for this to be made into a book to preserve this time in history. Our World In Our Words has a similar idea to create a book with the artwork as a permanent memory of the project.

And talking of books, Sussex business Writers HQ responded quickly to the lockdown by launching ‘Lockdown kids’ editions’ of their popular writing courses to help people create novels. They have run many free online courses since then to encourage people to create and write about this time. This year will be a time people will read about in years to come, and Writer’s HQ have been helping people put their creative writing into action.

With other creative projects like the Sketchbook project in Worthing, the ‘At Home’ art project coordinated by the Sixth Form Colleges Association and the Lockdown History Project for ‘Arts On Prescription’ for children to create art about lockdown, we are seeing creativity bursting across Sussex – and beyond. What’s striking and inspiring is the range of projects and the focus on young people. This is about them. With Black Lives Matter, the A-Level results scandal, Brexit and growing political and social economic divides, it is little wonder that creative projects such as these are emerging. 

Will these creative ideas drive change? They will certainly record this time in history, to mark a year where young people have pondered their future and wondered what lies ahead for them.

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