To kick start Serious’ 2019, our team headed out to Cats Abbey in the Cotswolds to host our LEAP (Learning, Education, Access, Participation) Residency. Now in its second year and funded by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, with additional support from Serious Trust and Arts Council England, LEAP supports 8 selected artists looking to expand and develop their learning & participation practice. These artists’ musical styles and experiences cover a range of genres and participant groups – including folk, contemporary, jazz and classical. More information on the artists who took part can be found here.

Having travelled from all corners of the UK our artists settled in to their first evening at the Abbey with a chance to introduce themselves and their diverse areas of work to one another and the team over a delicious meal. Later in the evening a session on presentation skills enabled participating artists to enhance their ability to share their projects and experiences confidently, whilst tailoring their approach to a wide variety of stakeholders.

As a part of the LEAP residency, each artist is given the opportunity to lead a workshop in a new community setting, collaborating with a peer from the group for the first time. These settings included a local school, hospital and community children’s centre. As such, the artists’ first morning on the residency was allocated to preparation and planning time, led by creative producer Kate McBain. Following an interactive presentation on the importance of why rather than what, our musicians dedicated time to shaping the content and format of each of their sessions taking place the next day, fusing their unique musical genres and styles and learning from one another’s past experiences.

Over lunch, our LEAP Artists were joined by members of our national network. Serious About Partnership is a group of national music and arts organisations placing learning & participation at the centre of their work. We were joined by Bristol Music Trust, Bath Festivals, Opera North and Norfolk & Norwich Festival, which gave participants a chance to network and discuss potential project ideas with industry producers and programmers. Later, we were joined by Community Artist Toby Laurent Belson, who spoke to the group about his work interacting and co-curating with new communities in a sensitive and impactful manor. Also on a practical note, Steve Turner from the Oxfordshire Safeguarding team later gave a refresher in safeguarding for both adults and children – a crucial area of expertise for working with the community. 

With the outside becoming increasingly frosty, the fireplace was lit as we welcomed professional coach Nick Bottini, who led a session on artist wellbeing. Alongside a chance to introduce the resources and processes in place to assist artists going through tough times such as the Help Musicians’ helpline, artists were given the opportunity to share their experiences as practising musicians and educators and discuss practical actions to encourage positive mental health in the arts.  

Also crucial to becoming an accommodating workshop leader is the ability and knowledge to adapt your session to participants with additional needs. A fantastic session first thing on Wednesday morning led by Bea Hubble (Drake Music) enabled us to learn more about this topic, and develop new techniques for adapting sessions to suit all. Our 2019 cohort of artists have a range of different experiences with varying participant groups, however our next morning session introduced the group to two new charities doing unique work through music and culture. We were joined by Sally Taylor (CEO, Koestler Trust) who shared insights into working with participants in prison and secure hospital settings, and Alyson Fraizier (Co Founder, Play for Progress) who spoke about her experience working with refugees and asylum seekers delivering therapeutic and educational music and arts programmes. With their minds full of new ideas, our artists headed out into the community to deliver their new workshops, followed by time to evaluate and reflect together.

One of the unique and most impactful aspects of LEAP is the chance for artists to connect and learn from one another and other musicians. We welcomed one of Serious’ long term artists and learning & participation practitioners, Andy Grappy, to speak to the group about his experiences combining his professional touring musicianship with his work with children and young people. The session gave the artists tips on up keeping artist wellbeing, creating a balance between the two, but also fusing both practices for mutual benefit. Having been inspired and nourished by mutual interest and experiences shared, the musicians took some time to share their practical work with one another – jamming until the early hours. 

The final day provided an opportunity for the group to meet and learn from industry experts from within Serious. Claire Whitaker OBE, Director of Serious, who founded the Learning & Participation programme over 20 years ago, shared advice on how to market yourself as an artist in a way to progress your artistic and professional ambition. This included conversations on press packs, social media and networking. Following this, Liz Skipper (Head of Development) and Katie Pattinson (Development Manager) led a session on fundraising for your projects, giving some practical tips and advice on organisations to approach for funds. 

Whilst both participants and staff headed home for a well deserved rest after four days of intensive learning, reflection and development, our relationship with each of the participants will continue throughout 2019 and beyond. As part of the LEAP programme, each artist is allocated seed funding to help develop a new project alongside mentoring from the Serious About Partnership network members and Serious staff. These projects address participant groups and activities as broad as the spread of artists on the course; a music technology programme for young people in hospital, a training scheme for choirs looking to perform in care homes and a show about identity, to name a few. 

Watch this space!