ON THE BLOG: ArtReach and support for refugee integration

JOURNEYS was funded with €199,998 from the Refugee Integration Projects opportunity in Creative Europe’s cross-sector strand. Led by ArtReach, it aimed at supporting the integration of refugees through art on a local and regional scale in seven European cities. We caught up with ArtReach's Emily Ann Harris.

Tell us about JOURNEYS

"JOURNEYS was the result of a special call for projects that supported the integration of refugees. After 274 applications, ArtReach was one of only three UK-based organisations (and only 12 across Europe) to receive funding. 

"JOURNEYS partnered with Explora Museo dei Bambini (Rome), CESIE (Palermo), Altonale (Hamburg), associate partner Trafo House (Budapest) and lead partner, ArtReach (UK) – producers of Journeys Festival International.

"It's this cross-cultural learning that is the best thing about working on a European scale."

"In terms of programme content in each city, the JOURNEYS project had three main strands of activity that involved refugees and asylum seekers as lead artists, participants and as audience members:

  • Look Up: a large scale, outdoor art exhibition that took refugee experiences through visual art to the general public.
  • Container Theatre/Film: powerful, innovative presentations of refugee experience. 
  • Seminar Events: opening up a discussion on a particular theme around the refugee experience, deepening people's engagement, understanding and learning." 

Do you have any numbers around the project?

  • 7 European cities
  • 60 local cultural and community partners
  • 50 artists
  • 65 new artworks
  • 12 new performances created 
  • 6 moving image works 
  • 33 seminars
  • 525 intensive refugee participants
  • 388,145 total audience 

How was it getting and working with partners?

"We had delivered a previous Creative Europe project, FREEDOM, working with three European partners, and were able to build on that for JOURNEYS. Our partnership development has been organic, identifying possible partners, meeting people at network meetings and then exploring how partnerships can work before developing a detailed project and application. This has been a successful approach. 

ArtReach's mission is to make great art possible and accessible, and it's through the various partnership working on events and projects that, as an organisation, we can best achieve the practical implementation of this." 

What do you think made your application successful? 

"We think it was due to the detail and cohesion of the project proposal and the strength of the partner relationships and commitment. We also pulled the stops out in preparing the bid and writing the narrative. It took a lot of time, but this paid off in securing the resources to deliver what we wanted to do." 

Has anything surprised you?

"The main surprise has been the amount of shared learning that has come through the diverse artistic approaches employed in responding to the themes of the project. It's this cross-cultural learning that is the best thing about working on a European scale."

"Don't be put off by the apparent bureaucracy: it's actually a very positive ingredient of a system that is geared towards fairness and equality of opportunity."

"Take Associate partner Trafo House in Budapest. It had to be careful about its approach to the theme, as the political and social rhetoric in Hungary is often negative towards refugees. Whereas the seminars in other countries could begin with a positive approach to tackling refugee prejudice, Trafo House presented a seminar that put the Hungarian attendees, who were mainly school children, in the shoes of a refugee to produce an empathic response.

"As part of a forum theatre performance, they led a hypothetical discussion with the audience about what they would do if Hungary ran out of water and they had to flee. Where would they go? Which family members would they take with them? How would they sustain themselves?

"Putting the emphasis on to the audience was a great way of challenging prejudices and then drawing the discussion back to the current refugee crisis." 

What about the project are you most proud of?

"The quality of the artwork and performances created.  And the exceptional partnership working and the numbers reached as participants and audiences." 

How did you find the process of working with Creative Europe Desk UK?

"ArtReach has always found working with Creative Europe Desk UK a really positive experience. Each member of the team is interested in the work we deliver and that impacts positively on our own enthusiasm and commitment.

"It was great to be invited to speak at the COLLABORATE! conference too. Look Up artist and Iranian refugee Jamal Jameel spoke about his experiences with the JOURNEYS Project, and it was a wonderful opportunity to help spread the word further within the arts industry about the project. A big thank you to you all for your ongoing support!"

What advice would you give to potential applicants of Creative Europe?

Build strong partnerships before writing a bid and take time to do this. Ensure that you are fully conversant with the guidelines and criteria. Don't be put off by the apparent bureaucracy: it's actually a very positive ingredient of a system that is geared towards fairness and equality of opportunity.

Be aware that the project may involve substantial learning. For instance from the JOURNEYS project, we met some challenges that then resulted in the following best practice:

1. To establish a home, familiarise and integrate, refugees and asylum seekers need a voice and visibility. Artistic activity is the best vehicle to enable this. This can be delivered in many forms:

  • Engagement in visual arts projects
  • Involvement in museums and with their collections
  • Creative writing
  • Taking part in performances
  • Simply helping deliver creative events

2. Substantial investment in direct relationship-building with refugees and asylum seekers is essential to facilitate effective creative engagement. We have found that setting up ROOTS groups of refugees to provide a sounding board and advisory body has brought many benefits to the project. Our team members attend drop in sessions each week in each city to build relationships and trust with both refugees and refugee support workers.

3. Cultural venues/organisations need support to build the knowledge, skills and experience that enable staff to welcome and provide creative support to refugees and asylum seekers. We have developed and delivered bespoke training sessions for cultural workers encompassing those in junior positions e.g. ushers, box office personnel, as well as senior cultural managers.

Learn more about ArtReach and watch the video of Emily and Kamal Jameel discussing the project at COLLABORATE!