On 8th April 2014 I celebrated International Roma Day, with a talented group of young people of Roma heritage in Leigh, Greater Manchester. Kámoši is a youth club and arts project, facilitated by Community Arts North West (CAN), and Wigan Voice and Engagement Team. It reaches out to young people aged 7 – 11 (Kámoši Junior) and 12 – 18 (Kámoši Senior). My placement was as Assistant Artist, and I observed practice, led workshops and assisted in the development of the public performance ‘New Beginning’.
Kamosi means ‘friend’ in Slovak, a name chosen by members of the groups who are mainly from Slovakia and the Czech Republic. They are Roma teenagers, none of whom were born in Leigh but have travelled across Europe and within the UK. Often economic migrants, the Roma struggle with linguistic and cultural barriers, as well as facing discrimination due to their skin colour and lifestyle as travellers. They are treated with distrust and suspicion, and consequently young Roma have difficulties settling into schools and local communities. Social integration of migrants, in a long established community can be difficult for both old and new members of the community. ‘New Beginning’, a free, public performance in Leigh celebrates cultural diversity of the town and is a positive reflection of the young Eastern European citizens. It may improve the public profile of this Roma community, and boost the young people’s self esteem, language skills and confidence.
Now in its third year, ‘New Beginning’ is the fifth and final event working with this community. This year Danny Fahey was the lead artist. Danny is an MC, Spoken Word Artist and DJ and shared his talent and experience with the group. He led workshops in rap, lyric writing and music composition. A highlight of the project, for 7 talented individuals, was a trip to CAN’s recording studios. These dedicated participants had the chance to record the raps they had written, and we produced two tracks ‘Wake Up Roma’ and ‘New Beginning’. These were both played during the final performance. Magdalen Bartlett, project manager and dancer, co-choreographed routines with the young people. Giving the participants this opportunity to design their dances helped boost their self-esteem and confidence. It also puts them in control of the artistic choices in the show, and can increase their levels of engagement. Their work explored identity and revealing our true selves from the masks that we wear. I designed and led a visual arts workshop, based on the theme of identity. During the workshop, young people created life size cut outs of their own body. With a new, blank canvas of themselves, they were in control of decoration, colour and design. They had the opportunity to present themselves, as they wanted to be presented. The finished bodies then decorated the final performance space.
The process was often very challenging, but these same individuals also became committed to and excited about the arts project, and 25 participants performed on International Roma Day. It is a very positive and up lifting experience to witness the growth and development of a young person with challenging behaviour through an arts project such as this.