Rich Mix New Creatives, a programme that is framed to help young people aged 16-21 find and explore their creativity, started in May 2021. With lockdown causing so much uncertainty, the New Creatives programme has been a great platform for young people to have a form of consistency, safety, and a creative outlet.

The sessions take place every Tuesday and Thursday, 10.00 until 12.30. This consistency of having regular meet-ups has shaped and connected a group of young people, that were once strangers meeting face-to-face after such a daunting year.

Rich Mix New Creatives Co-Directors Alex Brown and Chia Phoenix gave us their thoughts on what the programme means to them and why they are interested in nurturing young artists.

Before Alex Brown started working at Rich Mix in March this year, he was Participation Associate at the Almeida Theatre, creating an audio drama in lockdown with the young company. He has directed plays, ran youth projects at theatres, worked in TV script development and plays saxophone in brass bands with gigs including Glastonbury, Boomtown and…Rich Mix.

Alex expresses why Rich Mix New Creatives is important to him:

I want to encourage young people now to make use of what’s on offer and enjoy trying new things. The pandemic has been such a blow to arts and culture and now is the time to rebuild and create new possibilities. I’m excited to see what the next generation of creatives make!
Alex Brown, Rich Mix New Creatives Co-Director

Chia is a creative activist and spiritual mentor, who has worked in the arts, youth, and criminal justice sectors for the last 18 years, using creativity as rehabilitation to inspire, empower and motivate young people and the wider community to heal through creative expression. She has worked for arts organisations such as Lyric Hammersmith, Roundhouse, Spotlight, Theatre Peckham, Clean Break and many other community and education organisations.

As Chia explains:

Rich Mix New Creatives is important to me because it’s about inspiring the next generations to be free, to explore and to know that creativity is in everything.
Chia Phoenix, Rich Mix New Creatives Co-Director

(Photo: Alex Brown chatting with the New Creatives)

New Creatives clearly means a lot to both Alex and Chia. The efforts and delivery that they consistently put into each session truly helps us as a collective in working towards being productive and creative.

It is apparent that a certain level of fear has been installed into youth today. Sharing personal stories and creativity with people you do not know is a scary process. As the sessions have progressed, we have become a lot more comfortable with one another. Having informal discussions about where we want to go for a quick snack on our break and getting to know the simple details about somebody, has resulted in creating a trusting group. Even if our creative projects do not paint what we want to do in later life, this programme has enabled us to try new things and given us permission to trial and error our ideas.

The Rich Mix New Creatives programme is now finishing Module One out of the three modules, and the self-development from all the participants is truly amazing. Creating a space where we can be creative, and freely explore what that means to each of us without specific marks to reach or exams to pass, has been an effective way to ease out of lockdown.

 

Lockdown and Mental Health

If I’m honest, my social worker recommended it to me. I was unsure at first but I’m glad I came. I can now focus on performing, to help my confidence and language skills. My social worker knew I was doing absolutely nothing with my writing, other than sharing it with my therapist.  I’m glad I was signed up, it’s helped my creative outlet to bloom more. I’m interested in all forms of writing, but mostly poetry.
Rich Mix New Creatives Participant

Lockdown has affected us all and in very different ways. Creativity has been thriving for some, and a hindered process for others. What does this mean for the youth, though? Even without the lockdown dynamic, it is a challenge every day to navigate a future for yourself. Trusting the school system (or whatever institution it may be) for guidance and direction does not always go to plan. For young people venturing into a world of money and pressure, creativity can be dismissed as the “fun” that should take place outside of a nine-to-five steady job. It is no surprise that as we grow older, some may throw comments towards creativity such as “I can’t make money from that”. For those who are still in school, the need to meet an academic expectation can feel daunting.  Where is the time to simply grow and find your creative outlet? There isn’t enough time or space.

For those who are not in education, coasting without any real direction may be a difficult position to navigate away from. Whether it is just for “fun” or simply just “something to do”, Rich Mix New Creatives has given us a sense of direction and support that feels unfamiliar to any other type of support from other organisations or institutions.

New Creatives has been a focus. It has enabled all of us to connect, based on something positive, productive, and creative. We now have routine again. Between the days that we come into Rich Mix for our sessions, we have time to reflect.

With a combination of Alex, Chia and Lead Artist, Mr.Gee’s input, we are able to digest a multitude of different perspectives, all from different backgrounds and mindsets, a variety of creative approaches.

However, looking back on the first New Creatives session, being in the presence of real people after lockdown was a bizarre experience. Everybody had been working away behind closed doors surviving the pandemic, and then we found ourselves sitting in a circle, having real social interaction again.

 

The Beginning of New Creatives

Those first few sessions were a little uncertain. You could read how unsure everybody was, and the silence between all of us seemed so loud. Questions were circulating in everyone’s minds; Why am I here? What are we doing? What does everybody think of me? But after introductions and some interactive warm-up games, it didn’t take long for people’s personalities to come through and interactions led to light (albeit apprehensive) laughter. We continue to make a point of checking in at the beginning and at the end of each session, which gives everybody a chance to hear how each other are feeling. It allows everyone to feel validated and valued in the group. It’s quite a heartfelt process, learning more about what people do in-between these sessions that we come together for at Rich Mix. It allows us to paint a bigger picture for each and every individual, when we listen to what they did on the weekend, even if it was just washing up.

 

Trusting the Process

At the beginning, the end goal was not entirely clear. It was challenging to see where we would end up by just simply trusting the process. Alex and Chia had set a presence, ensuring that we are all equal and have a say in the confidentiality agreement that is collectively created at the start. Trusting the process has been rewarding. While it is not always clear, Rich Mix New Creatives have framed a positive path for us to better our mental health and creative practices, but also for us to connect again.

Alex and Chia made a point of ensuring that we have a say in how we progress on the programme. Through one-to-one meetings and informal discussions, we have been able to platform our highs and lows. As the weeks have progressed, we have been able to articulate an area of creative interest, whether that’s writing, music, events or acting. This has led to further collaborations outside of the sessions. Some of us have stayed on after our sessions, to sing, harmonise and to generally explore what it means to connect through music and creativity again. This just reinforces how necessary it is for young people to have a home away from home, without pressure or expectation.

 

Building confidence 

We have been focusing on confidence building, something that we should all work on. We have proceeded in doing multiple activities that have positioned us to think deeper about what creativity means, what the world looks like without creativity and different work sectors that harness creativity. This process has exposed a little bit of vulnerability from all of us. While we were all strangers at the beginning, we have slowly shown fragments of our lives and circumstances during these group discussions.

In more recent weeks, we have practised the art of presenting yourself. Understanding every detail about body language, tone of voice and posture, opened a new type of activity that allowed us to think deeper about response and perception. We had the task of speaking to the group continuously for one minute. It was an extremely bare but eye-opening experience for us all, one that felt uncomfortable, but exposed us to the real world of professionalism. The reality is that not everybody will listen to you, even for that one minute. Using New Creatives as a platform to better our confidence has been worthwhile, especially now that we have the space and time to do so.

 

Creative Progression

Before we approached practising our creativity, we spent time discussing how to look after ourselves and practice self-care. This led to many conversations and group work, drawing out what different words mean to us – words such as “confidence”, “creativity” and “validation”. Having open discussions about these topics has led to deeper conversations that were more vulnerable. Through sessions with artist and poet Mr.Gee, we have experienced visual forms of creativity. For example, recently, we went on a walk around Shoreditch and Brick Lane, taking pictures on our devices that captured something eye-catching to us. Following on from that, we had to unpack what the pictures meant to us and why we picked them. This put us in a position of control with our own creativity, and it opened up our thoughts about creativity.

More recently, we have been talking about where our own creativity originates. We discussed that creativity is a meeting of the past, present and future, and can contain conflicting feelings of both love and hate. This has provoked interesting discussions and encouraged us to think deeper about our creativity, and more importantly, where it comes from and what drives it?

(Photo: Rich Mix New Creatives exploring creativity)

These sessions which we’ve spent connecting, communicating, and creating in, have built a solid foundation for all of us. We have all come such a long way, in such a short space of time. While battles continue within us all with regards to confidence and uncertainty, we will carry on showing up and contributing our individual ideas. Despite our different backgrounds and circumstances, it has become apparent that these different qualities are what inspire us. One participant said:

I think [it is because] everyone is so different, that it actually makes us feel more connected.
Rich Mix New Creatives Participant

Branching out of our comfort zone, away from familiar faces and surroundings, has challenged all of us to adapt to people that we may not have connected with before. Another participant added:

Before coming to new creatives I honestly thought the group wasn’t for me. I wanted to do a lot but didn’t know what to focus on. I’m so glad I have taken part in the group. It’s helped me build stability, focus and creativity and I’m very grateful.
Rich Mix New Creatives Participant

We are now beginning to showcase our creative projects to the group. Although it’s been a little daunting, it solidifies that we have a safe space to perform, regardless of how unfinished or imperfect our projects may seem.

As we approach the end of Module One, seeing the growth of all of us, the facilitators included, has been a warm, heartfelt experience. We have had a balance between practising the life skills that we will use in an interview or professional setting, to looking more inward and exploring our creative interests. For Module Two, we have the chance to take on mentoring roles as we invite new participants to join Rich Mix New Creatives. Looking forward, we will continue to work towards finding comfort in creativity, wherever that may be. This programme has been a chance to exhale and relax and our confidence will only continue to improve as we move on to the next exciting new chapter.

Words by Milli-Rose Rubin.


Find out more about New Creatives

Have you had similar experiences in your creative journey? Let us know by on #RichMixNewCreatives

Rich Mix New Creatives is funded through support from The Mayor’s Young Londoner’s Fund, The Allen Lane Foundation and Margaret Killbery Foundation.