Mandy Redvers-Rowe, Collective Encounters’ Creative Producer makes an impassioned call for help for young people….

Art costs money. It costs money to make it, to watch it, to get to it, to take part in it. If you are a disabled young person wanting to take part in the arts it costs more money. If you are deaf you may need a sign language interpreter; if you have a learning disability you may need to come along with a facilitator and if you are a wheelchair user you may need to take a taxi to get to it. If you are a young person from a disadvantaged socio-economic background it costs money you just don’t have. I’m know this is not exactly headline news.

So, in these hard times when arts managers and families are watching the limited resources being whittled away, who pays for access and how do arts organisations retain their commitment to encouraging everyone to take part? Well, mainstream arts organisations are required by law to make some provisions: their venues are wheelchair accessible, signage is brailed, the majority have interpreted and audio described or captioned performances within a season and some, but not all, offer a concessionary rate to young people and those whose families are on benefits. These provisions are well advertised but for young people what happens in terms of participatory activity?

I work for an organisation whose raison d’être is to work with people who would not normally access the arts. We do not charge young people (nor any participants) for workshops or for weekly youth theatre attendance and we work to overcome socio-economic barriers by reimbursing young people for bus fares and budgeting for tickets and entrance fees that allow our participants to take part in local and regional cultural events. We witness daily the benefits participation in the arts, particularly for this young demographic, brings. I would encourage all arts organisations to look to adopting this approach.

Encouraging disabled young people to take part in workshops, outside of educational establishments and within projects not specifically aimed at disabled young people is challenging and crucial. All arts organisations need to find ways to ensure their regular youth provision to accessible to disabled people and that their access needs can be met in a responsive way.

I am therefore calling that a Regional Access Fund for Young People’s Participatory Arts be established: a Regional Access Fund that would ensure young people from all backgrounds and of all abilities can take part in participatory arts activity offered by all arts organisations. The fund would pay for the access costs of disabled young people such as sign language interpreters/audio describers/facilitators/taxi fares and the access costs of young people from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds such as bus fares/tickets and youth theatre subscription costs.  The fund would be responsive. The application process would be quick and simple and based on the requirements of each young person. Such a fund would enable all arts organisations, both mainstream and those working on the margins, to promote their work with confidence to all young people.

Please discuss this call. Interrogate it, take it apart and unearth any potential problems.  If you have a better idea that would result in a similar outcome, and if so please put it on the table.  I want to start a debate, a debate that will hopefully lead to action.