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At City Arts we are happy to be regularly reminded of the profound effect the arts can have on people. Being given the opportunity to create, or simply experience, great art can alter the course of a person’s life. It is through our Express Yourself programme, in which we work with young people with mental health issues, that the life-changing potential of art is most apparent.
Meridith Dickin’s support worker from Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services referred her to Express Yourself, managed by our Creative Programmes Officer Alma Solarte-Tobon. “ told me it would help me… I’ve always liked art, I kind of thought anything creative was going to be worthwhile and Alma was really nice about when she met me.”
“I made a decision to go. I thought ‘Ok, this is going to be good’ and then I got really nervous, I thought, ‘I don’t want to go, I don’t know who’s going to be there, this is going to be really terrible.’” Although apprehensive and uncertain what she was letting herself in for, Meridith summoned the courage to show up at her first session. The group were working on a photography project with artist Jo Wheeler. “It definitely exceeded my expectations.”
Meridith’s confidence grew as the project progressed. When it finished we invited her to join the next one as a volunteer, mentored by Alma. Since then she been a constant feature of the programme, supporting the participants, bridging the gap between the young people involved and the older artists.
“All the projects have been good. The artists are really good at making it exciting, no matter what the art form.” In March the group began working with filmmaker Anthony McCourt, on a short for the Gedling Film Festival. “That was the most active and the group bonded best. “
Since then Meridith has been even more involved in the running of the programme. “The new leaflet say’s ‘Meridith – Art Leader’. Being an Art Leader involves assisting in the running of the project. I sometimes lead a few mini-activities. I’m doing my own workshop next week because the artist isn’t going to be there – that’s probably the biggest thing it entails.”
For Meridith one of the best things to come out of her time volunteering for City Arts is finding out about the Arts Award, accredited qualifications that support young people to grow their artistic talents. After being introduced to the scheme as an Express Yourself participant she threw herself into it. She is now the representative for the East Midlands on the Award’s Youth Network. “I now know loads of people in the arts world & loads of local people. I have contacts; I can plan stuff and do stuff – I run events now, by myself, which I would have never been able to do before. It’s setting me up for a career in the arts.”
Express Yourself has given Meridith direction. In September 2013 Meridith began a foundation course at Nottingham Trent University. She is now on the University’s Fine Art degree course. “I didn’t really decide what I wanted to do until I started doing Express Yourself. I didn’t want to do education anymore.” She attributes her renewed passion for art and education to the programme.
Her plans for the future? “I’ll carry on doing Express Yourself as long as you’ll let me. I hope to work in the arts. I don’t exactly know how yet but I know I’m somehow going to weave my way in somewhere. I like interactive art; everything I try and do is something interactive. It’s for other people.”
Meridith worries that her furious enthusiasm for Express Yourself will make people think City Arts have paid for her testimony. “I’m really, really biased about it so it’s hard to say something to people that’s going to be believable – I really, really love it, it’s the best thing in my life and my favourite thing to do”.