The future of children’s theatre?

Within the current climate of cuts – and the growing pressure on publicly funded arts organisations to prove their value – it’s always refreshing to hear about positive and exciting ways in which the arts are making a difference to young people’s lives.

Here at Children & the Arts, we were particularly inspired by the International Youth Arts Festival (IYAF) one of the largest celebrations of young people in the arts in the UK, which took place last month.

Now in its fourth year, the festival showcases new work from talented youth arts producers. Bringing together children as young as five, with a maximum participant age of 26, it produces a dynamic programme of dance, music and theatre, as well as street and circus performances.

Already, the festival has grown impressively. This year, it drew around 8,000 young people from 17 countries, and more than 20 per cent of performers came from overseas.

While critics may argue that festivals, however successful, cannot create long-term education benefits, the IYAF is part of a year round programme which acts as a springboard for new UK talent. It aims to support young people in Britain and equip them with the skills they need for long-term careers in the arts – in other words, it has a positive impact long after the curtains have come down.

For young people by young people

For us, the idea of young people creating vibrant theatre performances and events for other young audiences is particularly interesting. As the arts practitioners producing IYAF projects are young people themselves, who could be better at communicating with and reaching out to children – without fear of patronising or alienating them?

In the light of recent research by Action for Children’s Arts, which showed that little more than 1 per cent of public arts funding – including the four national Arts Councils – is directed towards children under 12, the work of the IYAF appears to be all the more relevant.

Stimulating learning

The IYAF organisers say that giving children the opportunity to create arts performances and events for their peers can stimulate learning and creativity for all of those involved.

Artistic director, Aniela Zaba, calls the enthusiasm, focus and passion of young people working in the arts “an inspiration”. In a recent article in the Guardian, she says that she’s “optimistic” about what lies ahead, despite the backdrop of funding pressures.

“I’m pretty confident that if the young companies we work with every day and their ideas are anything to go by, the future of children’s theatre has a big smile on its face,” she said.

You can find out more about IYAF at: iyafestival.org.uk

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