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The RSA Academies’ Performing Arts Hub are excited to be working with Beatfreeks on a project engaging students and teachers from the RSA Academies to develop school cultures of music making.

Beatfreeks is an award winning social enterprise run by RSA Fellow Anisa Haghdadi. It is based in Birmingham but works nationally to pioneer new ways of engaging, empowering and equipping young people and spaces through a blend of arts and media, social action, leadership and enterprise. Last week a small group of teachers and students from RSA Academies met with Beatfreeks’ Head of Programmes and Training Leadh Woolley and facilitator Marika Beckford for the first session.

Beatfreeks see their work as art activism or ‘Artivism’. They’ve worked with diverse organisations ranging from BBC 1Xtra, where they worked on 'Scratchbeat' to bring national and local talent together to share a stage (which also saw local artists get national airplay), through to working with a group of young people passionate about mental health over 12 weeks to set up their own official social enterprise ‘Ripple CIC’. They will be bringing their unique approach to their work with the RSA Academies.

The purpose of the initial session was to bring together teachers, students and Beatfeeks  facilitators for a co-creation process designed to shape the project, which in the planning stages was referred to as a ‘vocal group’, but quickly emerged as much more as the session progressed. Participants were invited to consider what they would expect to see, hear and feel as part of the group. As much as great lyrics and harmonious sounds, the group hoped to hear laughter and unexpected, fresh ideas. Whilst there was some debate about whether issues should be ‘left at the door’, there was a consensus that creating music and lyrics together could offer an opportunity for students to express their emotions and experiences.

A one minute brainstorm about themes that the groups could explore encompassed both musical genres and political issues, and ideas for places to perform ranged from school assemblies and the playground to supermarkets and to audiences including music producers and radio DJs. Excitement about possibilities for the groups was tangible – students, teachers and facilitators shared the desire for the group to be a chance to develop skills in music making as much as a way to connect with their communities.

Whilst the group hoped to see strong performances, passion and improved leadership and confidence, their discussions also extended to the importance of developing a strong image and brand for the group. This included great enthusiasm for group hoodies and t-shirts! It was refreshing to hear open, honest discussions between teachers and students about whether, and how, the groups could be effective in bringing in students who are struggling to engage in school. There was a real sense of the importance of building an inclusive environment for everyone, with talent not a prerequisite for participation and a strong invitation being made to students who might not usually be involved in music or the performing arts. Responsibility for recruitment will be shared by students and teachers, as will the creation of ideas for themes and performances.

The final section of the session was dedicated to naming the group, which collectively arrived at the acronym B34T, a name intended to avoid being too ‘stagey’ and attract the ‘cool kids’, as well as being elusive enough to invite people’s own interpretations! This week teachers are taking part in training sessions with Beatfreeks facilitators, developing their skills in song writing, vocal training, song production and performance techniques ready for each school’s B34T group to be recruited and start their weekly meetings in June. With performances at the RSA Academies’ Arts Day and Whitley School Festival already lined up, the groups are sure to get off to an energetic start, building on the momentum of the brilliantly led co-creation session.

Find out more about the Performing Arts Hub project


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