A video project which aims to help refugees and those seeking sanctuary feel welcome and at home in the city’s arts and community venues has been launched by Arts Together to mark Refugee Week which this year runs from 14 -20 June.
As a network of community and arts organisations working to make the arts more accessible to everyone in Leeds, Arts Together decided to interpret the theme of ‘We Cannot Walk Alone’ as an opportunity to show refugees and sanctuary seekers what to expect when visiting their venues for the first time. Making use of the fact that many buildings were sitting empty due to lockdown, a number of the Arts Together partners made short films of their spaces, front doors and staff, during which they pledged ‘We Walk With You’ on camera to engender a sense of solidarity and companionship with viewers.
Funding was available to help smaller partners make their films, with the result that eleven videos have been created by a wide range of Leeds-based organisations: BIASAN, Feel Good Factor, Fall Into Place, Leeds Libraries, Leeds Playhouse, Leeds Playhouse First Floor, Mafwa Theatre, Open Source Arts, Opera North, South Asian Arts UK and Yorkshire Dance.
Some were filmed on a phone, some by talented film-makers, and many by or including people in the asylum process or with lived experience of being a sanctuary seeker.
Emma Hayton, Librarian Manager Art and Music, Leeds Libraries, said: “It was such a pleasure to work on this project with amazing artist Rahman. He was the perfect person to show how we welcome everyone to Leeds Central Library and how much
we are looking forward to working with people on the Arts Floor again.”
Throughout Refugee Week, two videos will be released each day from the Arts Together Twitter account (@artstogetherLDS) and will also be available to watch on each partner’s contact page on the Arts Together website, as well as directly from the Arts Together YouTube page.
Alice Gilmour, Community Partnerships & Access Manager at Opera North, who administrates the network, said: “If even one person feels more confident to take part in an arts activity, visit a venue or join a community group because they know a bit more about what to expect beforehand, then we’ve been successful.
“What this project has also done is to remind us all that having a video like this on your website is beneficial for so many people in our society: people with disabilities, hidden or otherwise, people who may be anxious attending events in person after the pandemic, as well as people completely new to the city, our country and our customs.”
As part of the week’s celebrations, the Arts Together partners will also be holding their own events, These include Sit With Us, an interactive arts installation at Mafwa Theatre which brings refugees, asylum seekers and the settled community together through drama and the arts, and a special performance of Whistle Stop Opera: The Magic Flute at Opera North’s Gateway offices especially for refugees and those seeking sanctuary in the city.