Rowan Arts, an Islington based arts charity, prides itself on integrating their surrounding community in a variety of artistic and heritage projects. According to general manager Lucy Bramley, “a really important part of our ethos is making the arts accessible … that there are many opportunities for people to engage with the work that we do,” she said.
These opportunities include participating at open mic nights, attending the annual festival, volunteering for the London’s Nightclubs and Dancehalls: 100 years of pleasure and pain project, or submitting work to the singer/songwriter competition.
Rowan Arts wants the people in the Islington community to feel like they can fully participate in the multitude of projects they put on every year, something that some arts organisations have trouble fully succeeding with. “They think they are being inclusive but the arts can actually be quite alienating to a lot of people,” she said.
Bramley continues, “Islington has so much cultural offerings going on, but there are just so many people who just don’t engage in that sort of thing.” That is what Rowan Arts does well, bringing in people from all different backgrounds to see the artistic side of the community around them. Volunteers and participants in the Rowan Arts Projects get to experience things that they wouldn’t normally have experienced. Bramley says that the feedback they receive regarding community involvement is overwhelming positive. This can be witnessed on their social media sites. One example is from twitter and is posted by Tan@TanSalinder22, “I have had a wonderful and inspiring 2 weeks working with the lovely, talented and dedicated staff and volunteers @RowanArtsLondon :)”
Three local women, Ruth Robinson, Claire Hegarty and Verity Spence, founded Rowan Arts in 2003. Robinson is still acting as the charity’s director today. The ladies met while working together in the Peter Pan Park Action Group. The Peter Pan Park Action Group was a community driven project to rebuild a park in Tollington Ward. The park opened in 2003 and is now called Landseer Gardens. The three women felt that this type of community work should be continued on and this Rowan Arts was created.
A decade later and the arts based charity have a lot to look forward to with a local community following that is continuously growing. One of the most central projects that make up Rowan Arts is their annual summer Holloway Arts Festival. This is an eight-day festival that takes place across Holloway and according Bramley includes, “anything from street parties to carnival stuff to music and spoken word to literature and poetry and exhibitions.”
Over the past decade the festival is estimated to have catered to over 20,000 people with a growing audience each year. “I loved the fortune teller [Hedge Fund Harry’s Hoopla Stall] and all the different workshops,” said Emily Maxwell, a 23 year old who attended the 2013 Holloway Arts Festival, “There was just so much to do.” In the past the festival has been host to a large variety of local and big time names including Bobby Baker, a performance artist, Deborah Levy, an author, and Peter Tatchell a gay rights activist. This year the festival’s theme is “Meet the Neighbours” and will kick of with the Hornsey Street Festival that will be full of live music, family workshops and a parade. The 2014 Holloway Arts Festival will be held Sunday June 1st through Sunday June 8th.
However, the Holloway Arts Festival is hardly the only project that this organization puts effort into. As Bramley said, “there’s always something going on.” One project that Bramley is particularly excited about is ‘London’s Nightclubs and Dancehalls: 100 years of pleasure and pain.’ She says that this project is about, “mapping the changes, socially and culturally, through the hotspots of the city… It’s changed a lot over the years so it’s taking a look at the iconic venues and talking to people and finding people who were active during those times.”
They also have multiple continuously ongoing projects that include their Islington Exhibits, Connecting Conversations, their Holloway Life website, and Heritage Projects that are all deserving of the community’s attention. Islington Exhibits began in 2009 and focus on finding unknown venues to showcase local artists’ work. In 2013 over 235 artist works were shown to an audience of over 23,000 people. Connecting Conversations began in 2006 and allows people to gather and listen to a variety of speakers ranging from comedians to reverends talk about their work. All these conversations are recorded and archived by The British Library. The Holloway Life website is a place for Holloway residents to be kept up to day with everything Holloway, this includes events, business directory, and generally keeping people up to date on fun things to do in the area. The Heritage Projects are all about saving and sharing the history of the Islington community.
To find more about you can visit the Rowan Arts website at here