Fame School

The North West Academy of Arts

Eddie Kerr, director of the North West Academy of Arts, reflects on the long journey from bright idea to all-singing all-dancing arts school, which is helping hundreds of budding artists and performers to realise their dreams.

In my capacity as an arts educator and playwright I had been travelling to the USA for ten years or so and had been especially drawn to Kentucky where I met some wonderful people doing some wonderful things.

One of the projects I was most taken with was the Governor’s School of the Arts (GSA) which I saw first when it was based at Bellarmine College in Louisville ten years ago. Over the years I was privileged to be invited several times as a guest artist to the drama and creative writing faculties where my admiration of the process and product of the GSA became almost obsessive.

Upon returning to Ireland annually I was advocating the potential a similar type of programme could have on a community coming out of conflict. Sometimes I felt that this mantra was falling on deaf ears and hardened hearts.

Eventually in 2000, I managed to persuade the poet Frank X Walker, media artist Ruben Moreno and actor David Flores to come to Ireland and help in the evangelism of the masses. Two years later Bridie Mullin, an advisor with the Western Education and Library Board, made the trip Stateside and was enthralled with the process of the GSA. This was effectively the key we needed.

The snowball began to gather momentum. In the autumn of 2003 we were awarded some money from the European Union’s Peace 2 Programme to set up the North West Academy of Arts in Derry, of which I was appointed Academy Director.

The academy is funded for two years and during this period will offer hands on arts opportunities for the region’s most talented students who are dancers, actors, instrumental musicians, creative writers or visual artists. A total of 500 young people aged 16-18 years will benefit from this and ongoing alumni programmes.

Our relationship with the GSA has grown over the years. Due to their support we were able to invite five young Irish artists onto their 2003 programme and last year sent over 12 young artists.

The academy stands for one simple principle – that young artists are vitally important to Ireland, North and South. The academy is dedicated to developing their creativity and initiative.

The primary components of the academy include a two week summer residential programme and a one week autumn programme with workshops, master classes, career support, and a guest artist roster of performing and visual artists made up of some of the best artists available to us.

In autumn 2003, we hosted Ruben Moreno and Bobby Scroggins of the GSA Visual Arts Faculty as guest artists and this summer Bobby made the return trip to be our 3D Visual Artist once more.

By utilising distinguished professional and teaching artists, students are immersed in a rigorous curriculum and supportive learning environment that allows them to explore the discipline and freedom of the creative process. This exciting opportunity is one that students should never forget.

Entry to the academy is conducted through an application procedure followed by an audition and then final selection process. The academy is free and scholarships are awarded to cover accommodation, materials, meals, tuition and visits.

There are four main disciplines, each with sub-sections. For example, we have music which contains rock, pop and jazz, classical, singer-songwriter and traditional genres. We have drama which has production, performance, technical and creative writing elements. We have visual arts that contain 2D, 3D and multimedia. We have dance which has contemporary and hip-hop styles. We also have our own media group that covers the entire event and highlights the process from start to finish.

We believe very much that the academy should create a sharing and learning environment. We like to promote cross collaborations in art forms where different styles, disciplines and unrelated arts can create innovation and co-operation.

Every student should have as much of an artistic experience as possible while attending the academy and a range of events are part of the programme on offer. While some disciplines like to keep their art form pure and untarnished, we actively encourage cross fertilisation of ideas and projects and hope that the lessons learned will have tangible benefits for everyone.

Since the development of the peace process in Northern Ireland there has been a desire to heal the hurt of decades of fear and conflict. The arts play a very important role in dealing with the legacy of the conflict and the academy offers a safe and conducive environment where good things can happen.

While this does not disguise the fact that many people have been scarred by the Troubles, the academy will help in the process of conflict resolution and peace building. To date we have been fortunate but must always be aware that the atmosphere can change with community tensions, but so far so good.

The academy’s ideal is to create a pool of young artists who can live, work and make art in their own region and be proud of the fact that they are who they are and where they are from. This will be the future of the arts in Ireland and we are sowing the seeds for the future now so they will flourish in the years to come.

The academy is currently recruiting for its summer 2005 academy programme. For more information click on the link below.