Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Youth Awareness Programme

The Urban Art Project at Heathrow

In June 2001, an eight-metre wall at Heathrow Airport was spray painted in graffiti as part of an Urban Art Project by Hillingdon's Youth Awareness Programme (YAP). Eight young people aged 19 to 25 (naming themselves the YAP Stars) spent a week creating the artwork. BAA Heathrow commissioned the artwork.

The objective for BAA Heathrow was to enhance the experience of passengers and staff using and working at the airport. It was seen as a commercially viable project and the commission was professionally structured and managed. Now completed, the artwork will be photographed and reproduced into 'actual size' prints for display in terminal lounges and walkways used by passengers.

The YAP was given a brief for the project incorporating BAA's requirement for the designs to relate to aviation and travel. The young people produced their designs on this basis. Working on this project was unpaid and voluntary. It was said to be a very positive and responsible experience for the young people involved. The young people's families were invited to the unveiling of the artwork and the young people were given a VIP tour of Heathrow. The YAP manager considered the whole process was important as a means of showing the young people that they were valued.

Heathrow's Managing Director commented in the press release that accompanied the unveiling of the artwork that:

"the creative work of these talented young artists will also help to enhance the environment of the millions of passengers who pass through Heathrow every year and the many staff who work in the terminals"

The YAP manager commented in that same press release that the project had created:

"a win-win situation by benefiting businesses, the local community and young people who are able to channel their raw energy into something positive"

Although the press release for the artwork at Heathrow referred to the development of the YAP Stars to help tackle graffiti and vandalism in the Borough, the YAP manager commented that the project is primarily about promoting expression and channelling the young people's skills and energies into positive outcomes. As such, it is not an anti-vandalism project, although the involvement of the young people in urban art projects does raise awareness about their environment and a greater sense of ownership and responsibility.

Uxbridge town centre subways

The origins of the YAP stars

The YAP in Hillingdon is one of ten projects managed by the national charity In-volve. The other projects in London are based in Newham, Merton, Sutton and Thamesmead. Hillingdon's YAP aims to provide a holistic youth support service that empowers and enables young people to make informed decisions. The Hayes and West Drayton Single Regeneration Budget Partnership Board, the Drug Action Team, the local authority and the health authority contribute monies to Hillingdon YAP.

In the initial stages of setting up the urban art project, young people were invited to a meeting to discuss their interest in graffiti. It was evident from the views expressed that young people are interested in graffiti and it was not just about writing their name or spray painting but also about music, skateboarding and break-dancing. The YAP identified that graffiti and vandalism were symptoms rather than the problem, and what these young people wanted was a voice and for the community to listen to what they wanted to say.

Engaging the young people in artwork was seen as a solution and an outlet for the young people's talents and energy. As a first step, the YAP sought to gain the young people's trust and involvement in a public art project. The young people needed to feel that the project as real and would value them.

Gradually the interest built up and the young people first worked on a kickabout area in Hayes that had long standing problems from racist and sexist graffiti. The young people involved in this vandalism were then involved in the painting and artwork. The success of this initiative led to other contracts. Including a skateboard area in Uxbridge and the painting of murals in some of the Borough's subways.

In the subways at St Andrew's roundabout in Uxbridge town centre, eight young people created murals with themes from the RAF and underwater scenes. The young people were helped in this and the BAA Heathrow venture by A. Dee (the Artful Dodger) who is a member of the YAP staff. A. Dee is well known and respected in the international graffiti subculture. Hillingdon Borough Council provided the funding with the aim of tackling graffiti in the subways and creating a pleasant and less threatening pedestrian environment. Past experience had shown that efforts to remove the graffiti only had temporary success.

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