Canvas(s) is a year long project exploring access to cultural spaces with young people from refugee backgrounds.

The project is formed around a diverse group of arts and migrants rights organisations: Autograph ABP, Counterpoints Arts, Migrants Rights Network, Asylum Aid, British Red Cross and the National Gallery.

Together these partner organisations are working with young people to see how we can make cultural spaces more open and engaging for young and diverse audiences.

The Canvas(s) project began in June 2016, bringing together a group of young people (ages 17 - 19) from Eritrea, Ethiopia and Sudan. New arrivals to the UK, and based in Kent, many of the participants had never visited London and its cultural spaces before.

Over the course of a year we explored cultural spaces across London, comparing their different environments and collections. We conducted research by interviewing staff and visitors about their experiences of these places. We met artists and performers who gave us insights into their creative process and worked with the young people to make their own artworks.

Using these experiences the young people first produced a public event at Autograph ABP. Showcasing photographic self-portraits, traditional textile paintings and a social event with Eritrean music, food and dancing, they attracted a large audience of friends and members of the public to the gallery, many for the first time.

For the conclusion of the project the young people were commissioned to create a change at the National Gallery which could attract more young and diverse audiences. Working with a poet and a musician, the young people created an audio trail that takes you on an immersive and personal journey through the galleries. Using words, sounds and music the trail brings the paintings and surrounding environment to life.

It culminates in powerful verses narrating their personal memories of home and migration, evoked by Henri Rousseau’s iconic painting Surprised! (1891), depicting a tiger crouched in the jungle foliage caught in a thunderstorm.

Launching on 24th June 2017 marking Refugee Week, the Canvas(s) project aspires to make the audio trail available at the National Gallery in the future. This aims to make young people’s voices heard in one of London’s most important cultural spaces and contribute to making it a more inclusive environment for young and diverse audiences.