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Arts and Refugees – catalysing change

  • Date: 9 March 2010
  • Artform: None
  • Area: London
Celebrating Sanctuary, London Celebrating Sanctuary, London, Nana Varveropoulou

Refugee Week and Oval House Theatre have recently received support to run an 'Arts and Refugees' project, which aims to develop two national conferences and a national website supporting refugee related arts.

This project has been supported by Arts Council England and the Baring Foundation. We asked Almir Koldzic, Refugee Week UK Coordinator and Stella Barnes, Head of Arts Education at Oval House Theatre, to tell us more.

How has this project come about?

The project stems from the recommendations made in the 2008 Hybrid report The Arts and Refugees - History, Impact and the Future, which was commissioned by the Baring Foundation, Arts Council England, London and the Paul Hamlyn Foundation. The report and associated research set out 'to trace the history of the arts and refugees in the UK over the past 20 years, to identify trends in practice and funding, to report on the outcomes of this activity and to make recommendations for its future support.

How can the arts help refugees?

The 2008 report provides evidence that the arts can be an effective means of promoting community cohesion, creating better understanding between host communities and refugees and asylum seekers. It has also demonstrated that participation in the arts can help to build confidence and develop key skills.

Currently many exiled artists are isolated and unable to practice their art in the UK. In addition refugees are often marginalised and excluded from accessing arts and cultural opportunities.

Over the last decade there has been a significant development of artistic work that has responded to global migration issues, the work is hugely varied and has happened in locations all over the UK. There is a recognized need for people creating this work to share it with each other and learn from different approaches.

So what will this project provide?

This new project will provide a national framework for these issues, with a website, national events and opportunities to improve networking. It will be a catalyst for artists and arts organisations to share practice, debate issues, explore new and innovative ideas and engage with new audiences.

We also hope that the project will create a space for debate and critical questioning of practices that relate to refugees; the space that will also be used for testing out new notions of identity, culture and interaction between refugee and host communities.

Refugee Week UK and Oval House will be encouraging UK regions to set up their own networks to support refugee related arts and each of these networks will have their own pages on the new website. We want to get the word out now to regional networks so they can get involved. If you are thinking of setting up a network in your area, or getting involved in another way, please contact us

Can you give some other examples of current work in this sector and how anyone can get involved?

Oval House also has a long history of providing arts opportunities for young refugees and asylum seekers and of collaborating with exiled artists. Currently the We are London project engages with up to 30 young people each week, who are currently participating in dance, photography, drama and film making.

Refugee Week is a UK wide platform for showcasing and celebrating the arts and cultures of refugee communities. Every year it consists of hundreds of events organised by art organisations, refugee communities, charities and more. This year Refugee Week will take place from 14-20 June.

In London, Refugee Week will be launched with the Celebrating Sanctuary Festival on the Southbank (13 June), which will be featuring some of the best emerging and established artists from refugee communities, as well as information stalls, a photo exhibition, food stalls and more. The event programme is currently being confirmed, so you'll have to watch this space! But in the past it has featured the Noisettes, Emanuel Jal and Oi Vai Voi - visit

Another way to take part in Refugee Week is the Simple Acts project which is about inspiring individuals to use small, everyday actions to change perceptions of refugees - it simply provides a list of 20 actions that can be done by anyone and that encourage us to learn and do more with refugees. We believe that if everyone even just took part in this, we could make a big difference to the way refugees are perceived in the UK.

If you are thinking of setting up a network to support refugee arts in your area, or are getting involved in another way, please let us know

Refugee Week receives funding through our Grants for the arts programme - for more information visit

Oval House Theatre receives regular funding to support core costs - for more information visit