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Libraries and Grants for the arts - Circuit Live

  • Date: 27 September 2012
  • Artform: Libraries
  • Area: London, National
two young black girls, an older black woman with headscarf and a black bearded man sit in a room with walls covered in hand sketches write and interact A creative writing session at Seven in Brixton with artists-in-residence TY and Malika Booker as part of Circuit Live, Photo: courtesy Small Green Shoots

Over the coming year we will be publishing a series of case studies that look at Lottery-funded Grants for the arts libraries services projects.

Circuit Live, delivered by Dv8 Training and managed by Small Green Shoots, was a spoken word project inspired by London 2012 and involving children not in education, employment or training (NEET) in workshops held in libraries across London in Camden, Lambeth, Lewisham, Waltham Forest and Westminster.

The project was awarded £31,250 Grants for the arts funding in June 2012.


The project was conceived by Natalie Wade, Project Director at Arts Council England National portfolio organisation Small Green Shoots, as a way of encouraging and developing projects based in libraries.

'Local library closures had been a hot topic in our office and we realised if we don't use our libraries it's inevitable they will start to close. We were thinking of ways we could get the younger generation inspired and using their libraries.'

The project aimed to increase library membership among 15 to 19 year olds and promote London libraries as a rich resource to local young people. They wanted every young person to have achieved an Arts Award or equivalent qualification and to grow in confidence in reading, writing, spoken word performance, IT and local history.

The team also hoped to establish working relationships with local artists, youth centres and library staff and to use spoken word as a creative tool for expression.

They wanted to create a legacy for the programme in the form of a website linking projects and project staff for future work that would also serve as a resource for future projects working on the same model.

About the project format

Circuit Live involved five libraries in five London boroughs in all corners of the city, with each library hosting a series of spoken word workshops for young people, led by the musicians and performance poets.

The young people were recruited through local youth centres, the library staff offered their skills and the library building as a resource, and both the project managers and library staff were trained as Arts Award assessors, meaning the participating libraries are now all accredited Arts Award centres.

The workshops were based around the themes and values of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games and the young people were asked to create a 2.12 minutes long spoken word piece at the end of their mentoring. Their work was celebrated with a final performance at the British Library in September this year.

Natalie commented:

'We had run pilot projects doing a similar thing around London but we wanted to do something big to celebrate London 2012.

'Having big name artists like Dean Atta and Malika Booker as mentors for the children on the project definitely helped inspire them and to act as a carrot to keep them involved.

'We wanted to get young people to see libraries in a different way - they imagined them as 'shhh' places where you couldn't relax and be yourself. It was about showing them libraries are moving on and aren't just quiet contemplative spaces, but places to learn, be creative and demonstrate their skills. Once the young people got there and realised this they loved it.

'It was also about breaking down barriers the other way around - showing librarians the benefit of hosting this kind of activity and bringing a new generation of library users through their doors.'

Inspired by the success of the project, Walthamstow Library and Dv8 are now planning a local heritage project working with young people. The librarian also plans to embed Arts Award into the project.

How did you approach the application process?

'It is part of our job as an arts development body to guide other organisations through the grant application process, which is what we did with Dv8 on this project. It was a new idea so we had no clue if it would be doable. So we contacted the Arts Council for advice before drawing up the application.  They helped us to draw out the areas of the project that would be most valuable in securing funding.

'Once we had established the project would work we called a planning meeting with Dv8 and took them through each stage of the Grants for the arts application process.

'This work with them means they are now equipped to go on to make future applications independently which is a fantastic legacy.'

What was the most challenging part of the project?

'We acted as project managers and facilitators with Dv8 delivering the project content. This meant we had to manage activity across five different organisations and ensure a range of different artists kept to the brief to ensure consistency - that was quite a challenge.

'The response from the libraries was very varied and some were dubious but once they saw it in motion they were very receptive.'

Key stats

  • five libraries across London took part
  • five spoken word artists led the workshops
  • 50 young people were involved
  • 40 young people have gained Arts Awards to date through the project

Comments from the assessors

The assessors were impressed with the partnerships built with local authorities, libraries, project managers and artists through the project and the way it set out a new model for engaging young people with libraries, both in their local area and London-wide.

They commented that high profile musicians including Ty and Rodney P Rodney would attract hard to engage participants and their involvement in this project as lead artists offered them a skills development opportunity.  Using the libraries as venues allowed the artists to connect and engage with a large and diverse audience in a well-established community.

They felt the application marked an emerging contemporary trend in literature development and in library services' expanding cultural offer and audience development.

Get inspired and start your own application

Funded by the National Lottery, Grants for the arts are for activities carried out over a set period and which engage people in England in arts activities, and help artists and arts organisations in England carry out their work.

The £6 million Grants for the arts Libraries fund has been established to support public library-led projects that stimulate partnerships between libraries and artists and arts organisations, and which encourage communities to participate actively in artistic and cultural activities.

Applications can be for between £1,000 and £100,000 and can cover activities lasting up to three years, In special circumstances we can assess applications for grants over £100,000 for more major projects.