Having engaged the community of Barking and Dagenham for over 30 years, Studio 3 Arts is committed to putting ‘local people at the centre of everything they do’. Having launched their inaugural Groundbreakers Leadership programme earlier on this year, the initiative highlights the need to support our leaders of tomorrow – participants having gained the confidence to go on and build their own projects and inspire others to do the same. With applications now open for the next programme later on this year, Artistic Director Liza Vallance explains how applicants can get involved, what her hopes are for the initiative and what the £1.2m worth of funding awarded to the organisation to transform the 1960s Galleon Community Centre into a community arts centre means for the Barking and Dagenham community.

You’re the Artistic Director of Studio 3 Arts, an organisation with the belief that ‘everyone has the basic right to encounter art’. How does this ethos feed into the work Studio 3 Arts curates and organises?

It informs everything we do, from the design of the building to the language and typeface we use on our marketing.  Everything we do is led by local people – our gallery is curated by a steering group, our fringe festival is programmed by local volunteers and we’ve involved 700 people in the design of our new arts centre. 

To acknowledge Black History Month, you’ve introduced a special edition of 3Style Fridays. What does this initiative entail?

3style Fridays has been in existence for 10 years. It’s a celebration of hip hop battle culture, in all its glorious forms.  We bring together dancers of all ages, from all over the country. Makes no difference if it’s your first battle or if you’re a seasoned old pro in the game.  Our space is a celebration of the artform and its origins. It’s led by Jade Hackett, our amazing choreographer in residence, with DJ Omar from IMD Legion and 3 DJs from the dance industry. This month we’re live broadcasting it for the first time ever! It’s very exciting and a bit scary.

There’s currently a call out for young people aged between 16-25 to take part in the Groundbreakers Leadership Programme. For anyone taking part, what can they expect from the programme?

Groundbreakers is all about unlocking young people’s leadership potential. It’s such an exhilarating programme. New participants will receive paid work experience placements, activation bursaries to kickstart business ideas, mentoring from industry pros, a spot on a podcast, working lunches, being on a film set, seminars…oh honestly it’s such a package of amazing support!!  I must say a massive thank you to our project lead Barking and Dagenham Council and to the Young Londoners’ Fund for their support in making Groundbreakers a reality.

Members of the previous cohort have gone on to open a dance academy, youth arts festival, launch a cake making business and become a youth worker. How does it feel to know that the programme has influenced the next generation of leaders?

I couldn’t be more excited for the future of this country. The young people we’ve worked with are truly amazing – funny, smart, insightful, visionary and totally authentic. So long as they remember me when they’re rich and famous, that’s all I care about! But jokes aside, they are an asset to East London and I’m honoured to know them!

Due to the success of the first initiative earlier on this year, the second edition will take place later on this month. Have you adapted the programme at all since the first edition?

The big learning from the first edition is how we had to adapt the programme through lockdown. We ended up delivering lots of the programme in online seminars, which we thought would be tricky but actually proved to be really popular with the group, on the grounds of immediacy and accessibility, so we’ll be keeping that in place for the second round. As with all projects we’ve refined the model as we’ve gone along and I’m confident we’ve got a model that really works for young people.

What are your hopes for the initiative moving forward?

That we continue to identify and support amazing young people to become the leaders I know they can be.  I’d love them to get national recognition for their work because they absolutely deserve it.

It’s been announced that Studio 3 Arts have received 1.2m worth of funding to transform the 1960s Galleon Community Centre into a community arts centre. What does this mean for Studio 3 Arts’ future and the Barking and Dagenham community?

For the first time ever in its history, Barking and Dagenham will have a world-class arts centre, made by with and for local people.  This is transformational for us and our community.  We’re delivering a fully accessible 110-seat theatre, a gallery, a rehearsal studio built from straw bales, a recording studio, café and bar as well as a community garden and a disco-ball flagpole!  So far more than 700 local people have been involved in the design process with our architects, Citizen Design Bureau.  It’s been a labour of love and we’ve a long way to go yet, but I can’t wait until we finally open.  I’d love to invite you to the launch!

How have you found adapting your work during this unpredictable time? Have you learned anything new about the arts, yourself, the wider community?

To be honest, I’ve found this time incredibly difficult.  The inability to plan long-term has had a real effect on my capacity to vision for the organisation, so I’ve had to find new ways to keep myself looking forward.  The most lush thing for me was just how neighbourly everyone has been during lockdown and social distancing.  I already knew that Studio 3 Arts had an amazing family of supporters around us but in lockdown there were so many gorgeous reminders of this – from local people designing fundraising tee-shirts, to volunteers helping us to make art packs for vulnerable families.  Barking and Dagenham is a place I’m endlessly proud to call my home.

Questions by Lucy Basaba.

Applications for the Groundbreakers Leadership Programme are currently open until Friday 23rd October 2020 at 5pm. To find out more about the programme as well as Studio 3 Arts, visit here…

Written by Theatrefullstop