Ben Felstead is the Facility Coordinator at NGY Myplace and Lead Youth Worker at YMCA Digital, working with participants in a variety of projects including Beatknots, We are the Change, History of NGY and much more. Under the stage name Trekkah, he is also an artist, musician, and owner of his independent record label, Phlexx Records.
Today, Ben shares his roots, his inspirations, and how his trip to America with the Roosevelt Scholarship Trust award has shaped the way he supports young people at Nottinghamshire YMCA.
What is the Nottingham Roosevelt Scholarship and what did it mean to you?
Last year, I was lucky enough to take part in the Nottingham Roosevelt Scholarship. It involved visiting 34 organisations throughout the United States of America, traveling to 14 different states and exploring how different people and organisations are delivering artistic projects, how they were engaging with their communities through the arts, and discovering new ways in which we can use the arts at YMCA Digital to benefit the young people of Nottingham.
What was the coolest thing you did while you were in America?
On the trip, I visited some amazing organisations. New Orleans Airlift was a musical village where members of the community came to learn and teach music; there was an entire park area dedicated to musical instruments and jamming. That was amazing; I’ve never seen anything else like it!
I also visited Creativity Explored, which is an art exhibition space dedicated to works by adults with learning disabilities. It was a very inclusive, safe, but at the same time a progressive and aesthetically pleasing space.
Why do you think scholarship opportunities are important for the arts?
I think that the Roosevelt Scholarship is really important; it was so important for me, personally, as an artist and as a youth worker, but honestly I think it could benefit so many people in so many different ways – whether it’s about music, community engagement, art, social mobility, the possibilities are endless.
It gave me the much-needed (and hard to access) time and funding needed in order to explore the field that I work in, in ways that I never thought I’d ever be able to do. I was very fortunate in that I was funded by Nottinghamshire YMCA, who also gave me the time in order to achieve this. I ended up exploring some US YMCAs while I was there, and seeing all of their youth music programmes, it was such an eye-opening experience!
It expanded my ideas for my own projects here in Nottingham, and gave me new outlooks and new techniques to use. We recently launched the ‘We are the Change’ project which uses digital arts to explore environmental issues, both local and global – the aim is to get young people involved with environmental activism by using digital media like blogging, video making (etc.), alongside horticulture activities such as planting and bug house making. This was an idea I formulated in America while traveling around and seeing different projects which intertwine the arts with environmentalism.
I would tell absolutely anyone I know to apply for the scholarship, or something similar, in order to expand their views, their skills, and their whole existence!
What was the best thing that you learned for yourself?
For myself, I think it was working in the homeless districts, as I have had personal experience with that. I learned a lot about different issues that people face in America, and I learned a lot about American political issues as well.
In terms of the arts, I learned that the artist is the great communicator. When positioned correctly, the artist can work in favour and in partnership with the community, with governments, school, local governing bodies. They can work with organisations that struggle to reach communities and build a bridge between them and the people. The artist can be the facilitator to start building stronger societies.
The artist needs space to be able to develop their own practise within community arts so they don’t get stagnant or cynical. It’s important for the artist to be involved with the whole community process, including everything from research and training to teaching and delivery. They need to engage with the community before, during, and after a project to really clarify what they are trying to achieve.
I also learned that you can use the arts for a number of different things – to increase wellbeing, to manage mental health, and to address environmental and political issues. They can encapsulate so much more than teaching art for art’s sake.