The world’s oldest national youth orchestra, founded in 1946, National Youth Arts Wales has helped young people for generations
National Youth Orchestra of Wales’s (NYAW) illustrious alumni include Michael Sheen, Sir Karl Jenkins, Ruth Jones, Russell T Davies, Rakie Ayola, Katherine Jenkins and many more – a “who’s who” of the Welsh performing arts.
However, there is much more we can do to help make Wales’s creative industries more equitable and diverse. Since 2017, when Wales’s youth ensembles for music, theatre and dance united into one new charity, this has been a central priority.
We want the best talent to blossom, but how do we give everyone a fair chance? We were exploring this question constantly, with help from young people and our Diversity Taskforces. Leverhulme Trust’s long-term investment in NYAW is so welcome, because it helps us to tackle these inequalities over a period of many years and it allows us to be proactive in helping to change young people’s prospects in Wales.
Bursaries do help and we are making the process simpler and removing the stigma towards claiming financial support. We offer automatic fee waivers – without collecting reams of evidence – for those on Universal Credit, for example. Not only are all fees waived, but they receive support towards travel costs, instrument repairs and other expenses. Thanks to the Trust’s support, we will double the number receiving full bursaries by 2025.
For many young people, regardless of income, they do not feel welcome in the arts, particularly if they have a disability, come from lower-income backgrounds, or experience racism. So, we are expanding our development projects for under-represented communities. Through these programmes we can ‘talent spot’ and offer those young people the extra support and encouragement to fulfil their ambitions.
These programmes will not only increase diversity in our ensembles, but also create new training paths for historically under-funded artforms, such as contemporary music and hip-hop dance. Our Music Futures project is Wales’s first national development programme for young contemporary musicians and songwriters, pairing them with mentors working in electronica, folk, indie and hip-hop music.
Our members tell us it is a huge privilege to represent Wales in our ensembles – we must, and we will work harder to ensure every young person has that opportunity to represent their country.