October 25, 2019
Describing the world of voluntary arts is an almost impossible task given the sheer range and diversity of what comes under that heading. Martyn Evans, former CEO at Carnegie UK, once said that doing some sort of creative cultural activity is not just a nice thing to do, it is the key to a happy life. And as people having creative, cultural and happy lives tend to like a party, the Voluntary Arts movement gathers annually for their EPIC awards bash. Not that they are a particularly competitive bunch but awards ceremonies need to have a winner. Drum roll…
The Epic Awards, now in their ninth year, are the premier awards for voluntary arts groups based in United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland, shining a light on their achievements and aiming to inspire others to get involved and participate in artistic and creative activities.
The Awards are run by Voluntary Arts, who promote active engagement in creative, cultural activities. Many of the 63,000 voluntary arts groups eligible in the UK and Republic of Ireland have put themselves forward for the Awards. The judging panels in each of the nations selected a total of 31 groups to be shortlisted for the final awards.
The winner and runner-up from each nation were announced on 3 October at Central Hall in Edinburgh. The event was held as part of a programme of activity celebrating active ageing and creativity and hosted by presenter Janice Forsyth. The 2019 winners received bespoke crafted awards made by arts collective Jangling Space, as well as a cash prize. Winning or being shortlisted for an Epic Award can also have very positive effects for voluntary arts groups, who find their profile raised locally and nationally and that it can help with fundraising efforts.
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“Where can I go to make music?” asked one refugee from El Salvador arriving in Scotland. The answer he was given was Musicians in Exile” – a community project for asylum seeking and refugee musicians in Glasgow.
Professional facilitators help the ensemble shape their rehearsals, but what and how they play and perform is up to the musicians themselves. There is a great deal of intercultural interaction between the musicians, supporting each other musically and performing in mixed languages and styles.
As many asylum seekers flee without their instruments, these are purchased where possible and given to the musicians on long-term loan. Once every two months, they perform in Glasgow, live-streaming the concerts on their Facebook page. This gives everyone a regular goal and also presents the musicians to the wider public.
Legally forbidden to work, playing in the ensemble offers the musicians an outlet to give back to their host communities. Music is a universal language, with the power to bridge cultural and language barriers – asylum seekers who are still mastering English, as well as audiences unfamiliar with the cultures of new Scots, find this particularly meaningful. Through the group, the musicians build a new sense of family, networks with local musicians and retrieve their intrinsic cultures, benefiting their own well-being and that of the wider community.
“When you flee a troubled land, you’ve not only left everything behind, but also have to start over in a very foreign land. Musicians In Exile gives asylum seeking musicians their instruments and voices back so they can regularly rehearse and perform again, retrieve their cultures, rebuild their networks, friendships and give back to their host communities. It’s an incredibly simple project, and as well as being revealing and healing.”
Paul MacAlindin, Artistic Director of The Glasgow Barons