#MyArtsAward: Arts Award's impact on young artists, by Jonathon Graham

09 February 2018

#MyArtsAward: Arts Award's impact on young artists, by Jonathon Graham

This week is #MyArtsAward week, and each day we're focusing on a different aspect of Arts Award. Today, we're celebrating our young artists, like 20-year-old student Jonathon Graham, from South Shields, who in this blog explains how doing Arts Award as a youngster has helped him develop his career aspirations both inside and outside the arts.


I'm currently in my second year at Newcastle University, studying for a BA (Hons) in Archaeology. I joined the Customs House Youth Theatre when I was 13 and met some really great people, who I’m still friends with today. My first memories of Youth Theatre were devising scenes and working on a play based on Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night’s Dream. However, the highlight of my time in the junior group has to have been starring in a production of Tom Kelly’s dystopian play, Their Very Souls in 2013. The production required me to dance to 5,6,7,8 by Steps, the moves to which I can still remember today! 

Since joining the senior group later that year, I've participated in the National Theatre Connections festival four times, and as a group we're now working on a play by Fiona Doyle called Ceasefire Babies about the troubles in Northern Ireland as part of the 2018 Connections Festival.

The Customs House has given me many opportunities over the years, though the best was definitely being able to write a play, Zip Zap Boing!, based on my own experiences at Youth Theatre. The play, named after one of our favourite warm up games, was a situational comedy about a group of eight young people who were a week away from a final performance. When their practitioner doesn't turn up, underlying tensions come to a head and different sides of characters are revealed. The play was performed by an ensemble of young actors from across the North East, aged between 16 and 22, on the last night of the Customs House Takeover Week in 2016. It's definitely one of my proudest achievements to date.

Doing the Arts Award extended my arts practice as it got me out of my comfort zone and engaging in activities I might not have considered before, such as performing a stand up comedy set which I did as part of my Gold Award challenge. I researched local comedian David Callaghan as an advanced practitioner, because his knowledge and advice as a
comedian were highly valuable to my Gold Arts Award challenge. For my leadership project, I was part of a team that put on a variety show at our sixth form, showcasing the talents of the students. I was stage manager for the show and from this gained experience in a role I'd never done, nor considered, before.


I'd highly recommend that other people do an Arts Award because as a young artist it will not only improve your arts practice, but widen your perspectives to other art forms you maybe hadn’t thought of before.

My future career ambition is to become a field archaeologist, something I have wanted to do since I was 10, and potentially go into a research post when getting covered in mud in a trench gets old. But I'd also like to get round to writing another play, a situational comedy about the realities of archaeology (they say to write what you know) versus public and media perceptions of the discipline. 

The skills I've developed by being involved in the arts, and by completing my Gold Arts Award are highly transferable. Not only has seven years of drama improved my team-working and leadership skills, but it has given me confidence in speaking and presenting in front of groups of people.

One saying that sticks with me, from the same practitioner that got me to dance to Steps, is “Leave your dignity at the door”, which has proved invaluable in many cases when I’ve been out of my comfort zone.


Here's to celebrating young artists like Jonathon, and how Arts Award can contribute to them becoming highly successful, well-rounded adults. Read about 17-year-old Erin's experience of Arts Award, or how Andrew developed as an actor and facilitator by completing Arts Award at three levels