TBI Q&A: Sarah Longbottom

Sarah Longbottom.
Sarah Longbottom describes how the Nga Rangatahi Toa Creative Arts Initiative teams artist-mentor


Sarah Longbottom describes how the Nga Rangatahi Toa Creative Arts Initiative teams artist-mentors with at-risk youth, using the creative process to engender a life change.

She says it "allows rangatahi to safely explore their own lives, their culture, their identity and most importantly to validate their place in the world."

Sixteen collaborative works produced in the youth-artist partnerships will be exhibited along with a selection of works by the mentors at The Sole Project: The Exhibition at Mangere Arts Centre - Nga Tohu o Uenuku from 26 November - 24 December 2010.

During what hours of the day do you feel most inspired?

Definitely a morning person - that straight after exercise and breakfast buzz are my favourite hours. I think it’s just feeling that feeling of potential in each new day, and that exciting unknown of what is going to come from the next 24 hours…. And deciding how I want to shape those hours.

How would a good friend describe your aesthetic or style?

Cool azzzz

How does your environment affect your work?

This is totally crucial for me and it is important that I work in an environment that is not hierarchical and not institutional. I try to create a working environment for myself and those who I work with that is collaborative, laid back, pretty fluid and all about the love.

Do you like to look at the big picture or focus on the details?
I’m a hard out one of the Big Pic Peeps…. Plans of world domination always being refined. But once I’ve got my Big Pic in focus I knuckle down and grind out the deets to ensure I’m walking the walk, not just talking the talk.

The Nga Rangatahi Toa Creative Arts Initiative is a programme for at-risk youth. What does it involve?

Nga Rangatahi Toa Creative Arts Initiative is an arts-mentoring program which covers the four artistic disciplines of visual art, drama, music, dance and drama. The programs we provide are a powerful intersection of New Zealand’s top creative talent and the at-risk youth of our society, brought together to use the creative process (and the investigation of identity that comes with this) to engender a transformational life change in the rangatahi.

Over intensive one-to-one workshops the mentoring partnerships each create a collaborative work that explores and represents the cultural and social identity of the rangatahi. Following the workshops is a public event to showcase the mahi that has been done, and to create a pro-social platform for the rangatahi to shine.

How does mentoring through art work for these kids?

Our rangatahi are all students of alternative education, which means they are aged 13-16 and have been excluded and alienated from mainstream education. Many have also had dealings with numerous government agencies and are known to the Police. Their years have not exactly been filled with positive experiences, and they generally lack avenues by which to self-reflect on what it means to be just ‘surviving’, as opposed to ‘living’, life.

The combination of focused one-to-one attention and the creative arts that Nga Rangatahi Toa Creative Arts Initiative provides allows the rangatahi to safely explore their own lives, their culture, their identity and most importantly to validate their place in the world.

What's the process each individual goes through?

Social workers and probation officers aside, most of the rangatahi involved can count the fingers of one hand the hours of intensive one-to-one adult attention they have had in their lives. The rangatahi and artist-mentor are matched up in the week prior to the workshops and much of this first meeting is spent just having a korero about life and about what they want to achieve in the coming workshops.

During the workshops each partnership work together to produce a collaborative piece for the showcase event. It is important to also create a feeling of collaboration within the group as a whole, so we start each morning together in an activity and then the partnerships move off to work on their creative art. As the workshops move towards a close there may be further collaboration between partnerships, in terms of what format the showcase element takes.

The final step is the showcase event, for example the exhibition of The Sole Project at Mangere Arts Centre. This exhibition features the collaborative works created by each rangatahi-mentor partnership, and each work is representative of the rangatahi, their life and their voice.

What do the rangatahi get out of it?

They get so many different things out of it! Through the process something just drops away from them…. It is the difference between the hood up, and the hood down. It is the difference between staunching each other out, and big-upping each other on their art work. It is the difference between mumbling a ‘kia ora’ and delivering their mihi with pride. It is the difference between the scowl of an ‘at-risk youth’ and the engaging confident smile of a teenage artist. Most of all it is the difference that comes from recognising that they are a part of something, that they matter, and that they are loved. It’s the realness.

What does your team get out of it?

It is just as transformational for the team as it is for the rangatahi; we know how lucky we are! Working with the kids we do is a hard out humbling experience, and pretty much as real as you can get – there’s never any room for any bullsh*t! This is a unique and inspiring environment to be in and I think that it makes you live life differently. No more crap.

How can other people help out?

Contact me! Next year our online community of artists and rangatahi will be launched, as will our innovative and extremely social volunteer’s roster. We are also extending our Patrons Circle for both individuals and businesses.

How long have you been involved with the project?

I’ve been in education for 8 years and specifically working in the kaupapa of Nga Rangatahi Toa Creative Arts Initiative for about 2 years.

How have you attracted such an impressive range of collaborators?

The excellence of what is produced is very important to me, both artistically and in terms of outcomes for the rangatahi. There is no way I would expect some of our top creative forces to be involved in something that wasn’t totally driven to achieve excellence. I work from a social entrepreneurial perspective, so I constantly monitor and evaluate the process and always look for ways to improve the model for the best possible generation of social capital for all involved. What this looks like in practice is a happy, collaborative and ever growing team of artists and rangatahi.

It is always humbling to have such an overwhelmingly awesome pool of talent with which to work. The artists I work with have something extra to them - are the business, they know wassup and they know how much cooler it makes your life when you connect with a kid that needs you.

If someone wanted to get involved in alternative education how can they find out more?

Alternative Education is actually pretty notoriously invisible – which is part of the problem! It is very much on the down-low, even though there is real help needed. If anyone is keen to find out more they can contact me and I’ll point them in the right direction.

What's your number one business tip for surviving (and thriving) in the creative industries?

“No” is not an answer, it is simply a question – “What can I do to get a ‘yes’ next time?”

Which of your projects to date has given you the most satisfaction?
The visual arts arm of Nga Rangatahi Toa Creative Arts Initiative is called The Sole Project and our 2010 has been our first ever variation. Getting this up and running has been an incredible experience for me and I have leant so much and extended myself no end. The satisfaction I have gained by creating something where once there was nothing has made this the best year of my life.

Who or what has inspired you recently?

From both a professional and personal perspective, without doubt my biggest inspiration is my little bro, Richard Longbottom, and my sister-in-law, Raewyn Hill. They are the most insane creative team and are pretty much taking on the world in dance. Most recently New York City has been the scene of their domination, making work at the Mikhail Baryshnikov Arts Centre (and having it described as ‘beautiful’ by the man himself) and being invited to choreograph the graduation piece for the Juilliard School of Dance. They just get sh*t done. They are with me every step of the way.

If you could go back and choose a completely different career path to the one you've chosen, what would it be?

Funnily enough, even though it may seem on first inspection to be really different, I think that it is a career path that I will (at some point in the 10 year plan) incorporate into what I do. I am really interested in business, specifically developing sustainable and innovative business models that will contribute to a revolutionising of the economic system in which we live. As much as I love what I do, what I would love more is for alternative education and Nga Rangatahi Toa Creative Arts Initiative to cease to be necessary, and this career path is one way I see of progressing toward that end.
What place is always with you, wherever you go?
The jetty at Governors Bay, Banks Peninsula, just outside of Christchurch

What's the best way to listen to music, and why?

You can have all your day-to-day modes of listening, but nothing ever beats live. Recent highlights definitely The Pixies and Eru Dangerspiel.

You are given a piece of string, a stick and some fabric. What do you make?

Something cool azzzzz

What's the best stress relief advice you've ever been given?

Break the seemingly impossible into doable tasks…. and just do it!

What's great about today?

Same thing that’s great about every day – looking, listening, learning, loving…. Ooooooh, and coffee at Conch.

What’s your big idea for 2011?

My long-term kaupapa is simply to create the opportunity for people to do good, no matter who they are or what they have to contribute, and Nga Rangatahi Toa Creative Arts Initiative is one way I have started to make this happen. Our 2011 program will engender empowerment & self-confidence in rangatahi, and I guess from a personal perspective my big idea for next year is to grow capacity and drive sustainability of the project as a whole, through empathy, collaboration, innovation, trust and love. It’s gonna be a mean year.

Further information:

The Sole Project: The Exhibition
Delivered by the Nga Rangatahi Toa Creative Arts Initiative of still water rising Trust.
When: 26 November - 24 December 2010
Where: Mangere Arts Centre - Nga Tohu o Uenuku
Corner Orly & Bader Drive, Mangere

Written by

The Big Idea Editor

4 Nov 2010

The Big Idea Editor

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