PAN: Celebrating Three Decades of Supporting Youth Through Art

An NGO based in London, Grese Sermaxhaj explains how PAN are supporting young people through the theatre and art.

Pan Intercultural Arts (PAN) is a non-profit organisation, based in London, United Kingdom (UK), which works with young people and local communities, using art to inspire, engage, and reach.

In this piece, Youth Time highlights the journey and contribution of PAN: the first organisation to have used the term ‘interculturalism’.

Elisa Braglia narrows down on the inspirational idea behind this initiative, their key projects and challenges, and ways youth can support their vision.

At the heart of PAN’s work lies the forging of understanding through creativity when different cultures meet.

PAN’s journey is wonderful – from building an artist’s theatre to represent a multi-ethnic Britain, to supporting refugees.

Read on to see how this looks in practice.


PAN Through The Years: The Beauty of Diversity

A group of artists found PAN in 1986 in London from various cultural backgrounds, all sharing a fascination in the creative process and product which occurred when different cultures meet.

Braglia explains they [the group of artists] worked together to create ensemble performances which celebrated the richness of our diverse society.

“Through their work the group soon realised that the understanding and respect which came from working creatively together, and the potential that this process could unlock, could be beneficial for the many communities living side by side in London,” she elaborates.

At the very beginning of its path, PAN focused on how to enrich artists’ theatre practice in order to represent and to speak to a multi-ethnic Britain.

“Soon they realised there was a need to support those who were coming from outside the UK and to give them space to re-imagine themselves and fulfil their potential.”

Facilitators at the Arts Against Violence programme
PAN Handled: Facilitators at the Arts Against Violence programme

Over the years, PAN has developed its expertise in theatre for development and now delivers a range of successful creative development and leadership programmes for disadvantaged young people across Greater London.

During the years, PAN has been at the forefront and witnessed many changes and crises, including the refugee crisis, the sharp cut in public funding for non-profit organisations, the youth violence epidemic in London, and the increase of nationalism and hatred against anyone who is labelled “different”.

However, it has also engaged with a larger number of supporters thanks to digitalisation.

“We have expanded our work outside London by disseminating our practice in person and online. 

“We are now seeing many young people wanting to support our causes and actively engaging in arts for social change projects,” she adds.


Empowering Trafficked Young Refugees

PAN has several projects unlocking young people’s potential.

It is currently delivering two main strands of work, the Refugee Arts Programme and the Arts Against Violence Programme.

“Through the Refugee Arts Programme, we reach over 100 young people every year and we provide participants with creative activities, peer mentoring and leadership training and community performances and showcases,” Braglia explains.

One project, the Amies Freedom Choir, is dedicated to female survivors of trafficking.

Amies, which means female friends in French, was born in 2010, when we realised many of the young refugees we met had been trafficked in the UK for prostitution or domestic slavery. 

“The choir aims to develop the musical and cultural awareness of its participants by exploring songs and musical styles from each other’s cultures and languages.”

Refugee Arts Programme Amies project
Mon Amies: Refugee Arts Programme

PAN artists and professional musicians from different regional traditions support the choir in building a repertoire of songs, vocal and choral skills and developing musical and cultural understanding.

You can listen to some of their songs here.


A Colourful Future

For many people, PAN is an opportunity to make friends and feel, for the first time since they arrived in the UK, part of a community.

To have a better understanding of the amazing impact of PAN, let us look at the participant’s impression:

The future is now showing lots of colours, rainbow colours. Before it was not showing any colours. Amies has helped me… things that I have wished to happen are coming my way. I am going to be doing my access course to Uni for next year [I want to be a] social worker. I have got a job so I will start work on Tuesday” – Amies London participants, part of the Refugee Art Programme.

“Over the course of 30 to 40 sessions, young people rediscover their confidence and aspirations, and look at the future with a positive outlook,” Braglia adds.

In addition, Lewisham Young Voices is part of the Arts Against Violence programme.

Started in 1998, the programme address issues such as anti-social behaviour, violence, crime, racism and discrimination.

In the past few years youth crime has deeply affected London, and we aim to work with those young people who are most vulnerable and at risk of offending and gang-affiliation.

“Currently we run residencies in schools, reaching about 60 young people per year, and we have a drama group where young people work together to devise their own performance, based on the ideas and issues they care about the most.”

By facilitating conversations and debates, Braglia believes, PAN supports its participants in gaining confidence and skills so they can tell their stories and voice their opinions.


Identifying Challenges, Overcoming Them

Speaking from the experience, Braglia acknowledges that right now there is a high risk of isolation and marginalisation among those who are more vulnerable.

The pandemic exacerbated inequalities and young people’s needs and issues were often forgotten. 

“We are receiving many referrals from schools and other organisations who are looking for programmes to support young people who have lost confidence and the ability to believe in themselves and their future.”

Fortunately, this is exactly what PAN does.

“Creativity is a key element in our work, because by imagining something new, or looking at it with a unique perspective, we develop tools and resources that can bring a positive change in our life.”, she says.

Further, Braglia emphasises that isolation and trauma limit creativity, which can also lead to people getting stuck in situations they feel forced into.

“By experiencing the transforming power of the arts, young people find strength, a purpose and awareness of their potential,” she concludes.


Supporting PAN

After you have read all about the significant contribution of PAN, you may want to support the organisation.

You can start by following PAN on social media.

Braglia gives you the reasons to do so:

“Young people are asking how we can support social change and create a world that is fair and just.”

The issue is complex but PAN has developed, over 30 years, a method that can be implemented everywhere in the world: using the arts to support the development and to unlock the potential of young people, so they can be active citizens and change makers.”

Keep following PAN to stay in touch with its wonderful world.

Want to hear more about inspirational stories from around the world? Well we have something for you:

How Global Dignity Empowers a Greater Sense of Humanity

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