Social Art in India – Nadia Chaney and Dream a Dream

Nadia Chaney is the regional coordinator of PYE in India and a social artist and youth facilitator from Vancouver, Canada. Here she tells us how she got involved in social artistry, what she’s up to in India, and why she thinks authenticity is so in demand in the modern world. 

Charlie Murphy called me one day and asked if I wanted to go to India with him. I’m Indian by heritage but I had never had the opportunity to combine my work and my place of origin before.

We set out to India to work with an organization called Dream a Dream, who we still work with now. The way PYE works is to partner with a local organization who understand the region and the particular problems that young people are facing. Whenever we start working with a new organization we always try to work within the framework that they have in place. We show them the Creative Community Model and together we work out how to apply it to the work they are doing.

What we found in India was an incredible organization doing vital work with young people.  I felt a huge amount of synergy with the organization, especially with one of the co-founders, Vishal Talreja. When I asked him what his long term vision for the future of the organization was. He told me he wanted to bring life skills to every child living in slums in India. That was very impressive. Apparently, that’s 175 million children.

I’ve returned to India several times to work with Dream a Dream. In the long term we are hoping to put together a team of 50 PYE trained lead facilitators who can bring PYE’s Creative Community Model to the region. A core group of local facilitators would be able to respond creatively to local social problems. They have the local knowledge to understand how to apply the Creative Community Model in the best possible way. We are moving towards this goal. At present we have 11 trained facilitators doing great work in India.  Dream a Dream is also running regular youth camps being run in India, similar to the Power of Hope camps in the US and Canada and the LIFEbeat camps in the UK.

The social art scene is really exploding all around the world at the moment. Social artists are spontaneously appearing everywhere I travel. I sometimes wonder whether it’s just something that’s naturally in the human spirit.

I first got involved with the Power of Hope in 2002, as an adult mentor. I’d been told about the program by a friend, Rupinder Singh Sidhu, so I went along. At the time, I had been running community open mic nights and community discussion forums and I was really pleased with that work, but I was looking for a way to take it to the next level.

I was totally inspired by what I saw at the Power of Hope. It was like my unformed questions had been answered. The framework was there. Creativity was the key to creating authentic connections in groups of people. After that, I took the Creative Community Model and used it in every setting I could, from detention centers to schools, to community organizations. I became fascinated with the idea of encouraging people to take creative risks and seeing what new kinds of relationships could emerge.

I love the work I do as a social artist. It gives me such a sense of purpose. In Vancouver I’m part of a hip hop performance group called Metaphor. We use music to encourage young people to feel excited about their lives, their communities and the possibilities that are open to them.

I never really expected social art to become a full time career for me, but there seems to be such a great need for it. It seems to be too rare for young people to find a way of really connecting and engaging with adults. In the modern world politics and the media have set up a strange model of communication. They engage with people, but there is no authenticity there. Our work is about showing young people that you can engage with people in a very authentic way and gain a huge amount of validation and personal empowerment.

What Peggy and Charlie offer with PYE is a framework. You can do any work that you like within that framework but the Creative Community Model acts as a guide, a point of reference. It’s applicable to all kinds of different situations and in all kinds of different ways.


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