Andy Dawson with a student from the Able Orchestra. Photo Credit: Mark Allsop

Hearts for the Arts 2021 Shortlist: Andy Dawson

Andy Dawson from Inspire Youth Arts has been shortlisted for Best Arts Champion - Local Authority or Cultural Trust worker in the 2021 Hearts for the Arts Awards.

Andy Dawson works as Service Manager at Inspire Youth Arts, which was launched, and is part-funded, by Nottinghamshire County Council. He is responsible for strategic planning and securing funds to deliver fantastic creative journeys for young people across Nottinghamshire. Andy’s key tasks include securing funding, networking to establish vital partnerships, overseeing around 40 arts projects, supporting staff to deliver those projects, budget management and developing and maintaining Inspire’s building as a community resource  – which now hosts a 100-seat black box theatre and professionally equipped recording studio, along with rehearsal spaces. Andy’s main focusses are around dance, music and digital art. He also manages Inspire’s own record label.

Andy is often a lone voice of arts advocacy in senior management meetings. Despite this, he continues to secure funding by providing data and real stories of young people who have found their place in life through their art-work. He works tirelessly to remove barriers to participation, taking the projects directly to the young people as well as hosting projects in Inspire’s building.

The extraordinary work created by the team under Andy’s lead has raised the profile of the arts locally and nationally. Andy’s ambitious approach has enabled the development of nationally significant projects: Inspire’s Able Orchestra has performed with the Halle Orchestra, the BBC Philharmonic and at the Royal Albert Hall. This project involves Andy supporting and organising for a group of physically disabled young people to travel to and perform in London and Manchester, with his constantly can-do approach.

Other recent projects include: working with the Youth Criminal Justice System to deliver a photography project and hosting the launch of and the exhibition of the photographs. This enabled a group of young women to express their concerns and fears for their area. The project attracted the attention of the town mayor who committed to doing something about their concerns. Andy also worked with a group of homeless young people and has provided an arts strategy for a local Special Educational Needs College. He also encouraged a partner organisation to work with an estate in Mansfield which is a particularly vulnerable area. After his advocacy, they delivered a project there, giving adults and young people the opportunity to experience the arts and to come together as a community.

During Covid-19, Andy transferred project delivery online. He wanted to provide young people with an outlet and some aspect of normality. He supported tutors in their development of new skills to make this happen.

Many of Inspire’s young people, lots of whom felt hopeless at the beginning of their journey with the youth arts programme, have gone on to higher education in the arts and/or have secured work in an arts setting, both in the UK and abroad. Some of them now freelance for Inspire. One of the impacts Andy has secured over his 20 years of work is that no one ever wants to leave Inspire Youth Arts.

What the judges said:

“Andy is a powerhouse, leading a small team which has a massive impact. He has built partnerships, inspired his team and the people they work with, and ensured culture has a real voice in the larger organisation”

“Wow! Andy is outstanding. His work for young people and the arts in Nottinghamshire is far reaching. He is evidently a tireless campaigner for the arts and his positive attitude and big picture approach has led to significant impact in many areas. His dedication to continuing to support the artists he works with throughout the pandemic is commendable.”