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Nottingham Artist Trekkah Benjamin Visits USA on Roosevelt Scholarship

5 July 18 words: Phoebe Cox

We had a chit-chat with Trekka Benjamin, who is jettin' off to the states on the Roosevelt Scholarship to learn about how we can improve community arts in the city... 

So for anyone around these parts who might not have heard of Trekkah, how would you summarise what you do?
I’m a music producer and musician. I’ve played in bands and I had a big album out last year called The Enlightening. Then the other side of my work is what I do in the community, where I work for YMCA digital. We work with socially excluded members of the public and use the creative arts and digital medias to impact their lives. So that’s what we do for the day job down here.

How did the Roosevelt Scholarship come about, and what exactly are you planning to do out there?
I’ve had a lot of friends who have done the Roosevelt for different things. So, when I saw the application, I thought of giving it a go. My intentions are to explore a wide range of the States and community arts. I’m going to be visiting community and freelance arts organisations, seeing how their work impacts the communities there and what kind of things we can bring back. I think that creative arts practitioners should be in every community and young people should be able to access the arts for free. I’m also going to be targeting different socially excluded groups and see how the arts are impacting their lives. It’s great to go and learn from it.

Would you like to talk a little more about the work you do with people in Notts and the impact it has had?
We’ve had a massive influx in Nottingham of young refugees and immigrants, and there’s a lot that the arts can play in teaching them local customs and language. We’ve had young kids come here and they want to rap but in English, so we’re working with them, using music but helping their English and making them feel that they’re part of the community. We did a big project called History of Immigration last year, which was looking at Pakistani, African and Caribbean immigrants that have come into the UK. We were celebrating this with sessions around food, music and fashion, using photography, video and music. We built up this whole archive of stories from these immigrants. It’s using the arts for a bigger social message. It brings the community closer together.

How did this vision come about?
I work for YMCA digital and they’re supporting me throughout this… So I will be visiting some YMCAs while I’m out there. This is a great opportunity to start a platform where I can get all community artists together and hopefully that will expand to other countries. It’s really important that I can try and build a whole platform. Everyone is really fixed on making it, but if you’re an amazing acoustic guitarist, you can make a lot of money and have a very warm heart at the end of the day. My big thing about building up this network is showing artists that there’s other areas that they can work and still earn a living, which then paves way to having a lot more time for doing your creative work.

Is there anyone or anything in particular, that you feel has inspired you?
I had some issues growing up around my family… I was a bit naughty in school and then one teacher turned around and said: “Instead of being in isolation, and on the brink of exclusion – you should have a guitar lesson.” That guitar lesson has put me in bands that have played around Europe and all around the UK. I’ve released music, I’ve got a job where I work in music and media every day. I’ve also done college and university – I’m now doing an MA in Sonic Art. I believe that all of that was from that one teacher. It’s not like he’s on the pedestal, but if I can be that inspiration in young people’s lives, even just in one, then that’s what inspires me.

What does Notts mean to you, as an artist? What do you feel that Notts has to offer for aspiring artists?
Nottingham’s very important. I care deeply about Nottingham and its progression. What Nottingham can offer creatively is great institutes like Confetti and things like this. The focus isn’t necessarily to make every single person creative artists, it’s about using the arts to make a happier society. I’m a strong believer that the arts can be such a powerful tool in achieving this. It’s not about what Nottingham can do to make you a great artist, it’s about what the arts can do to make Nottingham even better than it already is. There’s a lot of people in our community that need help and support… It’s not about the scene, it’s about the community.

What do you hope for the future of the art scene in Notts, say in the next 5 years?
Creativity is a survival tool; how you adapt in an environment, that’s creativity. If we can equip our young people, to be creative in their thoughts. We’re giving them survival tools for the future. I just want to see the arts flourishing in the community, and everyone having access to that. These are things that can really bond the community.

What do you hope to take away from what you have learnt so far, across the pond?
Sharing my practice. Before we go, we have tours around Notts, so we can get our history up to date and promote Nottingham while we’re out there.  I’ll be an ambassador of Nottingham with all the knowledge, hopefully.

What’s in the pipeline for the future?
Short time goals is going away and doing this. I think the scholarship can push the work I do to the next level, so that means when I come back I’ll have fresh ideas and approaches for the direction we’re taking. I am currently working with Patrick Canon from I’m Not From London and Nottingham Contemporary, on an arts project around recycling, so that’s using the arts for a bigger vision. So lots of exciting projects where the arts are there, but the driving force is towards a bigger social or environmental issue.

Is there anything you would like to add?
I’m very grateful to the Nottingham Roosevelt Memorial scholarship and my employer, Nottinghamshire YMCA that have supported me. Also if people want to get behind this and support me, whether that’s because you like what I’m speaking about or you believe that community arts is the way forward… Check out the GoFundMe. Any support would be gratefully received.

You can donate to Trekka Benjamin's GoFundMe here

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