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Creative culture happenings filled the Whitworth once again!

From Tuesday 21 to Thursday 23 of February 2023, Afrocats once again had the pleasure of joining forces with The Whitworth to bring free culture-inspired creative activities to families across Greater Manchester, including refugees, asylum seekers, and first-generation young British people.

Over the three days, guided by Whitworth art facilitator of Filipino heritage Loren Hardy, visitors had the chance to get creative upstairs in the School of Creativity. Downstairs, Tosin sang, and Mary danced to entertain and engage visitors to the Gallery in various culturally specific dance workshops.

What a way to start the week!

As families began trickling through the gallery, they all banded around Tozin’s microphone, eager to sing some upbeat gospel songs.

They were glad that the songs were “slow enough to follow along” and gave the children the confidence to proudly stand up at the front of the group bellowing out the melodic tune of ‘Yellow Bird’. Newcomers to the gallery were met with a tremendous choir of children and adults singing at the top of their lungs and dancing along with their own choreography. The sheer joy and excitement felt within the room was magnetic and no one could walk through the gallery without taking a minute to soak it in.

The first dance session was “absolutely brilliant”, with many of the singing group keen to hang around and shake a leg, plus a few new arrivals. One parent was grateful it “kept the kids away from us” and gave their kids a space to move freely.

In line with true Afrocats fashion, Marie played multicultural Afrobeats and Arabic music to demonstrate the variety of cultures in the crowd and introduce new music to other visitors. Tosin opted for a call-and-respond song with easier lyrics to be inclusive of the younger ages which really kept them entertained.

Most of the young volunteers at the event are regulars to our Youth of the World Saturday programme and it was amazing to see their growth in action. The volunteers’ confidence came through as they danced along and encouraged the onlookers to take part. By the time the next singing session was about to commence some of the kids who joined in earlier were eager to learn a new song after enjoying the arts and crafts upstairs. The session began with 8 children singing with parents sat along the side and curious watchers overlooking the balcony. But as the day came to a close, more families drifted in to watch and sway from the corners.

On Day One, Loren explored crafting peg dolls inspired by the vibrant colours and patterns of the ‘Colour Is Mine’ exhibition by British-Trinidadian Althea McNish, and used simple materials such as plain wooden pegs, scraps of old clothing, swatches of material of various designs and textures, squares of patterned African paper, felt tips, colourful tissue paper, ribbons of various colours, pipe cleaners, and glue sticks. Loren ensured that she accommodated boys and non-binary young people too by including blue and gender-neutral colours in the materials.

Volunteer and Civic Engagement Manager Fiona Cariss noted that there was ‘a great mix of people and good flow both downstairs and upstairs, especially considering the recent reopening of the Manchester Museum.’

As is often the case, parents were happy and able to join in with the activities, and alongside lots of new faces, we welcomed many returning Afrocats regulars too.

On day 2, it was clear that yesterday’s music had carried far in the wind. The second day was by far the busiest of the three with large crowds flocking to the Whitworth, excited for What Afrocats had in stall for them.

‘Sarimanok’ was the craft today with many early arrivals claiming their seats before 12pm, exclaiming “we are so keen!”. For the first half an hour there was a steady stream of children hurrying their parents towards tables covered in bright vibrant coloured and patterned paper, intrigued to learn more about the Filipino bird and how they could bring their own to life.

It was great to see the competition between the children and their parents who got involved as well. I heard one girl announce “Daddy, mine is the BEST!”. Floods of people crowded around the School of Creativity “loving all the colours” and enthused to get stuck in. At one point there were over 40 children and 30 adults excitedly queuing to craft their ‘Sarimanok’.

Entering the lower gallery, everybody was singing, dancing, and shouting to ‘The Rhythm of Life’ and one lady said she “really got into that” and “got my groove on”. This was an excellent warm-up before the dance session as everyone was fully engaged and freestyling their own moves. After an intense session of hip thrusting and arm pumping the crowd was left exhausted yet elated and all sat down for a breather. Tozin used this time well and chose a “relaxing and therapeutic” song to calm the energy before the end of the day. What was “brilliant” and “lovely” was her choice of the Nigerian song ‘Imela’ which introduced a lot of participants to new music and a new language.

On the third and final day we experienced another mass of families ready to sing and dance and create at the Whitworth. Today Loren and her team of volunteers set up the tables with an array of coloured paper and pens and to everyone’s surprise…paper plates.

In true Whitworth X Afrocats style music and art were very much incorporated into today’s craft, as children gathered around to make their own spin drums. Oh, the magic that can be created from a few plates, lollipop sticks and beaded string!

Other than the smiles on visitors or the joy bouncing throughout the walls of the gallery, what was great to witness were the interactions our young volunteers had with visitors. Seeing their confidence and willingness to greet newcomers, teach arts and crafts to a range of ages, and get their groove on with the music and dance really demonstrated to us that the work we do with these children is so crucial and making a powerful difference in their lives.

Many thanks to everyone who joined us for the event and of course to The Whitworth for continuing to welcome Afrocats and supporting a powerful creative partnership! Follow us on social media to find out when our next partnership event will be taking place.


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