CAN has worked with thousands of people since its inception in 1978: as community members, young people, artists, and partner organisations, often building deep and lasting connections. We asked people to share their CAN stories with us – read some of them here.
My CAN journey started when I was 20, I was a final year Drama student at the University of Manchester…
My CAN journey started when I was 20, I was a final year Drama student at the University of Manchester and volunteered for CAN as their Marketing and Information Assistant.
At the time, I was writing my dissertation about theatre as a tool for social cohesion between refugees, asylum seekers, and their host communities so I used the Exodus Onstage Festival 2010 as my main case study.
Exodus was my first experience of working on a festival and it combined theatre, music, storytelling, debate, dance, and glorious food! And was a whole month of challenging, contemporary work that explored narratives of war, diaspora and asylum – Exodus was a festival that used creativity to build bridges.
My time at CAN cemented the importance of festivals as sites of unity and celebration for me. Festivals allow for debate and difficult conversations; people re-discover strength eroded by racism and prejudice in a way that they struggle to do in other settings. I’m now the Senior Producer at The WOW Foundation. We put on WOW – Women of the World Festivals exploring everything and anything to do with gender equality. Since my time with CAN, I’ve dedicated my career to combining creativity and social justice, making festivals that bring people together and platform marginalised voices.
Post university, CAN became a second home to me. The entire team of staff and artists were mentors to me, and everyone has always been hugely supportive of my career. I’ve acted in CAN theatre productions. I’ve facilitated drama workshops. And I’ve even worn a huge skirt dancing in the Manchester Day Parade.
CAN picked me up when I made some terrible career decisions like the time I took a sales job selling energy in the Arndale. CAN grounded me, gave me mentorship and training opportunities, and invited me to be part of steering groups in my early 20s, which made me realise that my voice matters and that I can make a difference. In my eyes, CAN is Manchester’s community arts gold; they create deep meaningful lifelong relationships with creatives and communities and genuinely care about people’s artistic development.
I’m a Theatre Artist, who writes, performs, and directs. And I sing, too. Primarily jazz. I first heard of CAN…
I’m a Theatre Artist, who writes, performs, and directs. And I sing, too. Primarily jazz. I first heard of CAN when I applied for a job directing refugee artists for a long-term project.
That project became Another Country, which went on to be part of the Arts Council England Decibel Showcase. It took months before people would tell me how they became refugees, and their stories were heroic – the kind of thing you make movies about. I could never get over the difference between their selfless, heroic personal stories and the disgusting demonisation of refugees in some corners of the press. I still can’t.
I got the artists to create an immersive show in which the audience was the protagonists. They got chased and treated the way the artists themselves had on their journeys to the UK. At the end of the piece, the audience was asked whether they had wanted to help a refugee they’d seen caught and imprisoned along their journey through the show. If they answered yes, they were set to one side by the “authorities” to be detained. After seeing the first two or three audience members detained this way, everyone else in the queue would answer “no” – they hadn’t wanted to help the “runaway” refugee.
So, what the audience learned was that in a pretend situation, they wouldn’t stick their necks out – unlike every single artist who worked on that show. That was the takeaway to think about.
I got much-needed training in how to work sensitively with people who have experienced complex trauma. During the pandemic, I’ve been asked many times to talk about how to transcend trauma in art. What I know about it, I learned working at CAN, and through being commissioned by Unlimited who provide significant commissions and support to disabled artists, and I am disabled.
I think I’ve done my best directing for CAN, even though I’ve won awards with more conventional pieces, because the actors were fearless, and would try anything. And the content came from their hearts.
CAN kept me afloat as an artist, it gave me chances no one else was giving me, to do work no one else was doing, for people who gave their all to every project. CAN gave me such fabulous, open-ended opportunities to push the form and scope of my craft.
There are a lot of organisations that do work for audiences they consider disadvantaged or excluded, but not that many who create great art with and by them. CAN does. They are priceless.
I had the pleasure of working with CAN as Exodus Artistic Manager between 2006 and 2007. Working alongside the CAN…
I had the pleasure of working with CAN as Exodus Artistic Manager between 2006 and 2007. Working alongside the CAN team I was involved in helping to deliver some incredible projects.
These included high-profile popular events such as the Exodus Festival, Exodus Live band nights, Exodus Onstage theatre season, Exodus Sparks new writing project, and the Urban Music Theatre Project. My highlight was the Beating Wing International Orchestra which brought together 12 musicians from around the world and was premiered to critical acclaim at the Manchester International Festival in 2007.
Before joining CAN I was a freelance artist and Project Manager and established several community arts projects throughout Greater Manchester. My role at CAN was really my first taste of working with a professional funded arts organisation in Manchester. It significantly contributed to my skills and profile as an arts leader in Greater Manchester. It was invaluable to see how larger and more experienced organisations worked in my short time working there. It was a springboard for me to consolidate my journey as an arts leader – I’ve since gone on to lead the successful Arts Council England-funded outdoor arts organisation Global Grooves and establish The Vale, a Carnival Arts Centre of Excellence in Tameside.
Global Grooves partnered with CAN to create the Exodus parade as part of the Manchester Day Parade. The project brought together hundreds of people, performers, and makers from across Greater Manchester’s diverse communities to create a unique production including song, dance, visual arts, and brass.
CAN is an incredibly important organisation for Manchester, particularly as it works with people, artists, and producers that traditionally may not have a voice or opportunity in the cultural sector. Its approach to participatory arts has absolute integrity at its core. And it’s this integrity that brings trust and friendship so the organisation connects with those from all walks of life with equity. That’s what makes CAN such a close friend to many whether these are individual relationships with people or partnerships between organisations and networks.
I admire CAN hugely as an arts organisation that celebrates arts and culture from refugee and new migrant communities. CAN…
I admire CAN hugely as an arts organisation that celebrates arts and culture from refugee and new migrant communities. CAN does genuinely support artists to realise their creative ambitions and to grow successful careers in the region and in the UK.
I have direct personal experience of this as a Manchester-based artist with a refugee background. Over the years, I’ve taken part in many of CAN’s workshops, training opportunities, and, lately, in its artist-in-residence scheme during 2018-2019. CAN’s Exodus Festival gave me space for my first ever live performance in the UK. All of this has contributed to me launching a singing, song-writing, and producing career in the UK.
CAN has opened the door to other work. Currently, I’m working part-time for CAN as an Assistant Producer with the Kámoši Juniors Performing Arts Group, a project in Leigh in the Borough of Wigan. CAN played a big part in helping me set up Amani, the African arts and cultural organisation that I lead. The organisation is like a trampoline for those first bounces in launching, or in my case, as I settled in the UK, relaunching a career, in the creative industries.
SoundCloud: Emmanuela Yogolelo
I’m a Marketing and Audience Development Consultant. I come from a working-class background and I’m particularly interested in working with…
I’m a Marketing and Audience Development Consultant. I come from a working-class background and I’m particularly interested in working with organisations who “walk the walk” rather than “talk the talk” in their work with people who supposedly “aren’t interested in being creative”. CAN really do walk the walk as a sincere and expert organisation.
Like CAN, I believe people are inherently creative and I know there are significant barriers for working-class people to experience and create art. I’ve long admired CAN’s philosophy of genuine co-creation and its commitment to working shoulder to shoulder with the people of Greater Manchester.
CAN has always inspired me, and it’s motivated me to build my career working in organisations and alongside people who share the same values as CAN.
Being Chair of CAN’s Board of trustees up until 2010 will always be a highlight in my career. Since being the Chair, I’ve kept in touch with CAN, attended events, freelanced for them, and updated my digital skills on one of their training projects.
Quite rightly, CAN is viewed as an organisation that excels and it’s cited by its funders as a best practice organisation for its pioneering work.
CAN has really helped me. From CAN I learned a lot more about producing than I initially knew. Thanks to…
CAN has really helped me. From CAN I learned a lot more about producing than I initially knew. Thanks to CAN I’m now a better Artist and Producer and I’ve worked with some of the leading arts companies in the world including Manchester International Festival (MIF).
CAN supported Manchester International Roots Orchestra (MIRO) to get funding from Arts Council England and develop a national tour, with me as both Rapper and Producer. It was an amazing experience and I learned so much about successful project management.
Following that experience, I’ve taken part in a Producer placement at the Old Vic Theatre, London, and connected with MIF as an artist. It’s great to have that visibility as an Artist and Producer.
I’m really fond of CAN. The organisation has really invested in me, it’s given me confidence that has helped me progress in my career.
And it was great to come back in Spring and Summer 2021 as a Creative Producer. I worked on a number of projects including HUNGER with three international artists live-streamed from Manchester Museum, Black Lives Matter: Readings and Conversation, the live-streamed event for International Mother Tongue Day and the Horizons Festival.
I’m a Dancer, Choreographer, Workshop Leader and I develop theatre projects. I’ve been involved with CAN as a participant, a…
I’m a Dancer, Choreographer, Workshop Leader and I develop theatre projects. I’ve been involved with CAN as a participant, a freelance artist and as a Creative Producer. The role with CAN was instrumental in helping me to develop a strategic approach to administration, project development, and management.
CAN has always been really helpful to me. It’s supported my development as an artist through freelance opportunities. The organisation has helped grow my profile in the North West and nurtured my skills. Taking part in the digital Do IT training in 2014/2015, helped me build my digital marketing skills. I learned how to build a WordPress website, how to get the most out of social media, and how to develop content through photography, audio, and video.
CAN was instrumental in helping me to set up Afrocats an award-winning CIO (Charitable Incorporated Organisation) that supports adults, youth and families who are refugees, asylum seekers, and first and second-generation British young people in 2003. In 2021 Afrocats won the Creative Care Award at the Manchester Culture Awards.
CAN is important because it bridges the gap between community organisations and mainstream arts organisations, and it introduces diverse artists to opportunities and professional platforms.
CAN makes a real difference to artists and the communities it works with.
My first involvement with CAN was when I was a member of Afrocats as a dancer, when I was 15…
My first involvement with CAN was when I was a member of Afrocats as a dancer, when I was 15 or 16, back in 2005 and 2006. We performed at CAN’s Exodus Festival, alongside lots of other refugee community groups. Afrocats created and performed in Where Is Home? in partnership with CAN, directed by CAN’s then Creative Director, Cilla Baynes. Where Is Home? was performed at the greenroom and it was a huge success.
CAN helped me to develop as an artist. I discovered how art can be used to highlight socio-political issues. Its projects really gave me first-hand experiences of working with refugees and new migrants to this country. I feel strongly about the hostility and racism they face, and I’ve included their stories in some of my work since.
Now I work mainly in theatre, music, spoken word, and as a Producer. I’ve toured my work nationally; I’ve supported the Mercury Prize nominated spoken word artist and poet Kae Tempest, collaborated with theatre companies including Eclipse; and been part of the British Council’s platform at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. You can find more about me at keishathompson.com
CAN does a great job of bringing local and migrant communities together. It showcases and commissions high-quality art that serves various communities – CAN contributes to social cohesion. Anyone who connects with CAN develops skills and has experiences that will help within and beyond the arts sector.
I love what CAN has done for me.
I first got involved with CAN in 2012 when I worked alongside Magdalen Bartlett, who was CAN’s Children and Young…
I first got involved with CAN in 2012 when I worked alongside Magdalen Bartlett, who was CAN’s Children and Young People’s Creative Producer, to establish CAN Young Artists. I led CAN Young Artists for seven years. The relationship with CAN and their young people’s programme is one of the most significant of my career. CAN appointed me as a Lead Artist, giving me the confidence to see myself as the artist I wanted to be. CAN believed in my ideas and trusted my artistic vision.
CAN Young Artists and I built something very special, making some incredible, high-quality pieces of work together. Young people describe the company as a family with the trust and understanding of each other. It’s a fantastic first introduction to the arts for many of the young people. CAN Young Artists offers quality training for young artists to develop their skills in performance. Many have gone on to join other companies or to study performance.
One of my proudest moments was seeing one of the members of the company perform at the Royal Exchange Theatre in 2019 in his first professional show – a work-in-progress with the award-winning theatre company YESYESNONO.
CAN stands out as a pioneering organisation in the UK because it actually listens to the people taking part, its artists, and audiences. Genuine consultation happens. CAN acts on those conversations, it’s not a box-ticking exercise. The work is for real.
Wigan Music Service
Wigan Music Service has been proud to work in partnership with CAN over the past six years on the Kámoši…
Wigan Music Service
Wigan Music Service has been proud to work in partnership with CAN over the past six years on the Kámoši Juniors Performing Arts project in Leigh, in the borough of Wigan, to bring high-quality musical engagement to culturally diverse and host community families in Leigh. Through our work with CAN, we’ve learned the true meaning of inclusivity and come to appreciate the value of engaging children from all communities in meaningful and focused artistic activity.
We know the importance and value placed by the children of the Kámoši Juniors Performing Arts project and their families on building friendships with children from Leigh’s diverse communities by using music project work with direction and focus. It’s been a wonderful vehicle to build the relationships that are so desired by families for them to feel truly accepted and a part of our community.
The partnership working between my colleague here at the Music Service, CAN specialists and school colleagues is a model of effective sharing of knowledge, expertise, and experience for the good of children and young people.
Through our work with CAN, we have learned the true meaning of inclusivity and come to appreciate the value of engaging children from new migrant communities alongside children from the town’s host communities in meaningful and focused artistic activity.
The Continuing Professional Development opportunity for Wigan Music Service through this project has also been immeasurable. It’s given us the opportunity to upskill expert music practitioners in the wider context of delivering music to less familiar minoritised groups and has helped the service to forge links with the Wigan Council’s EMAS service which will develop future collaborations.
I worked for CAN as a Project Manager for 10 years, and I had the honour of contributing to its…
I worked for CAN as a Project Manager for 10 years, and I had the honour of contributing to its women’s and youth creative development programmes.
Souk Kitchen was the project that had the biggest impact on me. It was an exciting and memorable live theatre performance that brought together over 60 refugee, asylum seekers and local women. Souk Kitchen was developed through outreach workshops and supported by a talented team of artists. Eight women’s groups shared stories and experiences from their cultures through music, dance, singing, food, fashion, digital media textiles and visual art. The project revealed hidden stories of refugees and asylum seekers, it opened up avenues for new connections, built friendships and grew support networks.
The growth of CAN’S Exodus programme left a lasting impression on me and all those who were part of it over the years. Working for CAN instilled continuing confidence in me and showed me endless possibilities in artistic and community collaborations and raising awareness of global experiences.
I’m Pat Mackela, a musician, I play drums and percussion, and I’ve been involved with CAN since 2005. I’ve been…
I’m Pat Mackela, a musician, I play drums and percussion, and I’ve been involved with CAN since 2005. I’ve been part of Exodus from the beginning as a Volunteer and then a Trainee Music Workshop Facilitator. This training helped me become a Music Workshop Leader and Facilitator.
I’ve been involved in lots of different CAN projects over the years. A highlight for me was working on the Lisapo: The Congolese Tales project in 2014. This project brought Greater Manchester’s Congolese community together, to share our stories, and we held the most amazing Congolese event.
CAN has been so helpful in many aspects of my life in Manchester. As a musician from a refugee background, the support I’ve received was on so many levels supporting me as an individual as well as an artist.
What CAN brings to the arts is beyond comparison. CAN has helped so many artists from asylum-seeker and refugee backgrounds, to find their place in the arts and music scene in the UK.
I’ve gained so much from my involvement with CAN. I always say I’m part of the CAN family.
I’m a Digital Artist, Filmmaker, Theatre Maker, Writer and Creative Producer. From 2010, CAN has supported my ambitions and made…
I’m a Digital Artist, Filmmaker, Theatre Maker, Writer and Creative Producer. From 2010, CAN has supported my ambitions and made them real by valuing me as an Iranian refugee. I’m now an artist with a thriving career. I’ve received fantastic mentoring for my creative practice, which introduced me to new creative areas like animation. CAN gave me confidence and leadership skills, which have meant I’ve worked internationally through TANDEM with the European Cultural Foundation.
I talked at the World Health Organisation about the impact of community art on mental health in society. The co-creation at the heart of CAN’s work inspired me to form my own organisation – DIPACT, which is a platform for diverse artists to explore and experiment with creativity, working with organisations such as CAN, Commonword and The Whitworth.
I’m often asked how I became who I am today, especially as someone with a refugee background. I ALWAYS mention CAN’s role in helping my artistic journey.
It’s not just me, there are hundreds of artists and thousands of people from different communities who’ve come together through CAN to make art to say what needs to be said to the world.
Seyed Ali Jaberi and Hamdel Ensemble
Seyed Ali Jaberi and Hamdel Ensemble were CAN artists-in-residence in 2019. CAN gave us support to make an application to Arts…
Seyed Ali Jaberi and Hamdel Ensemble
Seyed Ali Jaberi and Hamdel Ensemble were CAN artists-in-residence in 2019. CAN gave us support to make an application to Arts Council England’s Grants for The Arts. The successful grant application meant we toured All Because of Love to seven cities in England, to Glasgow, and appeared at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Every concert was a huge success in terms of both ticket sales and audience feedback. 98% of audiences rated the concerts as
“Amazing” and “Fantastic”.
Not only did we get help with the funding application; we had support with our creative work, marketing, budgeting, and project management. CAN gave us the confidence, support and skills to embark on the tour. CAN is an expert organisation that loves the arts, and is dedicated to helping artists realise their potential.
The word “support” doesn’t do justice to the help we received. CAN is an expert organisation dedicated to helping artists realise their potential.
Sashwati Mira Sengupta
When I first moved from London to Manchester, I took part in CAN’s In the Mix training programme for emerging…
Sashwati Mira Sengupta
When I first moved from London to Manchester, I took part in CAN’s In the Mix training programme for emerging Music Workshop Leaders. It was a turning point in my career, and through this, I was introduced to the richness of Manchester’s creative scene. To this day, CAN is a sounding board if I want to explore creative or project ideas.
I’ve met many Artists, Producers, and Cultural Organisations through CAN’s extensive networks and cultural events, which has helped my career immensely. Working in partnership with CAN to fundraise, and produce workshop and arts events has been a huge education for me, and now I support others in writing their funding applications!
One significant project was working on the Kámoši Juniors Performing Arts Group. At the time, the young people mainly had Czech and Slovak Roma heritages and my DJ crew delivered workshops with a group of young Kámoši MCs. They then performed on stage with the iconic Serbian “Rock n Roma” band KAL at Manchester Academy. The project was amazing because of the confidence it gave young people.
In 2019, using my knowledge of touring, I worked on the hugely successful tour of Seyed Ali Jaberi and The Hamdel Ensemble to seven venues and one festival – the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. It’s something I’m really proud of.
Facing discrimination in the arts is a real barrier, and stops talented people from pursuing artistic careers. CAN offers high-quality support, development and platforming to artists from international heritages, who would otherwise face systemic marginalisation.
CAN is part of my extended arts family. I first got to know CAN when it was called Community Arts…
CAN is part of my extended arts family.
I first got to know CAN when it was called Community Arts Workshop back in the late 1980s. I met them as a young person taking part in a music project in Ashton-under-Lyne and I’m really proud to have been involved with CAN all these years.
Now I’m a professional Musician and Composer. My work with CAN has ranged from running music workshops, composing music and directing music for theatre performances and installations, sound recording and lighting. In 2019, I even redecorated the CAN office.
CAN is a valuable resource for me, and its door is always open. Over the years, I’ve had great advice from CAN’s team. No matter how crazy my ideas are, I know I’ll be listened to, supported and respected.
CAN’s work with the communities that face barriers to creative opportunities is second to none. It’s one of the most inclusive organisations I’ve ever worked with.
In the early 1980s, I began volunteering at Community Arts Workshop, as CAN was known then. I then got some…
In the early 1980s, I began volunteering at Community Arts Workshop, as CAN was known then. I then got some paid work on projects, and later a permanent job as a Community Music Worker. These first experiences were transformative for me. I learnt how to put together and lead major projects, such as the community play Spooky Boogie Bolton, and the fantastic Tameside Asian Music and Poetry Project. Over the years I’ve stayed in close touch with CAN as a supporter and freelance artist.
I returned to CAN for a year-long role as interim Artistic Director in 2007. The highlight of that year was initiating the ground-breaking Beating Wing Orchestra for the first Manchester International Festival.
Hugely influential, CAN has always remained grounded in communities; nurturing talent and cultural expression that is socially relevant and supportive of the issues faced and change needed by any community group. There are so many other artists who, like me, owe a great deal to CAN for being where we are now.
The ripples from CAN’s work are felt far and wide, each project inspiring both audience and participants, as well as influencing a wider network including policy makers. This vitality and importance simply cannot be overstated.