Shereen Perera

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 WOWWomen 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.