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Wac Arts – Serving Camden for Three Decades

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Way back in 1978, Wac Arts opened its doors to students in Kentish Town, Camden. Starting out with 12 local young people, we now have over 1,500 students benefiting from our media and arts training every year. In late 1990s, we outgrew our premises and started looking for a bigger space to provide even better opportunities to Camden’s youth. We approached Camden council and were introduced to the magnificent Victorian building – the Old Hampstead Town Hall in Belsize Park – a place we now lovingly call home.

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The Organisation

Wac Arts mission is to support gifted young people who face exceptional challenges and hardship to expand their life opportunities through arts and media. We offer a range of performing arts and media activities to people from ages 4-25, harnessing their extraordinary potential, equipping them to make positive choices for themselves and a positive contribution to society.

A number of our students have made their mark on stage and screen. Amongst our alumni are Oscar, BAFTA and Golden Globe nominee Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Oscar nominee and Tony Award Winner Sophie Okenedo, Director, Playwright and Office Nominee Che Walker, world famous jazz musicians Courtney Pine and Julian Joseph and four Mercury and Mobo Award winners including Ms Dynamite and Zoe Rahman.

Our programmes include the National Diploma in Professional Musical Theatre, training for digital media artists and specialised courses for young people with learning difficulties, a full range of weekend programmes in performing arts and media for young people of all ages (including our new aerial technique training – InFlight) and now also Wac Arts College – an alternative provision free school for 14-19 year olds disengaged from mainstream education.

Over the years, we’ve been increasingly recognised as one of London’s top venues for theatre rehearsals and private events. We are fortunate to have a wide range of halls, studios and conference rooms for hire and regularly host rehearsals for West End and regional theatre productions that make the most of our facilities to rehearse upcoming shows. All proceeds from these services are reinvested into our provision for helping disadvantaged young people.

In 2011, we lost Arts Council of England funding after 25 successful years with the Arts Council support. At Wac Arts, 80% of the students are from low income families and they could not afford such training if not provided by us. Wac Arts was determined to jump over any hurdle that may come its way, and with the help and support of prestigious funders, we continued to evolve in new and exciting ways.

In 2013, Wac Arts launched Wac Arts AIR (Artist in Residence) with the aim to give emerging artists the chance to exhibit their work in a public sphere and in an inspiring multipurpose space. Wac Arts AIR enables our students to experience visual art, and engages the artists with our programme so that they can offer their expertise and experiences through teachings, workshops and talks. Exhibitions are open to the public for free on Thursday evenings.

We also have different resident groups and charities in our building, such as The University of the 3rd Age (U3A), Akademi, Vandervell Foundation, London Gay Men’s Chorus, Greater London Pensioners Association, and more.

Wac Arts needs to raise over £100,000 each year to run our artistic programmes, and to continue our work with young people. Wac Arts Backers is an initiative started to seek support of individuals to sustain our vibrant range of programmes. One can become a WA Backer by giving one-off donations, monthly donations, or fundraising for Wac Arts.

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The Building

The Old Hampstead Town Hall, a prominent Italianate building on Haverstock Hill, is a local landmark and together with the raised pavements and restored railings at the north-eastern end of the road forms a distinctive gateway into the area.

The old town hall was used for council activities like poll tax collection until the late 1980s. Upon the abolishment of poll tax in 1991, the London Borough of Camden centralised its town halls and used the Hampstead town hall to store Camden archives. In 1994, Hampstead Town was incorporated, on the recommendation of the Belsize Conservation Area Advisory Committee following the building’s inclusion, in the statutory list of buildings of special architectural and historic interest. Its value as a local landmark was noted. Royal Highness The Prince of Wales inaugurated the restored Hampstead Town Hall and Wac Arts on 11th July 2000.

Wac Arts loves Camden and is Camden through and through, delivering immense benefit to the local young people with a dedicated group of staff, volunteers, Trustees and friends. To know more about Wac Arts or to support our work, please visit www.wacarts.co.uk or send us an email to Hayley.butler@wacarts.co.uk.