This week, I chatted with Melanie Baker, a 23-year-old musician hailing from Carlisle about Free Radical Arts, a community organisation that celebrates queerness through creativity.
Melanie, a self-taught musician has been in the music industry since the age of 15.
As an independent artist she’s self-released two Eps which have been played on local radio, BBC Radio 1 and Radio 2.
The indie folk artists lyricism tackles the anxieties of modern-day life for most twentysomethings “I write songs about my feelings, mental health and life lessons”.
When Melanie’s not playing gigs around the UK and Australia supporting acts like Will Varley and Maisie Peters she puts on events and works with Free Radicals United an activist group for young LGBTQ+ people in Cumbria.
Free Radicals United was set up by Pride in North Cumbria (PiNC) a charitable organisation that provides social and support services to LGBTQ+ people, aged between 13 and 25 years.
PiNC saw the success of an art workshops they set up “Art Queer”- a 3 month exploration of LGBTQ+ art and set up Free Radical Arts which focuses on visibility, outreach and creating spaces for LGBTQ+ individuals who are in early adulthood age.
Melanie and the Free Radical United team felt it was important to have a separate venture for artists expression: “Free Radical Arts primary focus is supporting and creating opportunities for queer creatives in Cumbria”.
Adding: “Whilst Free Radicals United is focused on activism, calling for change in our local and wider areas, asking questions and calling to account, we thought it was also important to have a separate venture with the primary focus of supporting and creating opportunities for queer creatives in Cumbria”.
Despite evolving out of an activist group the arts group focus isn’t just activism: “We believe there are no limits or rules to art. It’s an expression that can come in so many different mediums. Some of the work is political and some of it isn’t at all, but we welcome everything!”
Melanie isn’t the only person working to create this safe creative community space and alongside Stevie Westgarth, Suzie Graham, Mac Benson and Seph, a dedicated team of people they are organising events, working with queer creatives and creating new opportunities and experiences that wouldn’t have previously existed in Cumbria.
The organisation is applying for funding so that they can deliver more creative opportunities to the queer community such as workshops.
Melanie remarks how she wishes there was something like Free Radical Arts when she was younger:
“If I had an organisation like Free Radical Arts when I was starting out with my music career it would have allowed me to be more comfortable with accepting and expressing my sexuality within my work and also in my personal life”. Melanie added how the lack of community organisations impacted her as a young LGBTQ+ person:
“I felt like I didn’t have a community to turn to who understood my struggles with coming out, especially a creative one. I think I would have made that journey sooner if I had the creative opportunities like the ones Free Radical Arts aim to provide now, especially opportunities that encourage you be your most authentic self”.
Free Radicals Arts future plans are to reach the wider LGBTQ+ community in Cumbria and their team is working with Lakeland Arts to reach South Cumbria LGBTQ+ and ally community.
Free Radical Arts even have plans to expand to London: “We're about to launch a project with Museum of Youth Culture who are based in London and that project will collaborate with Cumbria libraries across the country to collect LGBTQ+ youth stories and images."
Free Radical Arts are dedicating the month of February to “radical self-love” and Melanie’s focus for up-and-coming events are centred around health and well-being.
The community organisation is collaborating with Raw Art Gallery and plan to host Carlisle’s first queer art exhibition from the 1st- 26th of February.
If you identify as LGBTQ+ or you’re an ally to the community then Melanie urges you to come and support: “cool and queer creatives.”
The Free Radicals team are always looking for volunteers or people to get involved in their organisation and for owners of venues to collaborate with outside of Carlisle for events, exhibitions and gigs.
If you want to get involved with Free Radical Arts you can find them on Instagram here
Shoot them an email here: firstname.lastname@example.org
Visit them at Free Radicals HQ at 70 English Street in Carlisle.
Or drop by to one of their many events listed here: