The Big Issue’s Top 100 Changemakers 2019: Arts

Welcome to The Big Issue’s Changemakers Top 100: celebrating the thinkers, creators and agitators. Here’s our rundown of individuals and organisations in the arts sector that are striving for a better world in 2019

Richard Todd, 240 Project

Every week, our Street Art page showcases the creativity of marginalised artists. Many bold and beautiful submissions come from London’s 240 Project, an arts and activity centre for people affected by homelessness and exclusion. Master of fine art Richard Todd is the resident tutor helping these artists realise their visions. Recent work includes Allsorts by 90-year-old Rene Robbins (pictured here) to the hauntingly serene Ghost Ship by Steve McIntosh.

Joe Murphy & Joe Robertson, Good Chance

The power of artists to tear down barriers and walls shows 2019 is not as bleak as it looks. Good Chance Theatre founders, playwrights Murphy and Robertson, are building on work they began in the Jungle at Calais in 2015 to bring people together through the power of storytelling.

Working with refugees and asylum seekers, their project at Calais developed into The Jungle, a co-production with the National Theatre and Young Vic, playing in London and Paris in 2018. Plans to take it to New York seemed scuppered by Trump’s travel ban (three of the cast were from countries on the banned list) but after securing support from the likes of Benedict Cumberbatch, Sting and mayors of London and New York, cast members Ammar Haj Ahmad (an actor in his homeland of Syria, who got expedited British citizenship to overcome the ban) and Iranian refugees Moein Ghobsheh (a musician) and Yasin Moradi (a martial arts practitioner) were granted work visas and right now are stealing headlines Stateside.

Gig Buddies and Bubble Club

Ever wondered how difficult it might be to enjoy your favourite band playing live if you were disabled? Some music fans did, and found a solution for late-night ravers whose carers had clocked off.


Gig Buddies (Sussex) and Bubble Club (East London) connect disabled music-lovers with like-minded volunteers to bring accessible nightlife opportunities to their doorstep.

Bubble Club is bringing the project into a new era after 13 years by teaming up with learning disability advocacy group, the Map Squad. And Gig Buddies are celebrating their fifth birthday by stretching their enterprise further than ever before by hosting weekly socials in the heart of Edinburgh’s club scene.

David Tovey, artist

Once an army chef who cooked for the Queen, David suffered a stroke in 2011 which left him with mild brain damage. He was hit by a heart attack and a cancer, leading to homelessness and a suicide attempt. But a chance encounter with an Islington park attendant saw him housed by the Pilion Trust the following night – a charity he now works closely with.

David went on to transform his life through art. He has exhibited internationally, including in the Tate Modern and he even illustrated our Royal Wedding cover last year.

He has been invited by Shelter to be one of 16 commissioners for the landmark cross-party social housing report, released to Westminster last week, that he describes as “bold enough to benefit the country and benefit people”. This year he’ll travel to Zanzibar with In Place of War, a charity bringing the arts to conflict zones, to help set up a mini-festival.

The British DJ & MC Academy

Young people can often feel disenfranchised, so why not get them involved in something they care about? That’s why Krissy Sims (aka DJ Trickles) founded the organisation in 2008 and the academy has helped more than 70,000 young people develop confidence and gain valuable skills through DJ’ing, radio presenting, lyrical writing and music production.

Sims won funding from Big Issue Invest, and their customised DJ vans take outreach work to the streets of some of the most maligned areas of London, which have been dogged in recent months by violent crime. The DJ & MC Academy is working in communities to make sure young people can follow their own beat.

Black Ticket Project

One of the first things Kwame Kwei-Armah did on taking over as artistic director of the Young Vic theatre in London was to welcome an action plan by the Bectu trade union – working alongside 90 theatres to tackle the lack of off-stage diversity in the industry. The Black Ticket Project is ensuring audiences have access to this more representative theatre. Theatre producer Tobi Kyeremateng began the project by crowdfunding to enable youth groups to watch 2017’s Barber Shop Chronicles at the National Theatre, after noticing the audience was overwhelmingly white. By partnering with the National Theatre, the Bush Theatre, the Old Vic and the Ambassador Theatre Group, the Black Ticket Project has already ensured 1,000 young black people have accessed theatre. This year, they plan to launch a new website and expand to cover the whole country.

SignKid, sign language rapper

SignKid is a hip hop producer, performer and recipient of the MOBO/HelpMusicians fund. He also lost his hearing when he was three years old. Real name Kevin Walker, the London-based signsong rapper released his debut EP Music is the Message in 2017. He writes the lyrics, raps them in BSL in music videos and has hearing friends perform them live and on record.

SignKid found a trick to keeping in time when performing: creating tracks at 90bpm, which fits the tempo of his pulse. He’s inspired by greats like Tupac, Notorious B.I.G., Public Enemy and Chance the Rapper, but few are changing the game as he is.

Bold Tendencies

Orchestral concert in a car park? This is just one of the equally bizarre and inspiring projects that have come from Bold Tendencies.

Turning the top floors of a former multi-storey parking garage in Peckham into a creative hub, the social enterprise with Big Issue Invest backing has made a concrete hub hum with activity: a sculpture park, galleries, workshops for kids and musicians. Promising more art, music and dance, it kicks off its new season in May.

Gwenno, singer-songwriter

With only 500 fluent speakers, Unesco classify the Cornish language as “critically endangered”. Further cuts to the already-miniscule government funding allocated to Cornish language resources gave Welsh musician Gwenno Saunders the push she needed to showcase the language she learned as a child on her second album Le Kov. (The first, 2014’s Y Dydd Olaf, was recorded entirely in Welsh.)

The Cornish Language Board reported a 15 per cent rise in the number of people sitting the Cornish exam last year, the revival chalked up to Gwenno who will support the Manic Street Preachers on their tour this May.

Open Door

“Talent is everywhere, opportunity isn’t. And talent can’t reach opportunity.” These words, from Luther star Idris Elba back in 2016, highlight how hard it is for young BAME and working-class people to access the UK’s cultural industries. Open Door is a non-profit organisation that helps talented young people who want to pursue a career in film or television production but who do not have the financial support gain a place at leading drama schools.

By offering free travel to auditions and interviews, acting workshops and tutorials, mentoring, theatre trips and free interviews at schools including Rada, Lamda and The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Open Door is removing the walls that prevent young people following their dreams. And with Emilia Clarke and Riz Ahmed as patrons, Open Door has friends in high places.

Pop Recs Ltd

Pop Recs Ltd was set up as a record shop and cultural hub in Sunderland in 2013 by indie band Frankie & the Heartstrings. It is set to move into its third premises, in a Grade II-listed building that has stood empty for decades. The new Pop Recs has already hosted a gig by local heroes Field Music, after a massive community effort to get the site. But as well as gigs, Pop Recs has weekly songwriting sessions, knitting nights, book swaps, young writers’ groups, plus the finest selection of records in the region. While Sunderland lost out to be City of Culture in 2021, the campaign team continues to ensure the bid has a cultural legacy – and the all-new Pop Recs will be right at the heart of the cultural life of the city.

Henry Fraser, artist

Henry was 17 when a diving accident on holiday in Portugal left him fighting for his life in 2009. He was left paralysed from the neck down. Long months and years of rehab and recovery followed. In 2015, Fraser found a drawing app on his iPad that let him create pictures by holding a stylus in his mouth and touching the screen. He’s now becoming renowned in the art world. Henry explains:

“I always loved drawing and painting when I was young. Getting a picture in my mind, I see it like a puzzle I am piecing together, adding pieces and getting them to find their rightful place. Producing art is time for me to have my own space.

“Now I have got a bit more of a profile, it is irresponsible for me to not use it to look at disability rights. And the struggles that the government are causing. You look at any of the stats, things are not good at all for disabled people at the moment.

“A lot of what I have achieved is because I am lucky. I have funding in place from my parents. That is such a weight off my shoulders, it allows me to live my life.

“When you are in tough situations, when you are struggling, small achievable goals are hugely important. They can make a massive difference.

“I guess I am more philosophical about life now. I want to use my voice to say that disabled people can add so much to our society and our economy to make this country better. But those in charge don’t seem to understand that, so I am trying to add my voice to that campaign.”


Support The Big Issue Winter Appeal

Big Issue vendors can’t work from home and with severe weather warnings on the cards, they face a very tough and uncertain Winter period ahead.

Recommended for you

Read All
Scream: the genre-defining meta movie refuses to be killed off

Scream: the genre-defining meta movie refuses to be killed off

Charles Mingus: The angry man of jazz

Charles Mingus: The angry man of jazz

The French horn maestro who plays using his feet

The French horn maestro who plays using his feet

Screw creator Rob Williams: 'We don't always look at prisoners as individuals'

Screw creator Rob Williams: 'We don't always look at prisoners as individuals'

Most Popular

Read All
Government branded 'disgrace' after bid to strengthen Sarah Everard inquiry voted down at 12.30am

Government branded 'disgrace' after bid to strengthen Sarah Everard inquiry voted down at 12.30am

What are the Kill the Bill protests?

What are the Kill the Bill protests?

Rose Ayling-Ellis: 'Suddenly it became quite cool to be deaf'

Rose Ayling-Ellis: 'Suddenly it became quite cool to be deaf'

The Met Police is being sued for not investigating a Downing Street Christmas party

The Met Police is being sued for not investigating a Downing Street Christmas party