For 27 years, Collingwood’s Artful Dodgers Studios has provided a space for young people living in difficult circumstances to unlock their creative potential and build new skills.

The Studios depends on community support, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic – and in September hosted a lockdown-adapted online benefit concert to raise much-needed funds to support its music, art and public speaking programs.

The Studio’s acting coordinator Danielle Sherry said the benefit showcased the Artful Dodger spirit, while raising much-needed funds to support day-to-day operations.

“We really wanted to have a night where we celebrated what we were about,” she said.

“We really felt the time was right to go out and try and connect, to showcase our people and say, we’re here, we’re thriving and we’re still going for it!”

Nearly two hundred attendees shook off their lockdown blues with a musical line-up of emerging and established Australian artists, including legendary singer-songwriter Paul Kelly, who performed with studio participants The Flybz on their track Child Soldier.

Tongan singing sisters, Vika and Linda Bull, donated an exclusive track, performing the classic gospel song Jesus Met the Woman at the Well. The sisters’ new album, The Wait, recently debuted in second position on the ARIA album charts.

Attendees also heard from soul singer and triple j favourite, Adrian Eagle, Koorie rocker Elijah Augustine and Sudanese rapper El Kato, and speakers from Jesuit Social Services’ Just Voices Speakers Program – including Agum Maluach, a Sudanese storyteller who works at Werribee Open Zoo, and Cyrus Jentzen, a former Liberian refugee who is now thriving in the corporate sector.

The benefit raised $5725 for Artful Dodgers Studios through ticket sales and donations, which will contribute to its operational costs, including supplying materials and providing support to participants.

Danielle said the funds – raised through ticket sales and donations – would enable the important work of the Studios to continue.

“The Studios is a way for our participants to reconnect with the community,” she said.

“If a person is homeless, there are services for their material needs. But Artful Dodgers is more a place to land and be part of the community. That’s why it’s so important. When the physical place was removed from us, during lockdown, we had to think about the ways we can still connect. For some people, the Dodgers is their connection to the world. It has to continue.”

Artful Dodgers Studios thanks everyone who made the benefit possible, including James and Margo Haines and Aretha Brown, who opened the benefit with an Acknowledgement of Country.