27 June 2016 at 3.30pm | 1 Comment
It’s clear that we’re living in an era where there's a growth in perceptions about the role that art and culture can play in our society. More and more people are engaging with the arts, and there are some dynamic and inclusive models emerging.
This is an exciting time, and the Arts Council is playing an active role, working with partners to focus our collective resources through programmes like Creative People and Places and the Cultural Education Challenge, which looks to create local networks of provision that will make art and culture a part of the lives of all our children and young people.
Importantly, there are also refreshingly contrasting approaches as to how we should create these networks, as exemplified at Royal Opera House Bridge’s annual conference - this year held at the beautiful Hatfield House in Hertfordshire, which I was lucky enough to be the host of for the morning session.
Those attending were presented with three differing approaches from the speakers. One view, as presented by Deborah Annetts from the Incorporated Society of Musicians, is that we need to focus on how we can campaign for reform of the English Baccalaureate (eBacc). Deborah argued that we as individuals can make a difference, and took as her theme the words of philosopher and writer Thomas Carlyle engraved on a tree in the grounds of Hatfield House that ‘a hundred acorns are sown in silence by an unnoticed breeze'.
Another view is that the creative industries can drive regeneration, as exemplified by investment along the Thames Estuary at High House Production Park in Thurrock, where the Royal Opera House scenic workshops and costume stores are based. Andrea Stark, director of the Foundation for FutureLondon, reflected on her experience as Chief Executive of HHPP and revealed how ‘Team Thurrock’ carved its path in a determinedly DIY fashion, banging on doors armed with a can-do attitude.
A third view was that we should try to understand the minds of elected officials. Jonathan Simons of Policy Exchange (and former Head of Education in the Prime Minister’s strategy unit under both Gordon Brown and David Cameron) made the case for this approach. Schools are inherently places that value creativity (and want to do more) but Jonathan noted that there are a great many challenges that make it difficult for schools to prioritize arts activities, however much they may wish to. There are also the challenges of parameters of policy and finance within which schools operate.
The question is how we can work better with ministers and local government, coming at the situation from their perspective and seeing the opportunities. As Jonathan argued, extra funded school hours might provide more time for extra-curricular (arts-based) activities and academy chains may offer the chance to provide services on a viable scale. The arts can also position themselves to debate and promote the concept of 'British' values.
Ultimately, in our desire to keep the arts high on the agenda, we ought not to mistake a means for an end. Both the Arts Council and arts organizations are firmly of the view that the arts should be strongly represented in the curriculum; we campaign and argue for that. But we need to be tuned in to all the opportunities that exist for us across the whole activity of a school. What matters is that children and young people have access to the best of art and culture. That’s the objective. We need to connect with the spirit of creativity that is already alive in or classrooms, and make the case for it being more prominent. We need to show how the arts can provide a key to a better education across all subjects; to a better school, and to happier children. We think we’ve made that case, but of course can’t presume that everybody has heard. It is a case that we will need to make again and again.