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Children need art, like everyone needs broccoli

I know that art Is good for you, but how can this be explained to those who don’t feel it instinctively?, asks Judith Merritt of firstsite.

By Judith Merritt (Head of Learning at firstsite)

25 November 2014 at 5.10pm | Comment on this article

Like eating our daily greens, art is unquestionably good for you. But does this help us in advocating for the arts and education sector?

We are part of a sector struggling to know which types of art are 'best value' and how much art is 'good for us' not to mention when teachers or parents fit it in the school day, how headteachers pay for it or how much it costs for children to experience it.

For 20 years I have known instinctively that offering arts (in all forms) to anyone and everyone, (young, old, indifferent) can have a significant impact, change lives, and open a door to something better. But how can I explain that to people who don’t feel it instinctively, or whose instinct is blocked out under busy lives and hectic jobs?

Where is the relevant statistic that justifies why we make, force or offer our children and young people the opportunities to do, try or experience art Will 49% be less stressed? Will 26% commit less crime? Will 78% have a better, rounded emotionally stable life? Nope. We don't have the stats, no one does. Because it just not that simple. That's the brilliantly frustrating problem.

So will access to the arts improve literacy? Will visiting a gallery, theatre or museum help us get an outstanding Ofsted? Well, maybe. There is evidence on both counts but that's not the only reason to allow, let or encourage art in.

Speaking at the Culture Change conference, artist Bob and Roberta Smith reminded us that we need our young people to be able to make things. The creative industries make money and make us a global leader. We can cite extraordinary people working in the creative industries today: director Danny Boyle; musician Damon Albarn; architect Thomas Heatherwick; artist Tracey Emin; numerous world leading games designers. Recent CBI numbers say the creative sector makes up 6% of GDP in the UK, employing over 2 million people. Now there's a stat.

So art helps, inspires, improves, gives outlet, de-stresses, builds coping strategies, engenders creativity, allows expression, offers employment and careers or is an alternative 'home' for some children and young people.

I’ve personally experienced the impact art can have on people’s lives, from a young child building a sculpture with his friend, the first time he’s ever worked as part of a team. Or the ex-electrician struggling with mental health issues and loneliness who told me that helping with lighting for the local drama group gives him a reason to leave the house again. Or a young person, classified as NEET (not in education, employment or training) by the ridiculous systems we live alongside, who told me that 'art stuff has offered me so much’. He now wants to become a youth worker and teach other children how to dance. Of course, these are not stats; they are just a few simple examples…but examples that demonstrate significant impact.

Working in our sector - arts and education - we are all coming across these examples, these people all the time. We don't need to be convinced So I ask, cajole, demand: make it happen. Phone your local arts centre, gallery, dance space, library or museum. They understand the benefit and importance of access to arts and culture, and they want to help you.

Art is welcoming you in. Come and find it.

Judith Merritt is Head of Learning at firstsite, a contemporary visual arts organization based in Colchester. firstsite also work closely with Royal Opera House Bridge.

This article forms part of a series asking why access to the arts and cultural learning are so important.

By Judith Merritt (Head of Learning at firstsite)

25 November 2014 at 5.10pm

This article has been categorised Learning and tagged Bob and Roberta Smith, cultural learning, firstsite, learning and participation, ROH Bridge, Royal Opera House Bridge

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