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Abigail's blog: Creative Nation

Posted on 22 October 2019

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What’s it like having such a creative job?  Is a question which I get asked quite frequently.  Totally brilliant is usually my answer. I love my job and I feel very lucky.  However, I also sometimes explain that I run a charitable business with a £15 million turnover, a team of 500 people, a major profile and public accountability, and crucially over 500,000 beneficiaries each year.  That involves quite a bit of ‘stuff’ to handle – it’s definitely not all about thinking up original  ideas, listening to glorious music and having interesting and exciting conversations.

But it is interesting that a job in culture and the arts can be quite strongly associated with creativity.  Whereas a job in science or business might be less so.  The reality is that there is a fair share in both. In the same way that there is a fair share of routine, rote and system in both – what’s perceived as the boring stuff, but which is totally crucial.

Last week, at approximately the same time that The Glasshouse International Centre for Music was being presented the 25th Birthday National Lottery Award for Arts, Culture and Film, the Durham Commission was launching its report into Creativity and Education. A partnership between Durham University and Arts Council England, this enquiry has looked at ways in which creativity can play a larger part in the lives of young people from birth to the age of 19, both within and beyond the current education system.  What has been distinctive about this piece of work, commissioned by Arts Council England, is that it hasn’t contained its remit to arts and culture. It has explored creativity and its importance across the whole of education.

The importance of creativity as something which should be nurtured in the next generation – a 21st century essential – is uniformly acknowledged across employment sectors.  The question the report asked, and answered with a set of recommendations, is how do we best nurture this through education for our young people? And how do we nurture it across subjects? We’re all a bit pre-occupied with other matters right now, but this should rise. It’s an urgent matter – how do we move a fundamentally 19th century system so that it supports our young people for the 21st century?

A few days earlier the Cultural Learning Alliance – a consortium of organisations and people involved in culture across the UK – published The Arts for Every Child: Why arts education is a social justice issue.

The report notes four areas in which access to the arts will support greater socio-economic equality and where a lack of access may contribute to continued socio-economic barriers and limit progression.  Across health and well-being, employability, economic growth and citizenship and diversity there is evidence that involvement in the arts and culture has a positive impact. For example, Young Minds states in their report of this year that on average every classroom now has three young people with a diagnosable mental health problem. All evidence suggests that involvement in arts and culture can help build mental strength, increase sense of well-being and through this, address the major challenge our young people are facing. In economic growth the creative economy represents 1 in 11 jobs in the UK, totalling 5% of the economy and growing. And crucially 87% of jobs in this sector are at no or low risk of automation. As a way of ensuring we have an employable population, access to information, training and opportunity in the creative industries has to be a strong bet, and the opportunity in skilling up everyone for the workplace.  In short, argues the Cultural Learning Alliance, we should make sure that the arts and culture are part of education and that the creativity which underpins them is nurtured and championed.  We let this slip at our peril.

As in people’s association of my job rather than that of my scientist or business peers, the association in education between the arts and culture and creativity is particularly strong and understandably so. But creativity is a cross-cutting characteristic and one which can be found in all areas of work and life and can be nurtured through so many different subjects.  It would be a major win for us to find a way to shift our education system to embed creativity in a new way.  As I write this, there’s a new Brexit deal – we’re all preoccupied with this and wider policy feels like it is taking a back seat. But this will change.  Wherever we get to with all of Brexit, it won’t change the fact that nurturing creativity in the next generation will be a key to a happy, healthy, productive 21st century society.

Durham Commission:

The Arts for Every Child: Why arts education is a social justice issue.