How to make people with learning disabilities feel more included in society

Image: Accessible music technology OpenUp Music/Youth Music Network

This guest blog was written by Val Williams, Professor of Disability Studies at the University of Bristol.

People with learning disabilities can often find themselves feeling excluded when it comes to making decisions about their lives. This can range from everything, from shopping to making music or even bringing up a baby. Sometimes this exclusion can be exacerbated by the kind of support that they receive from social services – but it can also be countered by sensitive personal assistance or support.

In a recent research project, which brought together disabled and non-disabled researchers, we looked at ways to improve this – and how to include people with learning disabilities in decisions.

Part of the project found that by taking active roles in the arts, people with learning disabilities can lead the way towards meaningful inclusion. Beth Richards, an actress with learning disabilities, led part of the research about people with learning disabilities on TV. She found that actors with learning disabilities are often limited to roles which depict the “disability”, the tragic or dependent life of the character, or their effect on others around them. A successful actor with learning disabilities, for instance, told her:

“I wish TV makers would think more creatively and give people with learning disabilities any role – romantic, fantasy, comedy, shop assistants, office workers. I’d like to play James Bond, Romeo, Dobby in Harry Potter or a detective or many other roles.”

The Queen’s Birthday Honours in June 2018 include an MBE to the actress with Downs Syndrome, Sarah Gordy, for her “services to the arts and people with disabilities”. As Gordy said upon receiving the award, “diversity is an opportunity, not a problem”. She is good proof of that.

But there is a lack of accessible information. There is no shortage of talented actors and drama companies supporting people with learning disabilities, but the TV industry and its workings are still shrouded in jargon. Processes such as commissioning, auditioning and scriptwriting tend to exclude those who do not have someone to help them navigate all this.

In another part of the research, my colleague Marina Gall looked in detail at how music making can be transformed by the Open Orchestras approach in which young people with multiple and complex needs are enabled to learn musical skills, play in ensembles and become music makers. A new technological instrument – the Clarion – can be played on computers and iPads, using one’s hand, a small sensor on any part of the body, or via a person’s gaze. It can be adapted to suit most students’ physical needs.

One of the co-founders of Open Orchestras, Doug Bott, told our research team, that the approach is “personalised around the individual young person”. But at the same time, it’s trying to ensure that music is an important part of the curriculum for all young people, and has been immensely successful in changing perceptions of people with learning disabilities. This is not therapy, it’s a route to making music and to performance.

Making decisions

People with learning disabilities also face inequalities and problems in the NHS, as well as in a cash-strapped social care system. For instance, since the Mental Capacity Act 2005 came into force, support staff are legally required to support people with learning disabilities to develop their own capacity to make a decision. What we saw in our data was that people with learning disabilities can be proactive in seeking out this support – and we recorded conversations with personal assistants where people wanted to talk about decisions relating to safety, health or simply about future cooking plans. The skills that a personal assistant needs to have are to listen, look out and be responsive to the people they are supporting.

One of the key messages from our project is that health and social care practices sometimes get stuck. We used the word “institutionalised” for those times when professionals stick to a rigid and inflexible way of doing things, leaving the disabled person without the power to have a voice.

These difficult moments were also highlighted by actors with learning disabilities who helped to interpret our data. Our research benefited from a collaboration with the Misfits Theatre Company in Bristol, showing how sensitive interactions between people with learning disabilities and their personal assistants were often the trigger for good decisions, and giving those with disabilities a feeling of control over their own lives.

But quite small comments can create problems, spoiling an empowering relationship. The theatre company made a brilliant video called A Good Match about their own perspectives and experience of managing relationships with a personal assistant. One of the Misfits actors said: “It’s my house … and I don’t want my (personal assistant) telling me what I can and cannot do.”

 

After looking at a range of activities that can exclude or include people with learning disabilities, we concluded that inclusion happens when three things come together. Sometimes people with learning disabilities are included because of changes to technology, as in the Open Orchestras approach. At other times, they are included better because of new ways of doing something, or through new skills that they may learn – as actors, or as TV performers.

The ConversationBut at the heart of all this is a new belief in the equal value of people with learning disabilities. This is why we recommend that social care services need to focus less on what people cannot do, but instead promote a genuine belief in what people with learning disabilities can do – with the right support.


Val Williams is Professor of Disability Studies at the University of Bristol.

This article was originally published on The Conversation website and has been republished with permission under a Creative Commons licence. Read the original article.

Writing and recovery: creative writing as a response to mental ill health

 

“You don’t put yourself into what you write, you find yourself there.”
Alan Bennett

Mental illness, for so long regarded as secondary to physical health, is now being taken more seriously. Media stories about loneliness, anxiety and depression have highlighted increasing concerns about mental ill health, and the issue has also been rising up the political agenda.

In 2017, a survey by the Mental Health Foundation found that only a small minority of people (13%) reported living with high levels of good mental health, and nearly two-thirds of people said that they had experienced a mental health problem.

Prescribed medication is one response to mental health problems, and it’s been reported that the NHS is prescribing record numbers of antidepressants.  But while psychiatric drugs can be of real value to patients, especially those whose condition is very severe, the mental health charity Mind has suggested that alternatives, such as physical exercise, talking therapies and arts therapies, are often more beneficial.

Last month, a conference at the University of Glasgow explored ways in which creative writing is being used to respond to mental ill health, and discussed what makes writing interventions helpful for coping and recovery.

Voices of experience: coping and recovery through writing

“Making and consuming art lifts our spirits and keeps us sane”.
Grayson Perry

Several speakers at the Glasgow conference testified to the effectiveness of writing in dealing with mental ill health and in finding a way to recovery.

In 2012, James Withey experienced a set of circumstances which brought him close to taking his own life. In the darkness of his depression, James felt that he might never recover. But after spending time at Maytree, the UK’s first “sanctuary for the suicidal”, he found that writing about what he was going through offered an antidote to the lies being spun by his depression.

He started a blog, and when he posted a letter to himself, beginning “Dear You.” James found that writing the letter gave him space to express his feelings and to listen to himself.

Before long, readers of James’s blog were responding with their own “Dear You” letters. The word spread that the letters offered a different perspective on recovery, and in some instances, had prevented suicide.

Today, The Recovery Letters project is still going strong, with a website, one published book and another in the pipeline. James is realistic about the project:

The letters are not a cure for a chronic illness, but they do provide support in helping sufferers of depression accept where they are.”

Policy positions: the view from Wales

“If poetry and the arts do anything, they can fortify your inner life, your inwardness.”
Seamus Heaney

Another speaker at the conference was Frances Williams, a PhD candidate at Manchester Metropolitan University, where she is studying arts and health. In her presentation, Frances explored some of the policy frameworks and public discourse surrounding the field of therapeutic writing in Wales.

She highlighted a recent report, Creative Health, The Arts, Health and Well-being, which  makes a case for the healing power of the arts in many different healthcare and community contexts.  In this report, a creative writing tutor explained some of the ways in which writing can help people experiencing bereavement, including keeping a journal, writing unsent letters, describing personal belongings and resolving unfinished conversations:

“Writing can be a valuable means of self-help, with the page as a listening friend, available any time of the day or night, hearing whatever the writer wants to say. The results of this can be powerful, and include people being able to return to work and adjust more effectively after their loss, acquiring skills for their own self-care which will serve them through the rest of their life.”

Frances also noted that the battle of priorities between impact and value-for-money has driven advocates of arts therapy programmes to defend them in terms of cost effectiveness and social value.

A mapping project by the Arts Council of Wales has taken this to heart, producing in 2018 an audit of the principal arts and health activities currently taking place in Wales.

Writing to the rescue

“By writing, I rescue myself”
William Carlos Williams

The Glasgow University conference underlined the health-giving properties of creative activities and the potential for creative writing to support people suffering with mental ill health. There was no pretence that writing offers a quick-fix solution. As James Withey noted, “…writing is just one element in a toolkit of responses to mental ill health.”

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing fully supports this concept, and has recommended that policymakers recognise its importance:

“…the arts can make an invaluable contribution to a healthy and health-creating society. They offer a potential resource that should be embraced in health and social care systems which are under great pressure and in need of fresh thinking and cost-effective methods. Policy should work towards creative activity being part of all our lives.”


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Child neglect, wellbeing and resilience – adopting an art’s based approach (Seminar highlights)

upset boy against a wall

By Rebecca Jackson

‘Neglect is a complex issue but art can help, so let it’. That was one of the key messages to come out of a seminar session held at Strathclyde University last week.

The seminar is one of a series of four, looking at how arts-based techniques can be used in research and practice when interacting with neglected children. The session also considered how the arts can be used as a tool to promote resilience among vulnerable and neglected children by building self esteem, a sense of self worth, providing an outlet for emotion and supporting self efficacy.

The interactive seminar drew on a range of topics and sources. Academics from the Universities of Stirling and Dundee led the discussions and delegates included practitioners from psychology, social work, education and social research.

Lack of value placed on the arts

Some general themes to emerge from discussions included:

  • The lack of value placed on the arts as a form of assessment and interaction with children in a professional setting.
  • The over-emphasis on outcomes and funding which means that more ‘fun’ resources and methods are overlooked for more cost or time efficient ones, rather than the ones which work best for each individual child.
  • Children quite easily and quite quickly, between the ages of 10-14 go from being ‘neglected, vulnerable children’ in the eyes of society to ‘problem or troublesome children’.
  • The need to clarify what is meant by successful outcomes and the sense that outcomes have to be quantifiable, with one participant commenting:

    “I am required to produce reports and look for evidence in facts and figures, when in reality, getting a child who has suffered neglect to feel self-worth, or to say they have had fun could and should be a major indicator of the success of a scheme. That is difficult to evidence to other people who don’t know that child.”

Discussions from the day were captured by a graphic designer (Rebecca Jackson, 2015)

Discussions from the day were captured by a graphic designer (Rebecca Jackson, 2015)

Benefits of arts-based interventions

Some of the more art-specific observations from those who use it in their practice highlighted:

  • That removing children from feeling as though they are the centre of attention can be helpful in engaging them – baking, building things from Lego and drawing or colouring can help with this:

    “One-to-one interviews can be very intimidating for children, often they can cause them to close up more as they feel there is pressure and judgement from adults. Blending art activities with standard practice creates a better environment for a child and addresses some of that power imbalance which they are often acutely aware of.”

  • Distancing the child from their story, through analogies, creative writing or storytelling can also help them to open up:

    “I will quite often say, if you had a friend who…. or if there was a character in a story who…. how do you think they would feel? what would you tell them to do? who could they talk to about it? Just giving that little bit of hypothetical distance can really help a child to open up. The story creates an extra level of safety for them”

  • Resources are a big barrier:

    “I work in an office – that’s where I hold my meetings – where can I find a space to bake a cake with a child?”

  • Making full use of the community and its resources – and having the guts to ask for something if you want it:

    “You will be surprised and amazed by people’s generosity if you just ask”

  • Relationships will always be key, and arts-based practice can help encourage and shorten the time it takes for practitioners to build these relationships.

    “Quite often it is one key person, who engages with that child, who the child trusts and feels safe and comfortable around, that can make the biggest difference to that child’s progress”

Future questions

This seminar session was designed as a way to introduce arts based practices in cases of child neglect and vulnerable children and to identify some of the key strategic barriers to its use in practice in Scotland (and the UK more widely). In many ways it raised more questions than it answered.

The subsequent sessions, to be held in early 2016 at the University of Strathclyde and the University of Stirling, will use these discussions to address how academics, practitioners and policy-makers can create a strong collective voice to encourage training in, and promotion of, arts-based practice in Scotland.


Scottish Universities Insight Institute seminar series:Child neglect, wellbeing and resilience: adopting an arts-based approach

Seminar 1: Research methodologies and arts based approaches to resilience and neglect (26th October 2015)

Who was speaking?

  • Professor Brigid Daniel, School of Applied Social Studies, University of Stirling
  • Cheryl Burgess, Research Fellow, University of Stirling
  • Jane Scott, Business Development, WithScotland
  • Dr Susan Elsley, Independent Researcher and associate of CRFR at University of Edinburgh
  • Professor Divya Jindal-Snape, Education, Inclusion and Life Transitions, University of Dundee

Eco-Cultures: blending arts and the environment

Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop, with the "Concrete Antenna"

Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop, with the “Concrete Antenna” Image: John Lord via Creative Commons

By James Carson

To have a place, to live and belong in a place, to live from a place without destroying it, we must imagine it.
Wendell Berry

The worlds of place and imagination came together last weekend at EcoCultures, Glasgow’s festival of environmental research, policy and practice. With over 40 presentations covering topics as diverse as land reform, poetry, sculpture and urban ecology, the festival provided numerous opportunities to learn how artists, scientists and community activists are responding in very different ways to their environments.

Sharing a sense of place

For Rebecca Crowther, exploring shared experiences of nature is important for understanding notions of belonging. Rebecca’s PhD thesis is based on collecting and truthfully representing stories, watching people interact with the natural world, and collaboratively documenting experiences using journals and photographs. As Rebecca observed: “The stories people tell about places reveal which places matter to them, and why.”

Community gardens

Blair Cunningham’s presentation also highlighted the value of places for collective sharing. As part of a larger body of research looking at Glasgow’s growing network of community gardens, Blair was commissioned to create an artist book to explore some of the issues raised by the research, such as community empowerment and social inclusion.

ArtistBook

Blair Cunningham’s Artist Book. Image produced by permission of Aye-Aye Books

He described the process of identifying these community gardens, some of which are hidden from view, but still very-well used by their communities. As well as providing spaces for growing plants, fruit and vegetables, community gardens are also meeting places, with many offering learning opportunities, such as cookery classes. However, they are also engaged in a battle to survive. While some are dependent on grant funding, others rely on the good will of landowners, which may be withdrawn if the land can be sold for property development. Even so, the numbers of community gardens in Glasgow continue to grow.

Environmental policy

Growth of a different kind was under discussion at the environmental policy session.  Luke Devlin, from the Centre for Human Ecology, noted that the consumerist way of life had emerged as a significant measure of growth, and that very little policy was challenging that narrative. Growth, at any cost, he argued, means people and natural resources have become expendable. With 2015 likely to be the hottest on record for the planet, Luke held out little optimism for the outcome of the UN climate change talks next month in Paris.

However, Patrick Harvie MSP, from the Scottish Green Party offered some signs of hope. When the Green Party was established in 1973, he observed, recycling was regarded as something of an oddball activity. But now, he said, recycling is seen as imperative for households, companies and local authorities. Every political party in the Scottish Parliament supports climate change targets, and MSPs are held to account for their environmental policies. Another measure of progress, he suggested, was the recent speech given by Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England, warning bankers and insurers on the risks of climate change, something unthinkable a decade ago.

All of this, Patrick argued, was still not enough, but politicians had to remind people that further progress was still possible:  “We cannot engage with the public on the basis that we’re all doomed.”

The artist’s response to climate change

Throughout the day, artists provided evidence of creative responses to environmental change. Rob St John showed a film about the “Concrete Antenna”, a sound installation at Newhaven, near Edinburgh. The antenna evokes the site’s various histories as a blacksmith, a railway siding and now a thriving creative workshop beside a wildlife-rich cycle route.

Later, Marlene Creates explained the development of her Boreal Poetry Garden in six acres of forest outside St John’s, Newfoundland. During the summer months, Marlene leads visitors on a walk through the garden, pausing to read site-specific poems. Sometimes, special guests, such as geologists or musicians will add further dimensions to the walk.

The garden is Marlene’s way of raising awareness about the threat to the Boreal forest, which covers a vast area across Canada, Russia, Scandinavia and a small part of Scotland. As Marlene observed, its immensity is no guarantee of its protection from climate change and deforestation. Even in her own neighbourhood, she reported, parts of the forest are being converted to lawns.

Like many of the contributions to the EcoCultures event, Marlene’s poetry garden served as a reminder that individuals and communities are finding ever-more creative ways to describe, protect and live with their ever-changing environment.

 

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Can investing in public art really improve wellbeing?

Arria

‘Arria’ By Andy Scott. Image: Heather Cameron

“...a new beginning of people and place…a voice calling out I belong…” (‘Watershed’ by Jim Carruth)

By Heather Cameron

Public art can be seen everywhere these days, from parks to town centres, from hospital settings to overlooking motorways.

Along with thousands of motorists, on my daily commute I pass one arguably iconic piece by award winning public artist Andy Scott – Arria, dubbed ‘Angel of the Nauld’ as Cumbernauld’s answer to Gateshead’s Angel of the North.

It is certainly an eye-catching piece, projecting different images at night when it is lit up by multi-coloured lights. Commissioned as part of a drive to regenerate the area, which had previously won the Scottish Carbuncle award, it was hoped it would “create a sense of place and provide a positive statement about the town”. But can public art really lead to such outcomes?

Value of public art

There has been growing recognition in recent years of the contribution that public art can play in improving public spaces and potentially quality of life for residents.

According to Public Art Online, the main assertions made about the value public art brings include that it:

  • Enhances the physical environment;
  • Creates a sense of place and distinctiveness;
  • Contributes to community cohesion;
  • Contributes to social health and wellbeing;
  • Contributes to economic value through inward investment and tourism;
  • Fosters civic pride and confidence;
  • Raises quality of life;
  • Reduces crime.

A recent survey reveals that “artists, consultants, local authorities and organisations within the health and education sectors largely agreed that public art: played an important role in local, regional and national identity; improved the design of the environment; and performed an important social role”.

Nevertheless, with continuing cuts to public spending and increasing scrutiny as to how local authorities spend public funds, it is not unusual to hear people questioning the money spent on art.

Although not always well received initially, such as in the case of Anthony Gormley’s Angel of the North, such installations can grow to achieve an iconic status which in turn can have a positive impact on the local community, particularly in terms of identity and belonging, thus arguably improving wellbeing.

A recently published thesis from Durham University which uses the Angel of the North as a case study, found that 72% of local residents say the sculpture makes them feel good whenever they see it, and it makes 64% proud of Gateshead. Half of the respondents agreed that it made them feel part of a community.

While most respondents said they felt good when they saw the angel, this varied from 61% in a high deprivation area to 80% in a low deprivation area, suggesting that public art alone is not enough.

Indeed, a literature review by the Arts Council suggests that public art is most effective as part of a wider programme of regeneration. And our previous blog on street art highlighted its use in the regeneration of urban areas.

By using public art to enhance or improve public spaces, the perceptions of such places can undoubtedly be improved. It has been suggested that the use of poetry and text-based art can make public spaces feel safer and deter vandalism, as well as reconnecting a community with its history.

Art and the perception of place

Even temporary installations can have a positive impact, by encouraging interaction with the local area. The sculptures of Clyde, the official mascot of the 2014 Commonwealth Games, that were dotted throughout Glasgow during the Games formed the Clyde trail and involved designs by local children. An app was also created so people could follow the trail, hunting down the sculptures.

Similarly, the Shaun in the City trail in London has recently been extended due to popular demand. Hundreds of thousands of people have visited the sculptures since they arrived in March, with many a ‘selfie’ having been taken.

These sculptures are likely to have an indirect impact on children’s health too, with the London trail raising funds for Wallace & Gromit’s Children’s Charity to support sick children in hospitals throughout the UK. 70 sculptures will then feature in Bristol to raise funds for The Grand Appeal, the Bristol Children’s Hospital Charity.

Health benefits

In relation to health more specifically, extensive evidence demonstrating the positive impact art can have has been highlighted. In 2007, A prospectus for arts and health was published by the Arts Council. It includes a summary of research carried out in two hospitals, Middlesbrough General Hospital and the James Cook University Hospital, which compared hospital accommodation before and after the move into a newly developed building (the JCUH). One of the main questions related to the impact of new commissioned art work on users. Among the key findings were that artworks were largely valued for providing colour, distraction and a sense of calm in the public areas, and for some patients they made the hospital seem “less like a hospital”.

Surely, at a time when there has been much economic decline, anything that lifts the mood of people, whether it be a huge metal sculpture at the side of a motorway, or a humorously designed sheep, can only be a good thing.


The Idox Information Service can give you access to further information on public art and regeneration. To find out more on how to become a member, contact us.

Further reading:

Street art…regeneration tool or environmental nuisance?

Evaluation of a community arts installation event in support of public health, IN Perspectives in Public Health, Vol 135 No 1 Jan 2015, pp43-48

Raising our quality of life: the importance of investment in arts and culture Centre for Labour and Social Studies (2014)

Cultural value and social capital: investigating social capital, health and wellbeing impacts in three coastal towns undergoing culture-led regeneration Sidney De Haan Research Centre for Arts and Health (2014)

The art of seeing things invisible (the role of the arts in urban areas), IN Urban Design, No 128 Autumn 2013, pp28-30

Promoting well-being through creativity: how arts and public health can learn from each other, IN Perspectives in Public Health, Vol 133 No 1 Jan 2013, pp52-59

A bleak future for UK arts funding?

5349310766_ea97e0ee88_bBy Stacey Dingwall

At the moment, it seems like hardly a week goes by without the announcement of cuts to funding for arts organisations across the country. In July 2014, it was announced that, due to changes in the way it distributes its funding, Arts Council England would be reducing the amount of annual funding it provides to the English National Opera by 29%. On top of this, 33 organisations were informed that their funding would be stopped altogether, and 670 that the amount they receive would be frozen for the time being.

Cuts across the regions

The picture is similar across the country. In October, it was revealed that Arts Council Wales’ 2015/16 budget would be reduced by £300,000 on the previous year. The Arts Council of Northern Ireland is facing an 11.2% reduction in its own budget for the year ahead. And in Scotland, more than half of the organisations, including the Scottish Youth Theatre, who applied to Creative Scotland for long-term funding at the end of 2014 had their bids turned down.

Reactions to these announcements have been widely negative, from the public, leading arts figures and the organisations themselves. Accepting a theatre award last week, the actor David Tennant argued that providing funding to the UK creative industries is an “investment” rather than an “expense”, and that “the arts bring in so much more money to this economy than they take out”.

This was backed up a couple of days later in a report published by the Warwick Commission, Enriching Britain: Culture, Creativity and Growth, after a year-long examination of the UK creative arts sector. According to the Commission, the sector represents 5% of the total UK economy, valued at £76.9 billion.

Despite this, the sector presently receives just 0.3% of public spend annually, a figure which many involved in the sector expect will only decrease; new analysis carried out for the London School of Economics has predicted that English local council spending on the arts could fall by as much as 33% over the next five years. In real terms, this would represents a fall in funding of £750 million between 2014 and 2019, making arts the fourth hardest hit service during that period, behind planning, transport and housing.

Unfair distribution?

Aside from the actual amount of funding provided to the arts, another key issue is its distribution across the regions. In October 2014, the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee published the report of its enquiry into the work of Arts Council England, which criticised the “clear funding imbalance” in favour of London in the Council’s distribution of grants and aid.

Many have argued that this has been an issue for some time; a 2013 report, Rebalancing Our Cultural Capital, argued that of the £320 million allocated by Arts Council England in 2012/13, £20 per capita went to London, with only £3.60 per head given to the rest of England.

Separate analysis of Arts Council England’s national investment plans for 2015-2018 by GPS Culture, Hard Facts to Swallow, placed the overall balance of investment from the Council’s grant-in-aid and lottery income streams over this period at 4.1:1 in London’s favour. According to this analysis, £689 million (43.4%) will be invested in the London arts scene, providing a per capita return of £81.87 per head of population (php); £900 million will be provided for arts in the rest of England, generating a per capita return of £19.80 php.

Things can only get….worse?

Should there be a change in government at the upcoming general election, it doesn’t look like this will improve the funding situation for the arts. In January this year, the Labour Party was criticised for ‘bragging’ that it wouldn’t reverse the arts funding cuts announced by the coalition government, should it gain office in May. Although she has criticised cuts to arts funding imposed by the current government in the past, the deputy Labour leader Harriet Harman indicated that as “this government has failed on living standards and failed on the deficit”, a future Labour Government would be unable to reverse all of their decisions made regarding cuts going forward, including on arts.

In the meantime, many UK arts organisations are turning to an alternative means of financing their projects: crowdfunding. The last few years have seen many filmmakers and musicians across the world turn to platforms such as Kickstarter to get their projects off the ground, and last year The Art Fund launched its own platform, Art Happens, to help UK museums and galleries raise money for creative projects. Through this, it is intended that British museums will be able to continue to present the innovative projects which they, and the entire UK arts sector, are globally renowned for.


This article was originally published on 3 March on the Idox Grantfinder expert blog.

We are Europe’s leading provider of grants and policy information and have been providing support to UK organisations since 1985.

 

Creative contribution – the value of arts education

künstlermaterial

By Heather Cameron

According to the Creative Industries Council (CIC) it’s “an exciting and pivotal time for the UK’s creative industries”, with recent statistics showing that the sector punches above its weight in terms of the economy, generating £71.4 billion gross value added (GVA) in 2012 – a 9.4 % increase that surpasses the growth of any other UK industry sector.

Five priority areas for focus were identified by CIC in their recent strategy for the sector:

  • access to finance;
  • education and skills;
  • infrastructure;
  • intellectual property;
  • and international (exports and inward investment).

Despite the positive value of this sector, there are a number of challenges which could hinder progress, particularly in relation to education.

A lack of investment in arts and crafts subjects could have serious consequences for the future of higher education (HE) in the arts and ultimately for the creative industries sector. Francine Norris, Director of Education at West Dean College, which offers courses in conservation and visual arts, recently commented that the government needs to wake up to the fact that arts and crafts underpin the UK’s world-leading creative industries sector. The CIC has highlighted craft as a fundamental component of the UK’s creative industries, employing over 100,000 people and showing an above average increase in GVA between 2008 and 2012.

The National Society for Education in Art and Design (NSEAD) has argued that government policy changes have had a negative impact on the subject. In their most recent survey of art, craft and design educators, which considered the position and value of the subject in schools in the last three years (2011-2014), NSEAD concluded that:

“Performance measures continue to erode provision at key stage 3 and 4; fewer specialist teachers are being trained and there is a paucity of subject specific professional development; learning opportunities for pupils both in school and within the cultural sector have diminished; and the subject lacks value, especially in the state school sector.”

NSEAD has also noted that the number of candidates (male and female) sitting GCE A level art and design subjects continues to fall, with a total of 44,922 sitting the exam this year, compared to 45,336 in 2013 and 46,483 in 2012 when numbers peaked.

According to a recent Crafts Council report, the number of arts GCSEs studied by children has fallen by 14% since the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) was introduced in 2010. Arts subjects are not included in the EBacc, which is currently the main performance measure for schools, so it is unsurprising that participation has decreased at a time when schools are under increasing pressure to meet performance targets.

Added to this, the Cultural Learning Alliance has commented on figures released earlier this year by the Department for Education, suggesting that the arts are experiencing a disproportionate decline in provision. According to the data, the number of hours that arts subjects are taught and the number of arts teachers in England’s secondary schools have fallen since 2010 by up to 11%. In contrast, the EBacc subjects of history and geography have seen the number of teachers and hours taught rise between 7% and 12%.

The problem continues at the level of higher education, with university places in the arts and crafts also declining in the face of high tuition fees and a lack of funding. The Crafts Council highlights a 39% decline in the number of arts and craft courses available in the five years to 2012, down from 820 courses in 2007/08 to 500 in 2011/12.

Surely if the outstanding economic contribution of the creative industries sector is to continue, then the value of arts education must be recognised and continue to be sufficiently supported? A review by the Arts Council, which reported that learning through arts and culture improves attainment across many other aspects of the school curriculum, also highlighted gaps in research evidencing the benefits of arts and culture, concluding that:

“Driving the development of evidence and research in understanding the impact arts and culture plays on the wider society will be critical to shaping and developing arguments in favour of sustained public investment in arts and culture.” 

Perhaps this lack of evidence of the value of the arts is what needs to be addressed in order to increase awareness.


 

Further reading

Evaluating Sistema Scotland: ‘arts and smarts’ – assessing the impact of arts participation on academic performance during school years, systematic literature review (Work package 2)

Creating artists’ workspace

Embedding arts and humanities in the creative economy: the role of graduates in the UK, IN Environment and Planning C: Government and Policy, Vol 32 No 3 Jun 2014, pp426-450

The value of arts and culture to people and society: an evidence review

Building a creative nation: evidence review

Arts and crafts: critical to economic innovation, IN Economic Development Quarterly, Vol 27 No 3

The contribution of the arts and culture to the national economy

The Idox Information Service has a wealth of research reports, articles and case studies on a range of arts and culture topics. Abstracts and full text access to subscription journal articles are only available to members.

Striking a social chord: music in community engagement and regeneration

by Laura Dobie

dj decksThe 2014 Commonwealth Games are drawing to a close in Glasgow, and in addition to all the sporting action that is taking place in the city, the Games have acted as a catalyst for a wide range of cultural events. Perhaps one of the most ambitious in scale was the Big Big BIG Sing, which took place on Glasgow Green on 27th July, with a day-long programme of varied events, from beatboxing to Gaelic singing. In this article, we take a closer look at the Big Big BIG Sing and a couple of other projects in local communities across the UK, which are putting music centre stage in community engagement and regeneration.

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