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Creativity and the importance of equal access to arts education

26 May 2021
By Ashton Mullins

With the launch of Arts Council England’s Creativity Collaboratives, a national cohort of schools to test a range of innovative practices in teaching for creativity, we reflect on the importance of arts education and creativity for our youngest minds and the important work we fund in East London.

The UK’s emergency support package for the arts, in the face of COVID-19 last July,  showed hopeful recognition for the value of the creative industry and what “makes our country great”. UK Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said, “They are the linchpin of our world-beating and fast growing creative industries.”

So the recent news of the government’s proposal to cut funding for arts higher education by 50%, covering music, dance, drama, art and design, and media, was an understandably disappointing blow to educators and those who understand the vital link between arts education, our creative sector and the national economy. The news is a sharp reminder of the importance of the Foundation for Future London’s mission and our collaborative work with our partners from across East Bank and the City of London’s Culture Mile.

Arts education has a transformational role in empowering children and young people. Not only does studying arts and engagement in arts experiences inspire a broad range of skills, such as creativity, problem solving, collaboration and empathy, they also build resilience, self-esteem and social skills. The Cultural Learning Alliance’s case for Cultural Learning reports that students from low-income families who take part in arts activities at school are three times more likely to get a degree. Young people, no matter their ethnicity, gender or socio-economic background, who study arts are more likely to do better in all their subjects and are more likely to attend university.

Placing arts as a cornerstone of our teaching curriculums makes young people happier and more inspired to continue their education. But the benefits of the arts go far beyond the classroom: schools that are rich in arts enhance both their children’s life chances, their mental health and the health and wellbeing of their surrounding communities.

We currently co-fund a number of creative education and skills development initiatives that seek to address these themes such as Creative Schools, Fusion Prize and Fusion Futures, along with our partner City of London.

As we have seen from our work around Fusion Skills, the arts directly support the development of a range of skills that are hugely in demand in the workplaces of today and in the future.

Before the pandemic, the UK’s creative industries contributed more than £111 bn to the UK economy in 2018 — more than five times larger than growth across the UK economy as a whole. Between 2011 and 2018, creative industries employment  mushroomed by 30.6%, compared to the UK average growth of 10.1% during that period.

More recently, the creative industries accounted for up to one out of 10 jobs in the UK. These are the jobs and industries of the future – innovative, resistant and built on our collective creativity. Underlying this economic and social value is an extensive interlinked pipeline of arts education, which is vital for ensuring that not only those creative sector but all sectors remain recognised as national and international successes and that young people from all backgrounds have access to future employment and life opportunities.

In partnership with Westfield Stratford City, we are funding UD and East London Dance to open the UK’s first national Talent House for dance and music — a new space that will provide the needed bricks and mortar to nurture that talent pipeline of artists of all ages and backgrounds, from emerging to professional.

Despite the above being both well researched and understood, children’s access to the arts is declining and distributed unequally to those that can afford the arts. We must protect, preserve and build our arts education environment, both in schools and beyond across more informal learning settings.

The arts have already suffered disproportionately as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and it’s even more important that we as a sector continue to create a more supportive and collaborative environment that champions young people’s hopes and talents, builds on best practices and looks at the value of the arts, both strategically and holistically in order to build back better over the long term.

So, how do we go about it and what are the most effective methods for inspiring and refining creativity? This is a question that the Arts Council are working towards following the publication of the Durham Commission and its important recommendations. This year’s launch of Creativity Collaboratives is a new initiative that will give teachers and educators a chance to working alongside existing school structures to co-develop creative strategies and pedagogy, test out approaches to teaching and learning, and evaluate their impact on pupils, schools and communities and here at the Foundation we look forward to learning more from this exciting initiative.

Arts Council England’s Creativity Collaboratives, a new fund for schools, is open for application. The deadline for Expressions of Interest is 12pm on 10 June 2021. The deadline for full applications is 12pm on 26 July 2021. For more information see artscouncil.org.uk/get-funding/creativity-collaboratives.

To find out about funding for projects that will give children and young people a chance to benefit from arts education and creative skills, in formal and informal contexts, make sure to check out our funding programmes pages.

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Ashton Mullins

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