Our latest post is another contribution exploring the connection between the cultural value debate and discussions on the place of the creative arts in the curriculum which have intensified in the UK following the controversial introduction by the government, in 2010, of the English Baccalaureate. This, in the words of the Department for Education, is a ’performance measure’ rather than a qualification in itself: ‘The measure recognises where pupils have secured a C grade or better across a core of academic subjects – English, mathematics, history or geography, the sciences and a language’. Concerns have been raised by the cultural sector about the absence of the arts from the Baccalaureate. This lively debate has fed into the broader one on the value of an arts education, which is indeed the topic on which Anamaria Wills (@Anamariacida), Founder and CEO of CidaCo reflects in her blog.
On the Andrew Marr’s Start the Week programme this week, Christopher Frayling, Anthony Gormley, Ron Arad and Sarah Teasley discussed the training of artists and designers of the future. Inevitably, given the homogeneity of the group, there seemed to be a slight air of mutual congratulation, noting the UK’s pre-eminence in the arts and creative industries and rightly ascribing that pre-eminence to the quality and quantity of arts training that the UK has enjoyed for so many generations. There was broad discussion of the impact of art schools on contemporary culture, not just in visual arts but across the spectrum. Frayling went on to comment that a large number of art school students take their creative thinking into a range of other sectors and are frequently found involved in the design and innovation of products and services quite remote from the creative sector. He cited a statistic, apparently emanating from the Treasury, that by 2017, 50% of new jobs will be in the creative industries.
It was that statistic that suddenly jarred. If this is true – and, frankly, even if it is an exaggeration -why on earth do we find ourselves in a situation where funding for creative courses is being cut? In a world where the Russell Group of universities will no longer accept creative GCSEs as evidence of intellectual achievement? Where creativity is being systematically drained from educational curricula? Where the focus is being put on STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) to the exclusion of anything that involves lateral thinking, use of imagination, intellectual risk taking? Of course, the irony is that all of those characteristics are ESSENTIAL to the proper pursuit of STEM subjects – no scientific or technological discovery would have been made without people having the confidence, the imagination and the skills to make impossible connections, to take unreasonable chances and to defy the numbers.
As John Maeda says “We seem to forget that innovation doesn’t just come from equations or new kinds of chemicals, it comes from a human place. Innovation in the sciences is always linked in some way, either directly or indirectly, to a human experience. And human experiences happen through engaging with the arts – listening to music, say, or seeing a piece of art.” And he should know – he was a scientist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology who transferred to the arts after his Master’s degree and is now Principal of the Rhode Island School of Design.
Until recently, in Singapore, only the students with low grades were put into the creative courses in University. Clever ones were assigned to the STEM worlds. So it came as a shock when, in 2006, the Singapore Government decided that it was going to position itself as the creative hub of South East Asia. As elsewhere in the world, no one in Singapore till then had taken creativity seriously. But, in their inimitable fashion, the Government had recognised the global shift to the knowledge economy; they had already just established themselves as the financial hub, and so now the next economic peak to conquer was creativity and innovation. So they systematically set about changing the paradigms in education at every level, from pre-kindergarten to post graduate and lifelong learning. They put a raft of different measures in place, each thoroughly and logically thought through. They made the predictable error of focusing first on media and new media but quickly discovered that creativity is more complex than that. They discovered that investment in creativity meant investing in people before technology. It meant taking seriously the importance and impact of the arts, of cultural heritage and creative participation. They found that, unlike in the UK, for example, where the flowering of opinionated, articulate mavericks and intellectual risk takers has been a cultural norm, undoubtedly due in large measure to the past prevalence and quality of our arts education, in Singapore the situation was very different. The past forty years of ‘benign autocracy’ and culture of conformity militated directly against the skills and aptitudes they now needed for economic success. Six years on from 2006, creativity is now embedded across the curriculum at every level. Creative writing and drawing are compulsory subjects from kindergarten and throughout education. No scientist, technologist, engineer or mathematician will go through his education without experiencing at significant level the impact of creative learning. The learning and innovation ‘is always linked to human experience.’
It’s not just peculiar, not just culturally counter intuitive, not just un-British even, to take arts education out of the curriculum – it’s downright ignorant. The consequences will be felt in every field of endeavour – the STEM world will be the poorer, and while the rest of the world chases to catch up with the UK’s creative pre-eminence, we stand on the sidelines and give it away.
Anamaria Wills, Founder/CEO, CidaCo
Award-winning practitioner and cultural producer with over 30 years’ experience working in the creative sector, including at the National Theatre, the Old Vic and the Arts Council. She founded CIDA in January 2000 specifically to help artists earn more from their creativity. Since then, the company has supported the development of around 3,000 artists and creative enterprises across the world; has helped create over 600 new creative jobs; and has brought nearly £40million into the UK creative economy.