ACA Chair speaks at ‘Next steps for funding in the creative industries’ conference
ACA Chair, Vicky Ireland, recently spoke at a Westminster Forums Project conference on ‘Next steps for funding in the creative industries’. She was asked to speak after pointing out that there was no speaker representing the arts for children.
During his summary, it was positive that the session Chair Professor Christopher Smith - Executive Chair of the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), UKRI – acknowledged:
‘We need to get our schools to prize creativity for the sake of our children, which will deliver skills through into university and further education that will create a rich ecosystem for SMEs. This will allow us to perform nationally and internationally that will bring cultural, economic and social wellbeing for people at every stage of their life and every part of the UK.’
ACA is a charity dedicated to children from zero to twelve years. We champion the rights of children to access the arts, to experience a creative education, and to have time every day, to dream, imagine and play.
I’m here to listen and learn, and also to offer a challenge: that within this Creative Industries debate on financing, we consider the needs of children and all those who create work for them, in arts and crafts, design, film, video, music, the performing arts, publishing, computer games, TV and radio... etc.
There are very few statistics on the contribution that arts for children make to the UK’s GDP, but I think we can assume that between A.A. Milne, J.K. Rowling, Roald Dahl, Jacqueline Wilson, Michael Morpurgo, Philip Pullman, Beatrix Potter, Mr Tumble and the Teletubbies - they must earn a few bob for the nation?
Nelson Mandela said, "There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children,” and yet the concerns of children are seldom on adult agendas, which is disappointing at a time when children urgently need our attention.
In the most recent 2020 poll, the UK had the unhappiest children in Europe.
There’s a disconnect going on. Why is this? And how do we address it?
If we want to see fresh cohorts of excited, talented, young people at the end of school life, eager to enter higher education and join the creative Industries, we surely need to examine and care about the whole journey of the talent pipeline – from early years, to primary education and beyond.
A flourishing arts culture needs strong roots, and I believe we should all be concerned and involved in creating those roots.
As ACA’s late great Patron, Prof Sir Ken Robinson said, "The greatest resource possessed by any nation is the imagination of its people. Imagination nourishes invention, economic advantage, scientific discovery, technological advance, better administration, jobs, communities and a more secure society. The arts are the principal trainers of the imagination”.
Taking part in arts activities is an essential part of being human. The arts remind us of who we are and what we can be. They help develop creativity, cognition, emotional intelligence, vocabulary, empathy, resilience and much more.
And yet the arts are currently being downgraded in state schools. An arts premium of at least £90 million pounds, promised for Secondary schools in the government’s last manifesto, has disappeared.
Cuts to Higher Education threaten the viability of arts courses, which in turn weakens the pipeline of talent, leading from higher education into the creative industries.
In January, the government quietly announced that the BFI Young Audiences Media Content Fund for children would close after its three-year pilot came to an end, without holding the full evaluation that was promised. Now, British children will see themselves represented less, and hear fewer of their stories, and instead, grow up on a diet of primarily international media content, as the source of their information and inspiration.
At heart, this is a human rights issue. Because yes, children have rights. As a country we are signed up to the 54 Articles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, including Article 31 that “Every child has the right to relax, play and take part in a wide range of cultural and artistic activities”.
These rights start in the early years – where the pipeline begins. We hear a lot of talk about the importance of early years, but see precious little action. Thanks to Covid, and lack of funding, state nursery education is currently in complete crisis. And yet that is where our children play, and children learn to be artists through play. We must strengthen these roots.
The pipeline continues in Primary School. This is where we see a current focus on ‘academic catch-up’: extended school days, shorter holidays, homework and tests. In the with-Covid world, these are being treated as far more important than helping children to create, dream, relax, play, and heal from two years of emotional battering.
Teachers are also suffering under an excessive workload and desperately need a proper work- life balance, so let’s stop cramming, and work towards providing the things we know help children to flourish, including time for unstructured play in the fresh air and in safe places, being challenged with the need to take risks, engaging in arts and sports, engagement with friends and family, looking after pets, being curious, feeling wonder, having fun!
Childhood is not a dress rehearsal for being an adult. It is a staging in its own right to be cherished by all of us. Peter Brook told a trainee director he should "Go and make theatre with children.” When the horrified trainee asked why, the response was, “so you can learn how to make complex ideas, very simple”.
Children have a lot to teach us.
We should start listening and talking to them. This will help them develop the vocabulary to communicate, the confidence to conduct meaningful conversations and the desire to share ideas.
We need to invite children to the table and respect their voices, help them to listen to each other and the world around them, and affirm their right to have their own hopes, dreams and fears
Let’s create places and spaces where young people can meet, relax, talk, play, and help shape their futures.
Let’s encourage all Boards to have a Young Voices panel, which includes, Primary children
Children are citizens in their own right. They need and deserve the arts as much as adult readers, theatregoers, gallery visitors, media consumers and artists.
Creativity is central to almost every human activity, as well as a part of a happy and fulfilled life. Without creative ideas, business and industry would fail.
I put to you, if we neglect and ignore the imagination and needs of our young, we restrict all our futures.
Please allow children into your considerations, alongside all those who give their creative time and talent to them.