King’s College Cultural Enquiry into access to the arts for young people – speech by Vicky Ireland

The below linked file is a recent article by Sir Ken Robinson and below is a verbatim speech which was Vicky Ireland’s contribution to the King’s College Cultural Enquiry into access to the arts for young people.


My name is Vicky Ireland.  I am part of the living archive of this conversation having been born in 1945 and started work in 1966 as a member of the newly established TIE (Theatre-in-Education) team at the Belgrade Theatre Coventry. You are talking about my life.

Having to justify the goodness and the right of arts in our lives makes me so angry. Since cavemen painted on walls we have known the benefit of the arts; why do we have to keep proving it when we have masses of documentation and evidence? It is a Sisyphean task, with results to be forever ignored by politicians because the importance of arts and culture in our lives, is not a vote-catcher.

Why not? Because we are a philistine community in England, puritanical since Oliver Cromwell, ‘the arts are degenerate; they are a luxury; they are an add-on’, they are not recognised as something that enhances the quality of everyday life. 

Until the person in the street is re-educated to understand that the arts are integral, and this becomes a voting issue, nothing will change and change becomes more difficult.

When I started at the Belgrade I was interviewed by the city council, local philosophers.  They employed me; they had vision; they had passion; ordinary people who put the money together to make that TIE team happen and employ seven people.  A brilliant, brave, grass-roots initiative that shared the big questions of life with children, and which has since spread all around the world. But Theatre-in-Education has largely disappeared in England because Arts Council policy decided it would be better to have a sole Education Officer, rather than an autonomous  team and this has morphed into, “the Education Department”.

Organisations should be inclusive, with work for young people and children firmly rooted within their portfolio but if this view is not held and initiated by the person at the top, it becomes ghettoised; the main body does not do the work because the Education Department does it.  It has taken the National Theatre fifty years for its Artistic Director to allow work for little children to be commissioned and staged within one of its main theatres, rather than hived out to the Education Department.  Until arts organisations recognise that they have to serve all of the community, arts for young people will continue to be, in many cases, an add-on. 

We hoped the big questions TIE asked of children would continue to be asked, but having watched arts for children all my life, the difference now is that material is anodyne. Safe titles, safe content  no risk factor.  We have lost the passion to discuss the difficult. I talk to students in drama schools; they do not vote, they are not interested in politics; they have not been introduced to the great “whys”,  of life at an early enough age to form their own perceptions and voice.

We need to wake up and speak up for the  arts; for the importance of their place in our  live, for grass roots initiatives; for  passionate and talented artists to create challenging  work for, and with children,  -in order to develop a more caring, courageous and creative society.

We ignore doing this at our peril.


Ken Robinson article PDF

King’s College Cultural Enquiry into access to the arts for young people – speech by Vicky Ireland
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