Why do we spend money, time and effort on engaging young people in the arts when participation is at their fingertips?
As a part of the fantastic series of ‘Discussions at City Arts’ taking place in Nottingham, we were invited to take a seat on a panel to explore the theme of young people’s participation and to respond to the query ‘why bother to engage young people in the arts?’ The provocation was based on the fact that young people already access different creative art forms as a part of their day-to-day lives, whether through gaming, sketching, or using social media such as Tumblr; so why do we spend money, time and effort on engaging young people in the arts when participation is at their fingertips? There were lots of very interesting, thought-provoking and pertinent points being made by both panel members and attendees alike, although two elements of the discussion have stuck in my mind.
The first element was the underlying value of arts skills in helping a young person’s transition into adulthood, especially when it enhances their employment and education prospects. There have been lots of reports produced over the years which have evaluated the impact of arts and culture on the lives of children and young people, many which show the range of benefits afforded when they engage and participate in various structured activities. Policy proposals have been made as a result of these findings with a plethora of programmes and initiatives created to support the agenda. However, in these times of austerity, the reach and diversity of these programmes has been reduced. The Mighty Creatives have, over the last couple of years, looked at various ways in which we can support the creation of new and innovative opportunities that will produce very specific and real tangible benefits for both young people and the arts and cultural sector across the East Midlands; for example by increasing the number of Arts Awards available or through paid Internships and Apprenticeships. These programmes not only provide a chance for the region’s young people to develop creative skills and work alongside established practitioners, they can also gain a huge range of transferable skills that they would not otherwise access. The Creative and Cultural Industries (CCIs) has, on average, grown at 3 times the rate of the national average in terms of jobs created, and the number of micro enterprises in the UK continues to grow at a significant rate. With over 90% of CCIs being micro, small or medium-sized enterprises there are obvious entrepreneurial skills young people can access and learn by working with the sector.
The second element that resonated was one of arts and cultural education advocacy to the wider world. There was a general feeling by a number of people in attendance that we must be careful not to have conversations on the importance of the arts and cultural engagement for children and young people only among industry practitioners. As a collective, by and large, we are already aware of the benefits that arts and culture can bring to young people. This includes the impact on their ability to interpret the world around them, providing them with a greater sense of belonging, understanding their role in society, and can increase their attainment levels in language and numeracy skills. But we need to spread that message to those who question the value of the arts; there was a sense that we, as a sector, need to better engage with policy-makers, funding bodies, education leaders and those in other industry sectors such as science and engineering to help them understand the real-world, practical, social and innovative impacts that arts and cultural education can bring, and its continuance of being side-lined in education is regressive and will only hinder the UK’s efforts to bridge skills gaps and help young people feel a part of society.
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