Filed under: Adam Lent, Arts and Society, Education Matters
In Adam Lent’s recent blog ‘Why is creativity the most important political concept of the 21st century’ he outlines the broadest definition of creativity as being ‘an act that is unique to an individual’s own capacities or vision’.
Why is it then that you’ll frequently hear people recoil in trepidation asserting ‘oh, but I’m not creative’?
Is it fear that they’ll be asked to draw? Or worse still, sing? Is it that someone way back told them they were no good at something and it’s stuck? Is it an excuse to get out of doing something? You’re creative, you do it. Is it an underlying lack of confidence in themselves? Is it a lack of birth right or sense of status?
Lent goes on to explain that creativity is important for four reasons:
- It’s good for us
- It’s economically more important than ever
- It’s the only solution to long term austerity
- It is under threat.
Do read his blog for more on this, am oversimplifying here to provide context, with this in mind I’d like to add two different thoughts.
Firstly, and perhaps crucially, does it matter then that people claim not to be creative? And often vociferously so. Is it because they default to the narrow association of creativity = art? Who are these people? And what implications does this have for our growing mission of the ‘power to create’ and the broadest definition of creativity.
Secondly, and perhaps fundamentally, I have to throw into the concept driven mix that creativity is FUN! Don’t we all want to be more creative? Personally and professionally?
Creativity enables us to solve problems, to meet people, to feel more human, to relax, to use our hands, to express ourselves, to experiment, to get dirty, to learn a new skill, to be brave, to get something wrong, to have a laugh, to feel fulfilled, to innovate, to feel a sense of achievement, to take a risk, to grow inside, to allow us to think a bit bigger.
But in case you were wondering , think you are not creative? Oh yes you are. It is in us all, it is innate. Embrace it. Follow it. See where you go.
The end of November saw RSA Academies hosting the Student Leadership Conference for Year 12 and 13 student leaders from Arrow Vale RSA Academy, Whitley Academy and RSA Academy, Tipton.
Here are some of the TOP 5 TIPS from the students and the RSA Fellows who joined in for a day of inspiration and conversation.
Marie Nixon, Chief Executive at Sunderland University’s Students Union starts us off.
1. You’re a leader all the time. You don’t have to wait for the ‘big’ job or opportunity to start being a leader. You can be a leader in your community, in your area of interest, in anything. Get on with leading and the big leadership opportunities are more likely to come your way.
2. Don’t be scared of ‘don’t know’. One person can never know everything. Surround yourself with brilliant people and together you can know all sorts – and work out the answers to what you don’t.
3. The power of the unthinkable. Don’t be afraid of ‘mad’ ideas that might seem beyond the realms of possibility. It’s a great spark for exciting conversations which help you decide on ambitions and exciting things you want to change and do.
4. The boldest measures are the safest – changing something a tiny bit usually requires exactly the same effort as changing something radically. Be bold, be brave, attempt to do what you really want to do rather than what you might get away with. It’ll take the same effort and you might as well go for what you want.
5. Telling it like it is. Feedback is super powerful and it takes a bold soul to give it. Feedback is essential to make sure you’re getting to where you want to be. When you’re giving feedback make sure you do it with accuracy and kindness and that you’re doing it for the good of the person affected or the project. It’s NEVER a chance to be mean.
Followed by Prince Chivaka and Cynthia Ariana, Head Boy and Head Girl at Whitley Academy in Coventry.
• Communication is key
• Develop confidence in the role
• Be very firm, but friendly and be assertive and considerate in a team
• Plan an agenda for each half term and meet with Student Leadership Group and the Principal
• Encourage others to become leaders, be a role model
And Rick Hall from Ignite’s 5 Rs: the characteristics of creativity… and leadership
1. Resilience – be determined and learn from your mistakes, this is part of the process of getting towards the solution
2. Resourcefulness – working out what to do when you don’t know what to do
3. Referencing – see something is like something else and make the connection, learn from this
4. Reflection – step aside and observe, use mind mapping as a technique to help
5. Risk taking – pushing the boundaries, going outside your comfort zone
And lastly from Andrew Watts, Head Boy at RSA Academy in Tipton
• Plan, plan, plan – set goals, what do you want to achieve?
• It’s crucial to talk to people – what do students want from you? Expect the unexpected.
• Don’t be afraid to ask for help – you don’t have all the answers and learn from the example of others
• You have to make big decisions – consider everything, sometimes what you want isn’t best
• Be willing to get involved – you have to be in it to win it
Duncan Piper at the Young Leaders Consultancy has the parting shot. He encouraged us to think about self-less leadership: how can I help you get to where you need to be?
Within the RSA Family of Academies many families of pupils do not have strong networks with employers or universities. Recently schools have had to take on new responsibilities for careers information, advice and guidance. It follows then that one of our priorities is to ‘connect learners to people, places and issues beyond the school gate’ – something we are working towards with a new Warwick University and RSA partnership.
Last Thursday night students from the RSA Academies joined with their teachers, academics from Warwick and the RSA to celebrate the launch of this partnership. It is aimed at increasing the student’s knowledge about what a university education involves and helping them to develop skills, knowledge and experience to gain a university place.
For the partnership to have real impact, we need to consider the perceived barriers of going to university. Practical concerns about how students would manage, including anxiety about the financial implications; a sense that it is ‘not for people like me’; a lack of knowledge and confidence in going through the application and interview process, have all informed the planning so far. The partnership will generate:
- opportunities for the students to attend the ‘Experience Warwick’ summer schools
- support with the university application process
- advice and guidance sessions for the students and their parents about going to university
- visits to the schools by the academic staff
- taster days at the university
And more than this, there will be a programme of activities for the schools that is focussed on raising aspirations and increasing awareness of different university options. There is plenty of potential for projects between different academic staff within Warwick and the schools that will bring to life some of the more esoteric sounding disciplines – theatre productions about the financial crisis that allow you to explore economics and the relationship between human behaviours – it’s about finding ways to engage and excite students with new subjects and ideas, and teaching staff and academics in return.
Student focus groups carried out by RSA Education Intern Lisa Hevey showed the importance of talking about university as an option at an early age. At Year 8 students were talking about adults who had influenced their future plans and career aspirations, so getting in early with a range of potential career possibilities is essential. Importantly role models also have a clear impact on students. Some students do not have older siblings at university and putting these individuals in touch with university students or adults who may inspire them could have enormous effect.
So this partnership offers potential. And when you feel you have potential, the sky’s the limit.
Filed under: Arts and Society, Education Matters, Fellowship
At the RSA Family of Academies we are working with four schools in the West Midlands who are about to embark on an arts audit. By reviewing what activities are already taking place across their schools they will be able to examine the ways that the arts and arts experiences could be woven through the curriculum and the school day.
One of the priorities for RSA Academies is ‘enabling learners to achieve a broad range of qualifications, skills and competences’ which poses some interesting thinking. How do you enable learners to achieve not just qualifications but also a broad range of skills and competences – and further still, confidence. And how do you get the disengaged interested in learning again?
A new report from the Arts Council of Wales explores arts and creativity in schools and the impact that arts experiences which take place in schools have. The headline figures are conclusive and striking. Of the 42 schools and colleges involved in the research, 99% said they felt that an involvement in arts activities had improved learner engagement. Dai Smith, Chair of the Arts Council of Wales follows this: ‘teaching in and through the arts, far from detracting from literacy and numeracy should be seen as an enabler to driving up standards in academic priorities’.
The research also identified that 98% and 99% felt that the arts developed emotional wellbeing and interpersonal skills of the pupils. The report provides evidence of the enrichment and progression of learners as a result of arts organisations coming through the school gate and through outside visits to theatres, galleries and exhibitions.
Which thinking about it, most of us will have our own experiences for which this rings true. I can still vividly remember a trip to the Barbican to see Romeo and Juliet with Tim McInnerny just mesmerising as Tybalt. The act itself of the trip to a big city, visiting the vast concrete megalith that is the Barbican and then to be wowed by the strange language of Shakespeare is the sort of stuff that stays with you at the tender age of 13.
Beyond this, the arts enables young people to explore identity and self-expression, to create and to experiment. Last week one of the RSA’s Royal Designers of Industry, Ben Kelly joined Arrow Vale RSA Academy in Redditch for the day. Designer of the interior of the Hacienda, Ben is a real life example of a rule breaker and innovator, and he inspired years 9 and 12 students with a new sense of what’s possible and attitude to success.
Whitley Academy head boy, Prince Chivaka leads a series of podcasts in a project with RSA Fellow Fran Plowright called Frontline Voices. Across the RSA Family of Academy schools, Prince and his fellow students explored questions of what it means to be a young person today growing up in an uncertain and changing world. Fran explains more about the project in her What about tomorrow? blog.
And take a look at Whitley Academy in Coventry. Their art website, Whitley Arts was created to showcase and sell their unique student artwork. It has also opened students’ eyes to the possibility of their work being in the public realm. The site acts as a focal point, a potential destination of work whilst underpinning learning and personal development.
We are working to create more of these moments of inspiration and practical projects where creativity is fostered as a core skill, and where hopefully more learners become more engaged as a result.
Every now and again I have a really inspiring meeting that draws together common threads from our work in Arts and Society with thinking from other people and the wider world. Yesterday was one such day. I was meeting the artist Lucy Steggals about the Creative Intersections project we are doing with King’s College London and our recent event showcasing the journey of this work with participating artists and academics – and recent learning and reflection from Arts and Social Change in Citizen Power Peterborough came flooding into the frame whilst hearing about Lucy’s experiences in Gravesend and the Isle of Sheppey.
We’ve just published a case study on the artist’s residencies. Called ‘Context Matters’ this is a reflective and observational document by Richard Ings about the experiences of the two residencies that I have curated for Arts and Social Change. Very much intended to be about sharing learning and experiences, this takes the first-hand views of the two artists, Joshua Sofaer and Simon Grennan along with the two community groups they worked with; Morland Court Residents’ Association and Peterborough Street Pastors respectively. This coupled with the Made in Peterborough commissions programme; the first with Encounters who devised the Take Me To project and the second with Joanna Rajkowska’s Peterborough Child sculpture – consolidated much of the fascinating consideration and challenge that needs to be borne out when working in ‘Any Place’ successfully where there are mutual outcomes needed for the many parties involved from the funder to the commissioner, from local residents to the artists themselves.
In embarking on the journey of working in communities with the arts, much of the consideration lies in where and how the artwork is conceived. Initially informed by the brief given to the artist and underpinned by the strength of support to the ideas within it from the local partnership, there needs to be a framework with which to engage at the beginning. This is then followed by flexibility so the ideas can be shaped and informed by local conversation and context. This need for flexibility and open acknowledgement across the stakeholders is crucial. We don’t know for sure how it is going to proceed until we’ve met the local people. If the first path chosen is not working then another needs to be taken and this takes time.
Establishing the trust for this to take place with the people you are working with is also paramount – and as an artist (and in our case, commissioner/producer) you give something of yourself to that. Friendships are established, mutual professional bonds develop, time (and sometimes budget) is spent way beyond the project brief to get the job done because you become invested in it and the people involved. You become part of the group.
Different artists work in different ways of course. For some, their approach means engagement locally begins once the work is installed and for others the work is informed entirely through local people making the decisions on the artwork. There exists in the middle and at the edges a process of co-design and co-creation. In introducing an artist to a place, much is led by the nature of the introduction to the local community. As an ‘outsider’ in many cases, whether it is as a facilitator, workshop leader or artist, this can play a significant role in the expectations and understanding of people locally – who if to be engaged need to have a sense of: Who are you? Why are you here? Who is the work for? Why should I bother to get involved?
All of which needs to be skilfully woven with the artist’s own integrity and practice. This is not about the artist dictating direction necessarily but about having a voice to shape and lead the project among all the parties involved.
In turn, this throws up the fascinating subject of where the art is created and where the real value of the work is held for the different people and stakeholders involved. In ‘socially engaged’ projects, sometimes it is necessary to pull back from the final product as being the end game (and therefore the sign of success) to instead consider the journey and process that has been crafted and experienced.
To quote Richard Ings in the case study “there is, in artist residencies generally, a creative tension between the artist’s prime function, which is to make art, and they social role they may be asked to play (or find themselves playing) – and about the role that the group or community they are working with should play in the realisation of this art”
If you are interested in these considerations and challenges, socially engaged artist Hannah Hull and ixia are exploring these ideas through the Critical Spaces network. Hannah is bringing together artists and conversations along this socially engaged arts/artists working with people theme to generate an artist-led critical voice and practice in the public realm.
There will also be more to follow from the RSA as the full suite of case studies and evaluation of Arts and Social Change, and Citizen Power more broadly are published online in the coming months.
Recently we held a roundtable at the RSA with the British Theatre Consortium on the theme of spectatorship and engagement. We explored the presumption that those working in the arts will increasingly need to justify public funding on the basis of being able to provide measurable benefits. This is easier to quantify when arts consumption involves direct participation, but as most arts experiences are non-participatory, we challenged, arts organisations will need to make spectatorship more engaging and active.
Once you dig under the surface, this becomes a complex subject. There is of course a difference between how institutions, particularly those with a building that needs to be regularly filled engage with their audiences, and how smaller organisations for whom participation is ‘the thing they do’, come to the table together on this subject. Many of this latter group feel that their work has not been recognised or appropriately valued (financially or otherwise); as the title of the recent conference from Connected Culture, the network that celebrates adult participatory arts, demonstrates. In choosing the name ‘Because we’re worth it’ they suggest a desire to change the perceptions around participatory arts whilst at the same time seriously grappling with the challenges of ‘genuine’ engagement and participation.
It would be really valuable to explore this place where arts participation and participatory arts meet.
It would be really valuable to explore this place where arts participation and participatory arts meet. Next time we should expose these hidden dichotomies, for it is all too easy to talk about artists and arts organisations as if they are homogenous. The State of the arts conference found this too. But the fact is that arts organisations are not all the same and we need to find a way of talking about these nuances otherwise the real nubs of the matter will remain ignored.
What should the starting point be? Leila Jankovich states that nearly 80% of those who participate in creative activity also attend arts events (according to the Taking Part survey). It is clear then that engagement of any kind may lead to a greater propensity to engage with other arts experiences in the future, ‘the challenge therefore is not the quality of what is engaged with, but with act of engagement itself’. This throws a challenge back to the Arts Council’s objective of ‘great art for everyone’. If our collective goal is a more enriched, open-minded and creative society perhaps there needs to be encouragement for all forms of participation in creative activity, irrespective of pre-conceived ideas of what is ‘quality’ or ‘great’.
One of the arts biggest challenges is raising its visibility, so the act of initial engagement is a really interesting one. Getting different sorts of people across the threshold can be a real challenge. There are interesting ways of thinking about this, the Birmingham Opera Company for instance, puts 50% of its tickets on sale to the general public (for those who know how to book in advance, have credit cards, are already going to go etc…) and the remaining 50% are distributed through the participants involved in the production. Contact Theatre place young people at the heart of everything they do. Their Future Fires project supports young emerging artists to plan and deliver their own community arts projects across Greater Manchester. Daniel Ainsworth is one such emerging artist. He is exploring with film and street art how extended periods of delayed re-development impact on a community’s day to day lives. He is inviting debate around the issues of displacement, unemployment and reduced local services in times of recession.
Daniel’s project sounds like it will enable the community of Miles Platting to articulate their thoughts and feelings about their situation in ways they perhaps didn’t know were possible which I think would appeal to Matthew Taylor’s assertion that we need to have a richer account of citizenship. This is an interesting thought because undoubtedly these accounts will vary significantly. If you ask someone what play they would like to see, they can only pick from a list of what they’ve already seen, people who have not had so many experiences in the arts do not know what the possibilities could be. For an account of citizenship to be truly rich we need to be engaged in many different ways and in many different forms.
From a policy and funding perspective, there is a significant challenge in how engagement and participation is measured.
From a policy and funding perspective, there is a significant challenge in how engagement and participation is measured. We lack a sophisticated way to represent depth of engagement and participation and in measuring the impact of this. You can have six people involved in project over three months and have a hundred people attend a final show. All 106 will go on to be counted as participants, yet the impact on these two groups and the individuals in them will be vastly different. If funding does drive the numbers game then those who engage with communities on a deeper level could be incentivised to lose these long term interventions and resulting relationships for quick, high volume wins – and what a loss this would be. But if the evidence from Taking Part is anything to go by then we need a scenario where all levels of engagement are encouraged – and then we need to have a better account of what it all means.
At the end of January I was part of a ‘Knowledge Exchange Network’ seminar organised by Leila Jancovich and her team at Leeds Metropolitan University held at the fittingly interdisciplinary home that is Culture Lab at Newcastle University. Through this Network Leila has successfully brought together policy makers, academics and practitioners to share research and ideas and to debate the issues around cultural engagement and participation. With a theme of engagement and participation in the arts on this particular day we focussed on the role that technology plays.
My contribution was around Citizen Power Peterborough and the social media approaches we’ve adopted, with some of the lessons learnt along way as a project that is trying to communicate what we are doing in the city whilst trying to involve and enthuse people in that as much as possible.
I thought I’d share some of the conversation here as it turned towards how the arts and technologies can be a tool for engaging people, here’s some of the abbreviated highlights:
- Social media offers great opportunity to share cultural content through networks of networks
- You can tell people about your work and generate a buzz when it might be challenging to do so on the street
- Social media can be a creative force behind new forms of cultural production as shown by the Royal Opera House and Mudlark/Royal Shakespeare Company
- Film is hugely powerful, participatory and largely accessible as a device for community groups. Check out Citizen Power’s Rebecca Daddow and the FREE group’s simple, effecting film
- Initiatives like NT Live showed how technologies open up new audiences and create a new kind of cultural experience through sharing live content in cinemas
- Social media can encourage people to come back to the local
- Social media doesn’t replace face to face – instead it should strengthen and deepen real life
- Be careful there is a digital divide and social media excludes some groups totally creating a new form of exclusion
- Equally social media can be used as a way over overcoming social exclusion for some groups
- But resist the pressure to always be new. Don’t innovate for the sake of it. If it works already, great, stick with it and see if you can’t make it bigger. This is what business would do.
There’s conference that brings together all the different themes explored by the Knowledge Exchange Network; internationalism, engagement strategies, place and geography and socially engaged practice on Tuesday 26 June at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. To join the off-line conversation book here.
Last week I attended the launch of the UK Arts Index at the House of Commons hosted by the Liberal Democrat MP, Don Foster. Brought to life by the actor Samuel West, a Trustee of the National Campaign for the Arts, who are one of the authors of the Index along with Audiences UK, it was introduced as a new annual health check for the arts. The Index uses robust, publicly available information which has been gathered from 2007/08. And there is a range of twenty indicators from ‘financial inputs’ (including lottery, Treasury, business contributions) to ‘cultural and community outputs’ (like attendance, participation and satisfaction indicators) which enable a final index figure to be arrived at, along with a series of headlines that outline any marked changes in the indicators over the years. Mark Brown’s Culture Cuts blog illustrates these headlines rather neatly.
as the ‘triple squeeze’ really affects arts organisations; that is, the time when funding decisions by Arts Council England and local authorities will actually hit home and audiences continue to have their disposable incomes squeezed
The Index has been designed as a way of comparing between the English regions and much was made of the comparative levels of Treasury investment in the arts. From the 2009/10 figures investment in London was £22.43 per head and in the East region the same calculation gave a figure of at £1.89. There is a danger here in simple statistics as you do need an explanation alongside to help unpick the meaning and bring the story to life. East-based Matthew Linley helpfully looks at the findings here and what it means in terms of satisfaction of arts provision. Matthew also outlines that it is next year’s Index that will prove interesting in terms of telling the story of the economic impact on the arts as the ‘triple squeeze’ really affects arts organisations; that is, the time when funding decisions by Arts Council England and local authorities will actually hit home and audiences continue to have their disposable incomes squeezed.
The Culture Minister Ed Vaizey, and his counterpart the Shadow Minister, Dan Jarvis were both in attendance and welcomed the inaugural Arts Index. Mr Vaizey stated ‘the Arts Index will be the first time that this information has been brought together in this way and I’m sure it will be a helpful tool for the sector’. I would contend that for this Index to be truly successful it should become a tool that the minister himself and his team can use in their conversations and negotiations within government to as part of the evidence base to make the case for investment in the arts and so start looking for the gaps (that could be filled) in their being able to do this effectively.
I would contend that for this Index to be truly successful it should become a tool that the minister himself and his team can use in their conversations and negotiations within government
In a constructive and collaborative spirit, the NCA and Audiences UK indicated that they are looking to build on this data and add other useful metrics to the Index so it will continue to develop into a more comprehensive, statistically robust picture. The fact that the Index uses data in this way makes the case for the long view on collecting statistics. Over time as further metrics emerge around cultural entitlement, social and wellbeing impacts these so-called ‘softer’ measurements will hopefully also form a key part of the picture.
The full Index is available here (if you are a member) and if not then the Executive Summary is available for everyone else.
Technically speaking there is not actually a blog roll up yet. But stay with me, this is what I am working on and the reason for this missive. The more I dip my big toe into the world of social media the more you realise that there is a whole load out there for the taking. I don’t mean in the illegal download sense, no, why that would be wrong, I mean in the sharing of information, views and news sense. I’m in up to my waist now and keen to go further.
Excitingly as the number of blog posts here at the RSA increase (and you may have noticed some changes with our blog appearance lately), the more readers there are coming to check out what is being said and being mulled over. There are also more bloggers out there than ever before and I’m here to reach out. I’m creating an ‘arts and society’ blogroll. I pledge to keep it updated and make the blogs suggested ones that we think are genuinely interesting, perhaps provocative, generous and with something great to say (no pressure there then) all contained in a short and sweet dedicated area just to the right hand side here where different blogs will come and go.
So how to compose this list then, well I have a few ideas already and in going through an organic process of finding out what is out there, seeing what I read myself, tweeting on this, looking at online newspapers and asking colleagues I arrive at the next step in that process… asking you. I’ll just jump straight in with it – which arts and culture, social commentary-type blogs would you recommend taking a read of? Got one you write yourself? One that makes you think? I’m all ears. And eyes.
Last night I braved the mountain that is the Angel underground escalator (and somewhat of a personal nemesis) to head on to the City University’s ‘Interdisciplinary Centre for Creativity in Professional Practice’ seminar on creative catalysts. Their speaker was an Icelandic artist/architect by the name of Illugi Eysteinsson and his energetic presentation and style of communication made it much more of a two-way conversation than that of the traditional passive observer vs presenter. But what I wanted to share was some of the key ideas that Illugi proposed about approaches to managing creative community projects gleaned from his 17 years of working in community arts settings.
Illugi advocated four considered steps:
1. ‘a piecemeal approach’ that is to say slowly, slowly, softly, softly. Build confidences, test abilities, find out what people are capable of and start to lead and coax the group.
2. Next ‘de-mystify creativity’. He says that people believe that art is an unreachable thing, something not for them but for other more educated people. By showing that creativity is within everyone the mental barriers start to fall.
3. ‘Validates an individual’s uniqueness’. Appreciate unconditionally whatever a participant does and has to offer. Everyone can make a contribution.
4. Lastly ‘create an environment to express’. This is a challenging one, aim to create a mutual bubble for the group somewhere where is it safe to explore ideas and make ‘mistakes’ and can move from the position of leader to steward.
In real life projects with community groups who by their nature are so diverse, ranging from for example a group of Kurdish women to a group of adults with learning difficulties and their carers, that there is a tangible skill in being able to manage all the external factors present which impact on the project being successful or not. Illugi highlighted that consideration needs to the given to cultural and linguistic differences, the skills and abilities of the group and the expectation and values systems that people hold so that individuals participating can get the most out of the experience as possible.
The point that Illugi made in the case of himself, was that he brings knowledge and passion for architecture, of form, shape and colour – takes this creative process and through this gently explores concepts such as design, construction and scale. Ultimately though it is the creation of the final product (in one case an amazing map of central London made to scale using food created by many different community groups) which is the thing. The photographs of this food map were truly amazing but what also appeared to have been created were stronger relationships within these groups, a greater confidence, an opportunity to express themselves in ways they had before, and for their families and friends to see them in a different light.
In the Arts and Society team we are developing a new project called ‘Making Culture Work’ that will explore all of the value that is created across a creative project – from all the different people involved be they artists, the participants, the project leads or the commissioners. It will enable artists and non-artists to be clearer about the social outcomes and benefits of their work as well as the creative ones and be able to talk about them confidently. Two fabulous fellows are jointly working with us on this, John Knell and Mandy Barnett, and John will be blogging about Making Culture Work soon, so watch this space…