Get Creative and the Warwick Commission both show the importance of creativity in education
As Johnny Vegas triumphed in his self-imposed One Minute Teapot Challenge to throw a pot in just 60 seconds against Alan Yentob’s watchful-yet-generous stopwatch, he had the crowd at Thursday’s Get Creative launch helpless with laughter and amazement. The comedian was one of many celebrities showcasing their lesser known creative talents on film and at events around the country to mark the start of the year-long initiative to stimulate, showcase and celebrate creative talent of every kind, amateur and professional.
Get Creative, led by the BBC and cultural network What Next?, involves arts organisations across the country, including us here at Crafts Council. Each month spotlights a different art form – December it’s craft - but activities run year-round and everyone is invited to get creative and get involved. And yes truly everyone. That’s 64 Million Artists.
As striking as his ceramic skill was Vegas’s passion for creative education. At school, he said, pottery saved him. Ceramics, and brilliant teaching, gave him the confidence in his ideas and creativity that led to him becoming an award-winning actor, director and entertainer. Other speakers, including Timothy Spall, told stories just as moving and funny about the transformative power of art in schools, especially for kids feeling lost, disheartened or struggling to find their identity. And isn’t that all of us at some point?
Also at the event, Deborah Bull of the Cultural Institute at Kings (partner on our Parallel Practices initiative) echoed the message in Our Future is in the Making. Talent is everywhere but opportunity isn’t. Valuing and investing in arts education, including craft, is vital for artistic flourishing, economic prosperity, and simple enjoyment and well-being.
The case for creative education is put equally forcefully in Enriching Britain: Culture Creativity and Growth, the Warwick Commission report on cultural value launched earlier in the week. Like Our Future is in the Making, Enriching Britain warns of the jeopardy facing arts education, with a worrying 50% decline in students taking Design and Technology GCSE between 2003 and 2013. Citing Crafts Council research that revealed a 58% drop in university ceramics courses and 46% fall in craft courses in the five years to 2013, the report warns of the risks to prosperity – cultural and economic – if the downward spiral in creative education is not arrested.
The Enriching Britain report makes powerful arguments for the country's creative strengths and robust recommendations for what we must do to grow them. Its themes resonate with issues in the craft sector and chime with our programmes and priorities here at the Crafts Council. (It’s worth noting that Crafts Council Executive Director Rosy Greenlees submitted evidence to the Commission, and our Chair Professor Geoff Crossick is one of the Commissioners).
As well as the case for creative education, the report emphasises that diversity must be promoted both for social justice and because diversity fuels creativity. Diversity in craft is a major theme of our plans across all our creative programmes. Acknowledging that people and organisations move fluidly between non-profit and for-profit work – which many of us, including me, recognise in our own careers – it advocates for an integrated cultural and creative sector working to a common vision. And it’s why the Crafts Council contributed to Create UK and are founding members of the Creative Industries Federation.
The commissioners also highlight the necessity of ensuring that all of Britain is enriched by culture and cultural opportunity. At the Crafts Council, we agree. Close to 70% of our work takes place outside London – alongside Hothouse, current examples being our touring show Acts of Making, launched last Saturday in Bilston, and the work from our Collections on show from next month in Sunderland.
And whilst there’s far more in the report than is room for comment here, we also welcome the report’s emphasis on the fusion between art, technology and enterprise, which is what the Crafts Council innovation programme is all about.
Enriching Britain is the latest in a series of reports in the last decade that have influenced the evolution of UK creative and cultural policy, including Staying Ahead, Creative Britain, and last year’s Create UK strategy. It can be easy to be cynical about such documents as being mere words, but each of those reports has influenced significant developments in policy and investment in the arts and creative industries. Going by this week’s reception, it seems that Enriching Britain is set to be equally influential. Let's not just hope it is, but take action and Get Creative to ensure its vision is realised.
Annie Warburton is the Creative Programmes Director at the Crafts Council