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What Next 2013 Delegates gather

What Next 2013
Delegates gather

Afternoon guest speakers and provocateurs at #WhatNext2013

Afternoon guest speakers and provocateurs at #WhatNext2013

Emerging into the sunlight full of further debate and thoght

Emerging into the sunlight full of further debate and thought


What Next ? began in the shadow of massive cuts to the arts and cultural organisations as the recession became a reality here in the UK. It was a gathering of people, who came together because they felt isolated and threatened by impending doom. They gave themselves an hour but it wasn’t enough and so it continued on – weekly meetings around London that shared the news,  sought to come up with ways to challenge the landslide of negativity and have a positive impact on the current governments divisive statements about all things arts and culture.  No-one took charge, it was a collaborative approach. What Next? is open to anyone who wants to champion the arts and culture, anyone who is involved in it and who wants to become a part of a whole.  It is a movement (although it is still struggling to recognize this) and hasn’t defined its objectives beyond its common purpose but it must be doing something right because it is drawing Arts Champions and senior public figures in to its meetings to debate and discuss how we remind ourselves, and those who have forgotten, and those who don’t understand just why the arts and culture are the lifeblood of the UK and just what the impact of mismanaging the cultural future of our children would be.

What Next 2013 held twenty meetings across London (although it is spreading across the UK as we speak). An open invitation was issued via social media platforms and there was a diverse crowd of people who responded to the call, 650 people came.  A small but broad group of people from a variety of cultural sectors and arts organisations and groups.  We came from all over the UK to come together, to find some common ground for some common actions that would have strength and impact alongside all our individual voices and individual actions.

What Next isn’t about re-hashing the arguments and it’s not about waving a magic wand or having the answers.  It is about cultural activism, forming a cohesive body, about bringing together as many of the disperate parts of the arts and cultural sector as want to be involved and finding some platforms from which to fight our corner.

Those who were at the event and those who managed to overcome the live streaming glitches, heard from a plethora of voices in the afternoon see here   We heard from the young, the old, the experienced, the new and upcoming. Old adversaries and competitors stood in the same room and put their egos to one side in order to focus on this important task. We’re not just saving the Arts here – we’re saving the future of our country.  We have to help those blind to the consequences of their actions to understand that it’s NOT about which is more important – Save the NHS or save our Arts?   It’s about keeping the essence of what makes our country good and not allowing it to be destroyed, it’s about balance and vision and purpose.

My grandfather could draw, but he went down the mine and worked in a steel factory to help his older brother feed the family rather than going to college, two things fed his soul: football and art. Although he never formally recognised the latter, it was in every letter he penned and every drawing he made and he instilled that love in his children, they made costumes, put together plays, learnt to play the piano and they sang, he filled his family life with as much colour as his own childhood had lacked. He fought for that. I fight for it also because I see it slipping away under a tide of short-sighted, weak-willed governance.

see my storify of tweets and comments on the day and on reflection of the day here:

and some action stirring already in response to arts Champion Sam Wests (@exitthelemming) gauntlet that he threw down to those assembled :

Collection of pictures from the day here:

Resources from the day here:

Response here on the Arts Pro blog

Kwong Lee’s response here on the A-N Artists site


Learning through the arts and culture

We’ve been here before. In the eighties we saw the demise of Theatre-in-education companies and drama, art and music departments in state run schools as the Tory-led government tried to focus education on the 3 ‘R’s (Reading, wRiting and aRithmetic – hmmm). Needless to say the result was a generation of young people who came out of school in the nineties with poor literacy skills, low self-esteem and feeling generally disengaged from their local communities. The terms ‘At-Risk’ and ‘vulnerable’ became buzz-words. There followed a rise of young people entering the youth justice system, and a raft of both sports and ‘arts-based’ projects being rolled out nationwide in an attempt to stem the tide.

There is a lot of talk and research into the terms and meaning of the phrase *cultural value* and now there exists a growing body of international evidence into both the impact and value of the arts, most notably in well-being, mental health, learning and education. And yet, number crunchers and policy makers in today’s education system still don’t understand (or perhaps care, maybe their children are no longer in the education system and their grandchildren will be going into private school education?) that the presence of the arts in education is vital to a childs ability to access, process and make the most of their learning experience. By marginalising the arts, teachers and head-teachers are then forced to compete for budget to deliver and employ the arts within the curriculum. If forced to argue and justify their use of the arts within their schools and classrooms, the inference becomes that the arts are therefore of less value than other subjects that are classed as ‘core’ and need little or no such justification.

It shocks me both as a parent and someone who has worked for over twenty years with young people, in the youth sectors of both the arts and education . I have both formal and informal teaching experience, I was educated in a highly academic orientated grammar school, I understand that learning has to have structure and I also know that in order for learning to be possible the most vital aspects of education aren’t just the curriculum; they are also food, safety, and tolerance. Education in terms of challenging young people to achieve and strive is not about discipline alone, just as it can never be simplified to a curriculum that deals with only academic goals. The world is changing and we must indeed change with it. It’s been hard to be in the schools sector for over thirty years now and there is no doubt, particularly in light of economic fiscal belt-tightening that changes are still needed. I quote, (just in case Tory readers think I’m just blaming Tories!) the Chair of my daughter’s Primary School Board of Governors when I commented on the amount of emails detailing changes to policy and law being sent out from the Local Authority “As you can see, a minefield of ever-changing policies that tie up time and resources! (Labour introduced or revised over 900 education policies in their 10-year tenure – yes, nearly 2 per week)”. 

However, at the heart of all the politics and the rights and wrongs are ‘children and young people’. There is no doubt in my mind, the presence of the arts is vital at the heart of all curriculum topics, ‘creativity’ is the glue that takes the mundane and transfoms it. ‘Creativity’ is when learning times tables, for instance,  becomes possible because someone who understands about learning has turned ‘times tables’ from repetitive rote that slips out of the mind minutes after it went in, into objects, a visual feast a ‘lightbulb’ moment where a connection is made and the learning ‘sticks’. Across the board in education, learning is not just repetition or remembering the written word it is exploration, touch, connection, it is very different things to different people and cannot be achieved in any one way but a combination of ways, (ask an actor how they learn their lines and you will get ten different answers). Read here the London School of Economics and Political Sciences blog post by Greg Tate on the impact of culture on science and social science in the mid-ninteenth century It nicely encapsulates for me how the arts impacts on all other topics when valued and placed centrally within the curriculum. Learning through the arts and culture improves attainment in all subjects,  take it away, as was attempted in the 80s and you have no glue.

Further reading:

The Cultural Learning Alliance:

The Independent:

The guardian:

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