“The arts are about narrative, and narrative has always been the greater teacher of humankind. We need to be able to explain, and to be able to see patterns – and so much of education is about that. You have to be able to tell stories, and that’s what the arts do.” (Althea Efunshile, Arts Council England)
On 29th June, Artswork held its annual conference. This year, the focus was on the important ways in which wellbeing and the arts connect, and how this might best be utilised in education. The day featured keynote speeches from Baroness Estelle Morris of Yardley, Althea Efunshile (Arts Council England), and poet Lemn Sissay; as well as the debut screening of two films advocating the benefits of arts and culture, created by a group of young people working with Millstream Productions, and a monologue performance from Brighton-based Miss Represented.
“Wellbeing is not just about being a well-balanced person; it’s about interventions to make it possible for children and young people to live their lives at all. It’s worth just noting what the current statistics say: 1 in 4 of our children in schools are suffering mental ill health, nowhere near ‘wellbeing’. And yet, only 1 in 10 of our children in schools that actually have a diagnosed condition are actually getting an intervention.” (Baroness Estelle Morris)
“Providing a broad and balanced curriculum is key to the future of our young people. It’s key to the development of fully rounded human beings, with a strong sense of their own identity and self-worth. However, a curriculum can’t be broad and balanced without a strong cultural offer, inside and outside of school. A child who is denied access to the country’s great arts and culture, a child who is denied the opportunity to exercise both right brain and left brain, a child whose own creativity is stunted, is not a child or young person in receipt of a broad and balanced curriculum.” (Althea Efunshile, Arts Council England)
Young people working with Millstream Productions
Following the morning keynotes, a group of young people who had worked with Emsworth-based Millstream Productions on the creation of two advocacy films, introduced the finished works. Presenting their experiences to the room, the young people spoke of the different ways in which the arts had changed their lives and the lives of those featured in the two films screening during the day. They emphasised the importance of spreading the message to policy makers making difficult budget decisions, who may not “truly understand the impact of their actions on the wellbeing of those who rely on the arts to be who they are, and who they aspire to become”.
A powerful closing statement from the young filmmakers gave delegates something to think about as they broke off into morning workshops:
“This project had so many more dimensions than just your typical work experience. It went beyond a simple act of production, and led us to look inside one another and ourselves, in order to determine the reasons why the arts are invaluable to our society. The arts are creativity, fun and adventure. But they are also sanctuary, escapism and wellbeing. The arts aren’t just the odd hour in a classroom or a part-time hobby; the arts can be a lifestyle, a crutch that’s always there when people need it. The arts aren’t exclusive, they’re for everyone, and everyone needs more opportunities to partake in them. We hope that after seeing the videos, you will come to the same conclusion.”
Morning workshops ranged from ideas on cultivating a sense of place through the arts by building hope, motivation and engagement in local cultural surroundings, to an examination into the socio-motivational mechanisms that are confronted when engaging young people in arts projects.
Afternoon sessions included a look at how Ofsted criteria can successfully link to the embedding of a strong cultural offer and the wellbeing of students, a motivational ‘Why Arts Education?’ discussion, and an examination into using arts and cultural content for cross-curricular learning.
“Using the arts as a vehicle for self expression and investigating relevant themes and topics, Miss Represented creates a safe environment to deliver tailor-made projects resulting in exhibitions, events or performances of high artistic quality. We aim to challenge society’s view of young women that are deemed to be displaying risky or challenging behaviour by making the work visible and creating partnerships.” (Miss Represented)
Following the afternoon breakout sessions, two of the girls from the Miss Represented project, run by Brighton Dome and Brighton Festival, read diary-style journal entries that reflected on their own life experiences. They spoke of how being able to write creatively enabled them to feel as though they were finally having their voices heard, that they were no longer just another statistic in a study of ‘troubled teenagers’. In being encouraged to express themselves through written and spoken word projects, the young women have been able to better connect with society and have thrived in finding their own sense of sense.
As well as performance pieces, the group shared a film that they’d worked to create.
Lemn Sissay, MBE
As the conference drew to a close, participants took their seats for the final keynote of the day – from author, poet and broadcaster, Lemn Sissay. Lemn is the author of several poetry collections, as well as articles, records, public art and plays. His Landmark Poems are installed across Manchester and London, including at the Royal Festival Hall and the Olympic Park.
“How high did you want me to imagine as a child in care? Because I did. I wrote a poem that imagined, and that landscape lasted forever. The arts are incredibly important, and you are an incredible gift in being the people who allow that bridge to others, so that they can walk down, find out more about who they are, and change the world.” (Lemn Sissay)
For all delegate resources, powerpoints and full transcripts of the day, as well as links to the two #ArtsandUs advocacy films, click here