Following Baroness Morris’ speech, Althea Efunshile, Deputy Chief Executive of Arts Council England (ACE), presented a keynote to the room. Within her remit at the Arts Council, Althea has responsibility for the development of strategies for the investment into arts and culture of £700m per annum of public funding. She also holds the brief for cultural education.
“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)
Efunshile’s speech centered on the importance of a creative and cultural education in ensuring the optimum wellbeing for children and young people across the nation: “Our young people will need dollops of emotional wellbeing and mental resilience to navigate an increasingly unpredictable world, and it’s our job to create the conditions in which our young can flourish, by finding within themselves the depths of creativity, ingenuity, flexibility, and self-awareness that they will need to find their place in this changing world.”
Addressing the room, she spoke of feeling as though she were ‘preaching to the converted’, and that it is therefore crucial that those who already deem themselves advocates for the arts share this message far and wide. She outlined Arts Council England’s approach to ensuring that every child might be entitled to an arts and cultural education – through the launch of their Cultural Education Partnerships initiative.
“Cultural education happens inside and outside school, but the best place to reach the most children will always be in school – that’s where they spend the majority of their days, whether they like it or not. So we need to think how to reinforce the position of art and culture at the heart of each school, enhancing the existing offer and encouraging the creativity that we know is already there.”
For Efunshile, at the heart of the mission for wellbeing is the idea of bridging and repairing a common sense of loss, felt by young and old across the country: “It seems to me that what we have in common is a sense of loss. Lost industry, lost community, a lost sense of self-esteem, a loss that’s passed down through the generations and emerging in the conviction that someone else has taken what we once had.”
She continued: “Young people face an uncertain time. Who to listen to, who to follow, what to think, what is their status in the world? Where should they find their self-esteem, if meaningful work is not there? They feel like society needs them not as producers, but only as consumers. There is already a significant problem in this country with adolescent mental wellbeing. What might be the consequences of a world in turmoil and conflict? The arts and humanities could be the means by which we reinforce and recognise our British identity, and our values and tolerance, understanding and compassion.”
“The arts and humanities can help to bring us together. They can give young people a language through which to express themselves, a sense of owning themselves, and the knowledge that they share in a community. A poem, a song, a picture, a shared knowledge of these things and what they represent to us all can push back against the language which seeks to divide us. It can show us that we are all truly better together.”