By Professor David McGravie
In my blog I wrote about the value of an arts education and the demise of creative subjects in UK secondary schools. I opened the blog reflecting on the history of the arts and sciences as partners in crime that co-existed in a symbiotic relationship – framed as “allies or enemies”.
I spoke about how the arts and sciences were once conjoined. Together they heralded and laid the foundation of modern medicine, engineering and design.
I went on to reflect upon the growth of STEM and successive governments obsession with all things STEM. There was an opportunity in the UK to resolve the omission of the “A” through the evolution of STEM to STEAM. Unfortunately, we didn’t seize the opportunity to recognize the economic value of the arts and its significant contribution to the creative industries. Thus, STEM remains STEM in the UK.
Disappointingly, the dismissal of arts has accelerated the reduction in take up of creative arts subjects in secondary schools and the numbers continue to fall as successive governments seek to frame what 14 to 16-year-olds study. Combined with a continuous rhetoric that seeks to undermine the economic and cultural value of what we do as creatives: the policy makers are clearly missing the point; the myopic agenda being promoted, is persuasive, but misguided.
As a sector, we know that the cultural value of the arts is rich and diverse. Our subject areas support a range of creatives, artists, performances and creative endeavours: outside of these “principal” jobs and functions, we support a host of related careers through the many live venues and touring shows that support our outputs.
Our educational systems enrich lives and our cultural capital is impressive. Through our ongoing commitment to our subject areas, we have increased opportunity for many and we have changed lives and facilitated real social change and inclusion. We offer escapism in many forms, via the games console, a visit to a music venue or attendance at the theatre to see a show.
Our outputs are diverse and the artefacts we produce enrich, excite and bring real tangible benefit to society as a whole. The UK’s Creative Industries contribute over £112 billion to the British economy and yet from a political standpoint, our courses are perceived as low value and to be avoided.
Against this backdrop of political amnesia and collective disregard for our cause, I propose there is hope and perhaps a glimmer of light. As creative educators, we know that our subjects encourage people to think, to question, to explore and to experiment, as well as providing distraction and entertainment to audiences and consumers of media in many forms. Fortunately, others are now taking notice.
A quick google search of “:creativity and critical thinking” shows there are advocates that also value and appreciate our work as valuable contributors to the wider business sector. There are numerous industry reports and data from key industry partners promoting the role and value of creative arts (McKinsey for one, has published numerous articles on the financial benefits of incorporating creativity into a business). In the UK, the https://wearecreative.uk/ report outlines the significant value in what we do.
Creativity and critical thinking are now being recognised as attributes that are highly regarded and sought after – these are being recognised as valuable future proofing attributes and key to successful businesses of the future.
Reflecting on my role as an educational leader, it is clear to me that as a global industry we haven’t sufficiently promoted the value of what we do and we haven’t engaged others in this debate. Worryingly, we have ignored the value of working together and the many opportunities of cooperating across borders and time zones. COVID has facilitated behavioural change in how we work and the globe has become smaller thanks to Zoom and others.
In response: I propose that we should now seize the opportunity to form a coalition of minds and focus our efforts to promote the value of what we do and the benefits we bring to industry and people’s lives and wellbeing.
Let’s collectively promote the benefits of creativity and critical thinking and ensure others comprehend the creative arts as a valuable contributor to successful businesses regardless of sector. Our students do not offer soft skills, but tangible business skills.
The UK and Australian creative arts educational sectors face significant political challenge that seeks to undermine our valuable work and wider contribution. Thus, it is imperative that we now present a coherent front and work together.
Collectively we need to secure political advocacy and influence to ensure our courses remain as opportunities for future generations. Like COP26, the moment has arrived to act and we need to seize the opportunity to secure the future of the creative arts.
David McGravie is the Interim Pro Vice Chancellor / Dean of the College of Arts, Humanities and Education at the University of Derby. David is a champion of aspiring artists through his leadership as Chair of UK New Artists (UKNA) and as an educational leader through his role as Vice-Chair of the Council for Higher Education in Art & Design (CHEAD) a sector level organisation working in support of the creative arts both nationally and internationally.
David is a keen supporter of TNE in its broadest sense, he has worked extensively in China and Malaysia amongst other countries and is well versed in leading and supporting curriculum developments in the U.K., EU and International markets.