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How to stop the creative industries running out of steam

27 January 2017

It was clever of the Cultural Learning Alliance to persuade two government ministers to attend the House of Commons launch of the alliance’s manifesto, ImagineNation, when the alliance is so critical of government policy on arts education. Culture minister Matt Hancock was able to point to the ‘saving’ of A -level art history, but the warm welcome for the document from the minister for ‘early years’, Caroline Dinenage, sat oddly with the document’s assertion that ‘concern for children’s early years has seemingly dropped off the policy agenda’. It was left to the former arts minister, Ed Vaizey, now free of the constraints of office, to recall his battles with Michael Gove at the Ministry for Education, and admit that ‘changes to the curriculum have had a deterrent effect on the arts’.

The Cultural Learning Alliance is an association of more than 10,000 organisations and individuals who are concerned about the growing exclusion of the arts and heritage from formal education. Its bête noire is the EBacc, the suite of GCSEs which exclude art, design, music, dance, drama, media arts, design and technology as compulsory subjects after the age of 14. It is concerned that the government’s Gradgrindian emphasis on STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) is impoverishing the entire educational system, from early years right through to higher education. The supply of future arts graduates is being squeezed, and the number of teachers qualified to teach arts subjects is in decline.

The revised edition of ImagineNation (first published in 2011) uses the latest research to make a reasoned case for adding the arts to STEM, in order to create STEAM. Supported by citations from such luminaries as the Governor of the Bank of England, the chief executive of the Arts Council, the chairs of Creative Scotland and the Arts Council of Wales, the chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund, the vice chancellor of the University of the Arts London, and the leader of Manchester City Council, the document produces hard evidence for the social, economic, educational and personal value of being introduced to the arts.

ImagineNation makes a special point about the importance of the arts for the creative industries, a sector that is flourishing in a way that others are not. The day before the CLA manifesto was launched the government published its green paper proposing a fresh industrial strategy. Much has been made of the fact that the creative industries have been chosen as one of the five key sectors for attention, yet Building Our Industrial Strategy has very little to say about the creative industries at all. There is mention of a cabinet review of arms-length bodies and cultural institutions that might be required to relocate to ‘help reinforce local clusters and support private sector growth’, but the one named institution is the Government Art Collection, which is hardly going to rebalance the economy.

More positively, Sir Peter Bazalgette, the retiring chair of the Arts Council England, is to conduct an ‘independent review’ on how the creative industries can contribute to ‘future prosperity by utilising and developing new technology, capitalising on intellectual property rights, and growing talent pipelines’. It is to be hoped that Bazalgette’s years at the ACE have convinced him of the essential role that the arts play in driving the creative industries – and hence the need for arts education – but a review is a good way for the government to buy time while it decides what it really does think about the creative industries. Given the government’s and the green paper’s obsession with STEM, it is unlikely those ‘talent pipelines’ will be filled with STEAM.

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