Get it: The Power of Cultural Learning report was launched at the RSA this week. I’ve blogged about this before here, as the report has been available since the New Year but this was the official launch. Everyone I spoke to (about 15 people) expressed appreciation for the basic premise but also varying degrees of criticism about the event (e.g. that none of the speakers were cultural learning experts) and about the initiative in general. Here are three views about the initiative that were expressed most frequently:
We’ve heard this before, and Ken Robinson’s NACCCE report articulated it more fully, a decade ago. So why are we still trying to prove the case?
To which I would respond: The Cultural Learning Alliance is not mainly seeking to articulate the value of cultural learning, although in a skim read of ‘Get It’ the big quotes doing just that hit your eyes first. The initiative seeks to pull bodies together to create the conditions where cultural learning can flourish, at a time when economic conditions may jeopardise it. It is mainly a plea for coherence.
This is too much the lobbying of arts organisations for support and not enough about what makes children’s lives better. (This was echoed by a challenge from the audience: ‘Why should we even be talking about cultural learning? Why can’t we be talking about effective and enjoyable learning?’)
To which I would respond: To talk about effective and enjoyable learning may be logical from the perspective of educational delivery. Yes indeed, this is not just about the arts. All the subjects are more effective when enriched with cultural practice and imaginative approaches. That has been, and continues to be, the main driver for the continued work of the Creative Partnerships regional agencies. The problem with only looking at creative curriculum strategies is that you may fail to acknowledge the value of cultural practice and heritage. If we whittle away the capacity of the cultural sector to collect, conserve, commission, research, interpret and practice, or to exist at all, there will be no capacity to make partnerships for learning and outreach. Yes, let’s turn our schools into cultural centres and make schools more open to the community but let’s not close the long-established museums, studios and theatres in the process.
This is all about children in schools. There’s not enough about informal learning (with references made to: early years/family, youth, community, international, adult and elderly settings as well as broad public participation).
To which I would respond: Yes, I can see why you say that. The recommendations do consistently refer to ‘schools and other learning settings’ but where it gives more detail, it focuses entirely on schools. However, I see this report as a seed, planted at the right time, which should now lead to action to build a cultural sector in which learning and public participation are key to its mission. When cultural bodies limit their education work to schools programmes, and in particular when they limit this to delivering narrow curriculum outcomes, they are more likely to fail in enriching those schools and to fail in securing the status of learning within their organisations.
This talk is all very well, but what are you going to do now and how can we be part of it?
To which I would say: Quite! Let’s get on with it, which means being positive about this report. I have some questions:
Given that the Clore Duffield Foundation (and all credit to Sally Bacon) has devoted a huge bulk of time to this, how can they be helped by the other consortium members and Government to form an effective Cultural Learning Alliance?
How can this Alliance manage to be open to contributions from the cultural and learning professions, and from enthusiasts/participants too? How could they use digital tools better to manage this, to help crowdsource ideas, to collaborate on tasks such as coherent funding systems and to help save money?
If the primary goal of this is coherence, do we now need to create an analytical map to understand where the main points of incoherence are? This might be a map that helps us grasp the scope of initiatives and bodies, where the main relationships are, what are the opportunities for brokerage and sustained delivery and so on.
How can the focus be shifted so that it still does justice to the schools sector, whilst acknowledging the wider range of cultural learning practice?