I’ve decided to archive this blog, as well as my other blog (Climate Action in Culture and Heritage), in favour of having one new, integrated blog called The Learning Planet. I’ll be migrating some of the more enduring articles from both old blogs onto the new one.
It was getting confusing having two blogs, not to mention all the other special project blogs I’ve set up, or the co-authored ones I contribute to, like New Public Thinkers. So, there will be no new posts added here – all new stuff will be on The Learning Planet. But I will keep this one up online for a while, as there might be a few incoming links. If you link here, or subscribe, you might want to change it to The Learning Planet.
I posted this in Google + (the latest new webby thing) and realised that I’m neglecting my blogs even more now that there are so many places to share links and ideas online, where 100′s or even 1000′s of eyeballs might be. But, this one is quite important…
Yesterday, ACE published Estelle Morris’ paper on how ACE can embrace needs of MLAs. The Museums Association has set up a survey to ask for views about it, and what ACE can do to address the professional needs of the museum sector in particular.
What do you think of Estelle’s report? I think it’s very warm and considerate, but not nearly detailed and comprehensive enough. It’s like an introduction to a meeting, outlining a few principles, but not setting out the practical tasks to be achieved.
There are several omissions. For one example, she addresses museums and libraries, mainly connoting them as community centres, but doesn’t address archives and archiving. In the digital age, museums and libraries are all archives too. I’d be really grateful to know what you think, whether as a comment here, or on Google +.
- As a central guideline teach disciplines rigorously in introductory courses together with a set of parallel seminars devoted to complex real life problems that transcend disciplinary boundaries.
- Teach knowledge in its social, cultural and political contexts. Teach not just the factual subject matter, but highlight the challenges, open questions and uncertainties of each discipline.
- Create awareness of the great problems humanity is facing (hunger, poverty, public health, sustainability, climate change, water resources, security, etc.) and show that no single discipline can adequately address any of them.
- Use these challenges to demonstrate and rigorously practice interdisciplinarity, avoiding the dangers of interdisciplinary dilettantism.
- Treat knowledge historically and examine critically how it is generated, acquired, and used. Emphasize that different cultures have their own traditions and different ways of knowing. Do not treat knowledge as static and embedded in a fixed canon.
- Provide all students with a fundamental understanding of the basics of the natural and the social sciences, as well as the humanities. Emphasize and illustrate the connections between these traditions of knowledge.
- Engage with the world’s complexity and messiness. This applies to the sciences as much as to the social, political and cultural dimensions of the world. Such an engagement will contribute to the education of concerned citizens.
- Emphasize a broad and inclusive evolutionary mode of thinking in all areas of the curriculum.
- Familiarize students with non-linear phenomena in all areas of knowledge.
- Fuse theory and analytic rigor with practice and the application of knowledge to real-world problems.
- Rethink the implications of modern communication and information technologies for education and the architecture of the university.
I’m finding myself addicted to tagging oil paintings in Your Paintings, just launched.
This a joint press release from the BBC and the Public Catalogue Foundation The BBC in partnership with the Public Catalogue Foundation (PCF) today announces the launch of Your Paintings, a project to create a complete catalogue of every oil painting in the national collection, on a dedicated website.
|BBC – Press Office – BBC English Regions commissions Hidden Paintings
To accompany the launch of Your Paintings website, BBC English Regions have commissioned a series of one-off arts programmes across England. Eleven celebrities have been given unique access by the nation’s museums and galleries, to scour the stores and reveal the treasure trove of paintings which help to tell the story of the shaping of Britain.
|To accompany the launch of the Your Paintings website, a television collection of programmes will broadcast this summer | 1stAngel Arts Magazine
To accompany the launch of the Your Paintings website, a pan-BBC television collection of programmes will broadcast this summer under the umbrella title Art Revealed. Art Revealed begins on BBC Four with British Masters, a three-part reappraisal of early 20th century British art, fronted by a new art historical face for the BBC, Dr James Fox.
powered by Storify
I’ve just written and produced, with my Flow colleagues, the Museums for the Future Toolkit. I’m really pleased to have been given this opportunity by Ruth Taylor and Sharon Bristow at Renaissance South East, as you may know from my other blog that this is a big area of interest for me. I was concerned by the lack of structured guidance helping cultural & heritage organisations develop environmental sustainability work with their communities, integrating their work with audiences with the more operational aspects of sustainability. At a time when museums are being asked to prove their value, it’s so important that they align their mission and practices towards the possibility of solving the most urgent problems we face.
The key message of the toolkit is that being a truly sustainable museum isn’t just about having low energy lighting (or similar small actions). It’s about museums striving to transform themselves, and the lives of their visitors, schools and local communities, in order to have a wider impact on the planet. The toolkit provides a framework and materials for museums to become agents in forging a more environmentally sustainable future. Although aimed at museums, it would equally be of use to heritage sites, arts organisations, archives, libraries, botanic gardens and wildlife centres.
It is the legacy of Renaissance South East’s Science Links in Museum Education (SLIME) network. This network of museums and individuals was established in 2006 to support and promote museums as places for science learning. Green SLIME was one of the network’s initiatives, part of the MLA funded Strategic Commissioning Science in Your World programme. Its aim was to explore how museums can link with schools and communities to address environmental sustainability. We helped co-ordinate Green SLIME, by supporting eight museum projects, a professional event and producing this Toolkit.
The Toolkit takes a practical approach, that can help museums sustain their own organisation as well as local people, by pioneering the use of sustainable materials; protecting or growing green spaces for wildlife; becoming a base for local food knowledge and heritage, or starting a movement for ‘collaborative consumption’, helping communities share their possessions, skills and time. It shows how museums are the perfect bases for such work because most collections represent the different ways that humans have grown, exploited, invented, recycled and disposed of materials, in ways that are both damaging or healing to the environment. These collections can lead to an exploration of sustainable ways that we can use materials differently for a better future.
Dr John Stevenson, Director of the Group for Education in Museums, says of the Toolkit: ‘Climate change and environmental sustainability are not normally top of the agenda for most museums. This toolkit provides a balanced and realistic approach to tackling these issues not only with children, but also with families and other audiences – and not forgetting museum staff.’ It has also been received with enthusiasm by the team running the Happy Museum Project, because it supports the role of museums in promoting well‑being.
The Green SLIME projects and Toolkit were built on some earlier research done by Claire Adler. This suggested that young people actively want museums to educate them about sustainability, but that they also want parents and influential adults to be involved, so that the responsibility is not just placed on children’s shoulders. The Toolkit, with its case studies, suggests ways of drawing people of different ages together for intergenerational exchange.
To avoid taking an overly general approach to sustainability, the Toolkit suggests that museums choose a particular theme to help convey clear messages. It focuses on eight thematic pathways, indicating which kind of museum might be suited to each pathway:
- Materials and things
- Biodiversity stewardship
- Green your organisation with people
- Place-making and adaptation
- Energy and new technology
- Transition to a sustainable economy
- Food, farming and horticulture
The kit consists of: an information pack; suggestions for a kick-starter event including a PowerPoint presentation; case studies from museums which piloted the different themes, and a comprehensive directory of resources. It can be downloaded for free from:
To give your feedback or for further information, write a comment on this blogpost or email me on email@example.com (and I can pass your query on to the right person at Renaissance SE).
Four things cropped up yesterday, to slow me down and make me reflect, on what was otherwise a fretful day. I was fretting because it was the day of the AV referendum and most people were voting against a small step towards better democracy. Also I had heard all the bad news, again, but this time worse than ever. (The Arctic melting faster than thought, higher temperatures predicted than thought, clearer realisation that time is running out…) The four arresting things were:
1. The Hot Science conference in Australia, about the role of museums in climate change communication; 2. George Monbiot’s article responding to Paul Kingsnorth about the role of stories in helping environmentalists find their way; 3. Finishing Keri Facer’s book ‘Learning Futures: Education, Technology and Social Change‘; 4. Ending up with late night discussion on the power of the media in influencing people’s political decisions.
So, I was reflecting on the role of: museums and heritage; the narrative arts (or all the arts, if you want to say art is all about stories in the broadest sense); education; and the media…in both their institutionalised and informal states, in dealing with the problem to end all problems, that of the planet’s state of health.
I was struck by how difficult it is for everyone, in each of these sectors, to tell a story that is big enough, and to bridge technology and imagination in ways that are nuanced and practical enough. In many debates about how to change attitudes towards the environment, too often we conflate all the contributing sectors into two sides: ‘science’ and ‘communicators’, and call for more interaction between the two. Will that be enough? Do we understand enough what that looks like? What might it look like in these four domains? First, museums.
Hot Science Global Citizens is a major partnership project between museums and researchers in Australia of a scale that we can only dream of in the UK. It explores the agency of the museum sector in climate change interventions. In the UK, work in this area is patchy, small scale or specialised. Examples include the Science Museum in their planning of climate exhibitions, research by individuals such as Lucy Veale, the Happy Museum project (albeit with a focus on wellbeing) and some work by MLA/Renaissance including a training toolkit I’ve written called Museums for the Future (soon to be launched).
I was keen to follow the Symposium proceedings, which included two admirable UK speakers, Mike Hulme from UEA and Giles Lane from Proboscis. I could only follow by Twitter, trying to stay awake for their day/my night, so I can’t accurately report proceedings (while awaiting papers to go online). The talk was mainly about how to communicate the science of climate change, and how museums might need to broaden their horizons to help. I commented that the whole museum paradigm needs to shift from one of communicating knowledge to one of problem-solving. Elaine Gurian had said that our idea of museum communities needs to change from being place-based to ideas-based. I think the shift needs to be from ideas to problem-solving (in places, with ideas). Museums are the right places for situated problem-solving because of their unique three-fold function: 1) they are places to experience culture and to gather with others, 2) they expose us to knowledge beyond ourselves (increasingly, with digital culture, forming part of a global knowledge ecosystem), and 3) they conserve material heritage so that we combat destruction and promote learning and creativity.
The Twitter discussion also hovered around a question about the need for new climate icons, to draw attention to the potential loss of things that people really care about. I wonder though about whether we are already fatigued with too many icons. I suspect people believe they could actually bear the loss of things they might simply appreciate but don’t know that they need, such as birds, trees or coastal beauty spots. I think people need to know how the whole damn lot of icons is connected, how they all go down together in environmental collapse. Alongside that, people need to understand that climate change is not separate from other aspects of environmental disruption. The debate seemed a little limited by focusing on the role of science museums and on the challenge of communicating climate science. Engagement needs to broaden from climate to planet, but retain meaning in people’s lives by focusing on how we live in places.
On to the narrative arts…
George Monbiot wrote an interesting piece, responding to Paul Kingsnorth, the founder with Dougald Hine of the Dark Mountain project. Monbiot summarised the big problems tearing apart the environmental movement encapsulated in his point number 7: We have no idea what to do next. I feel his desperation sometimes, but I think it was interesting that he didn’t mention the adaptation, resilience and transition movements that are making positive headway in bridging technology and culture to know what to do next. However, I was heartened that he admitted the potential in Kingsnorth’s call for new stories, as the environmental movement is too led by numerical strategy. I felt, though, that Monbiot’s notion of stories needs expansion. Stories are powerful not so much because they give us answers but because the narrative arts, in treatments that are not too dogmatic or closed, offer opportunities for people to reach a shared horizon of understanding. So, this is stories not telling us what to do but being a way to work out what we should do. The call for new stories has to be for content that relates to this extraordinary crisis, and moreover for new forms of engagement. The forms of engagement have to be powerful enough to push against the mainstream stories that quietly or overtly endorse consumption, innerism and violence against the other. The Passion, by Wildworks, performed at Easter in Port Talbot, is a good example of the kind of participatory storytelling that could be powerful enough. Richard Kearney explains the role of stories in terms of mythos (plot), mimesis (recreation), catharsis (release), phronesis (wisdom) and ethos (ethics). If we can expand this to how narrative engagement might help tackle George’s problem:
- Mythos: using plotting to devise new futures, imagining ways that we might overcome conflict and resolve problems
- Mimesis: holding a mirror to the state of the world as it rapidly changes, showing us what we cannot see
- Catharsis: providing an essential therapeutic function to help us be resilient and calm
- Phronesis: recording and channeling deep knowledge, so that we might better know how to think in systems, make decisions and apply innovations
- Ethos: shifting our ‘deep frames’ from values that are self-enhancing to values that are self-transcendent and altrustic.
The other two domains (media and education) will have to be dealt with in a much more cursory fashion, but I have written about them in more depth elsewhere.
On media, while the BBC was covering the referendum and elections, there was some Twitter discussion with Dougald Hine and others about the need for new TV and radio formats that don’t reinforce political differences through antagonistic debate, but which enable more creative problem-solving. I like this idea very much. My Flow co-director, Mark Stevenson, is already focusing his attention on some ideas for broadcast media to enable people to reclaim the future, solve problems in positive ways and take action.
On education, I will just urge you to read Keri Facer’s book on Learning Futures. This makes a very strong case for schools as centres for community problem-solving. She argues that we have been developing our vision for education with a far too narrow vision of the future, and that we should be embracing:
- The emergence of new relationships between humans and technology
- The opportunities and challenges of aging populations
- The development of new forms of knowledge and democracy
- The challenges of climate warming and environmental disruption
- The potential for radical economic and social inequalities
I entirely agree with her thesis but my only disappointment is that the challenges of climate warming and environmental disruption in particular were not actually addressed, albeit listed as not commonly considered. The book helped us imagine a future school, but it didn’t actually help us imagine the future. That is the challenge for us now, for new stories and learning structures, which help us imagine how bad the future could be whilst simultaneously imagining how we can work it around to provide the means to thrive.
Ed Vaizey has asked Darren Henley to carry out a review of cultural education and in turn we are invited to give our views. Before addressing the questions we’re being asked in the survey, I’m reflecting on the terms and assumptions of the review as set out in Vaizey’s commissioning letter to Henley, and hope to stir a bit of debate.
So first to look at the purpose of the review: to consider how every child can have a wide variety of high quality cultural experiences, ensuring both quality and best use of public investment.
- Is there a risk that both wide variety and high quality will be cancelled out because of the difficult funding context and because of the Coalition’s emphasis on academic/verbal studies?
- Is ‘cultural experiences’ the same as, or as big as, ‘Cultural Education’? For many respondents, the term ‘cultural experiences’ may preference notions of culture as ‘something that is given to you’ (culture) or ‘something that happens to you’ (experience)? Respondents may need prompting to consider active participation in cultural production and interpretation.
- As the cuts deepen then cultural provision by schools and educational provision by the culture sector will both be seriously etiolated. That is the chewy problem at the heart of this review, at this critical juncture. The Cultural Learning Alliance’s Get It report has already answered the questions posed by the survey. However, this was in 2008-9 before the Coalition regime so there is a need to update this by really tackling the resource issue. The Get It report also lacked reference to two key contextual drivers that would bring a review of cultural learning fully up to date: namely, the massively upward driver of digital communications (and with it multimodal, global, open, social culture) in combination with a massively downward driver of environmental stability.
So I believe this review should address how Cultural Education can thrive in a world of less money but more communications, and most importantly, how it can positively help children become resilient and skilled for the extreme challenges never before faced. The solutions must be urgently sought, unswayed by ideology. And the review must acknowledge that some aspects of the solution will necessarily involve (effective) bureacracy.
The letter also outlines some assumptions. I’m picking on those which seem problematic:
There is an assumption that this will build on Henley’s review of music education, taking into account the delivery models already adopted or planned for music. This is problematic because many dimensions of Cultural Education are very unlike music, partly because they are not all artforms, partly because cultural subsectors are structured so differently. For example, Local authorities tend to have music education services. They don’t all have structured provision for education in architecture, design, creative technology, cultural aspects of Citizenship and so on.
There is an assumption that public funding is the main way to address Cultural Education priorities. This is worthy and encouraging, but still problematic because it contradicts Coalition policy, which is to encourage more funding of culture through philanthropy, enterprise and community participation. Many services are already being reduced or axed.
There is an assumption that Initial Teacher Training and Continuing Professional Development can enable Cultural Education partnerships. This is problematic because Teacher Education is changing to become even more based in schools, rather than universities. This means it is more likely that professional knowledge will be informed by patchy practice within one or two schools, rather than trainee groups exploring Cultural Education with specialist lecturers. CPD opportunities are also being cut.
There is an assumption that the review should consider what schools/parents, rather than cultural delivery agencies, see as priorities. This is problematic because it wrongly puts schools/parents and delivery agencies in opposing camps. Many delivery agencies have sound expertise in school and child needs. All parties should be seen as forming collaborative communities with the future generations of adults as their mutual interest. (One problem with the initial establishment of Creative Partnerships was that it did not trust cultural organisations to host or act as brokers. If the Government had targeted their expenditure on a nationwide system of information, awards and teacher training, whilst funding cultural organisations to deliver outputs building on that infrastructure, Cultural Education now would be much less a mix of ‘initiativitis’ and local drought.)
The letter also asked three subsidiary questions, all of which raise concerns:
1. What cultural experiences should be included?
My concern here is that the overall terms of the review limit the frame of reference, encouraging most respondents to see cultural experiences only as artform-based enrichments to the core curriculum. The survey is likely to yield a random smorgasbord of bits of experience bearing no relation to a well-structured National Curriculum with culture and creativity integral to it.
2. How can cultural organisations create a cultural offer which reflects the needs of schools to offer a broad and truly rounded curriculum?
My concern is the extent to which the Coalition is dismantling requirements for schools to deliver “a broad and truly rounded curriculum”, judged by the likelihood of stripping many cultural and creative practices out of the National Curriculum and conversely making the National Curriculum only statutory for Local Authority schools (encouraging more schools to leave Local Authority control with the carrots of money and freedom).
I also quibble with laying the responsibility on cultural organisations themselves to ‘create a cultural offer’. The DCMS under Labour had been slowly realising their national responsibility to create a cultural offer (or cultural entitlement) through Find Your Talent/Creative Partnerships, Strategic Commissioning, Artsmark & Arts Awards, and other schemes, many of which are now being cut. They, with DfE, also started to develop plans for a digital ecosystem of educational services and content, also now gone with the axing of BECTA. The DCMS with ACE & MLA (until it winds down) urgently need to draw together all the national infrastructure that remains (e.g. Artsmark and Arts Awards) and work with the DfE, Cultural Learning Alliance and CCE to restore the cultural offer.
The recommendations could be unworkable for many organisations if this review takes the music education review as a micro model and replicates it for other, and more fundamental, aspects of Cultural Education. (More fundamental aspects involve understanding human cultures and transforming humanity through creative practice.)
3. How can we ensure that all opportunities are the very best?
This question isn’t problematic in itself, but there are two possibly contradictory aspects to the answer. One is a non-materialist view: that quality is not dependent on amounts of funding that can buy materials or encounters open to the elite, as it is dependent on fundamental shifts in thinking about the purpose of education. The other is an economic view: that it is impossible to deliver egalitarian, consistent, varied and exciting Cultural Education services without adequate funding.
Finally, to summarise the questions you are being asked in the survey:
1. How would you define cultural education?
2. What is the value of cultural education and how do you define this value?
3. What cultural education do you think a child should experience at each key stage?
4. What is that works best about the way that cultural education is currently delivered? (Include research/links)
5. What is that could or should be working better in the way that cultural education is delivered?
6. If we had a blank sheet of paper, what would be your view of the ideal funding and delivery structure for cultural education?
7. Further comments, anything not addressed by the questions above.
Last night I went to a debate organised called ‘What Should Be Taught in Our Schools’? The speakers were in two camps: Katherine Birbalsingh, Toby Young and Dr Ralph Townsend were in the Discipline-Academia camp. Dawn Hallybone, Tristram Shepard and Donald Clark were in the dissenting camp.
The context of this debate is the Review of the National Curriculum. This review is self-limiting by focusing on WHAT chunks of knowledge should be taught, not how young people can learn and grow. This limits the terms of public debate and consultation, including the frame of last night’s debate, although the event was punctured by some radical voices. For example, Tristram Shepard replied to the question ‘What should be taught?’ with the simple answer, ‘Children’. Donald Clark‘s post describes in more detail what was said and you can hear the event in full here.
I knew that around 175 people had booked and that this was organised by Graham Brown-Martin, known for disruptive tech in education, so I expected to see more people from his and my worlds. But it turned out to be a book launch for Katherine Birbalsingh’s To Miss With Love. So, somehow related to this, the room was 80% full of unfamiliar people in sharp suits and Jaeger dresses. We were invited to choose a sticker to denote our stance on education: radical, trad or MOR. I couldn’t choose anything but radical (although when Toby Young chose the same sticker I was almost as confused as when Tony Blair took us to Iraq).
I’m blogging about this event because I was so disturbed by the offensive behaviour of some of the people in the audience, heckling at Donald, Dawn and Tristram, and braying ‘hear hear’ at Toby, Katherine and Sir Ralph. One woman next to me was so disturbed by Donald Clark’s citing of research that she was harrumphing with rage and called him ‘a Commie’. When he gave evidence that selection by ability was the primary reason for some schools’ success in league tables, someone called ‘bring back secondary moderns then’ (cancelling out her own point, as secondary moderns were the corrolary to grammar schools.) Peter Whittle from the New Culture Forum insulted the impressive teacher Dawn Hallybone by saying she was complacent and represented all that was wrong with schools today, garnering loud applause. Katherine Birbalsingh became more hysterical as she spoke, about her drive to speak the truth, suggesting a tyranny of oppressive left-wing dogma that had made it impossible for her to speak before. She kept saying ‘nobody believes me’, and begged us to believe her that nobody had believed her, that schools are really out of control. (Actually I think we do believe her that behaviour can be very poor but she can’t see that the solution is to treat the root causes of inequality and neglect. She cannot think outside the system she is in, where large classes and exam regimes force teachers to treat the symptoms of neglect with remedial discipline.) This hysterical ‘truth-speaking’ seems to be part of an upswell, since the end of the Labour regime, in unreasoned bigotry couched in expressions of relief that the thought police are at last in abeyance. (For example, Toby Young was outrageous yesterday in his condemnation of LBGT events at Stoke Newington school.)
I’m trying to understand the motivations of these followers of Michael Gove (Goveans) who seek to create such a polarisation of views about education that they can be so aggressive in driving apart the debate. (This article gives some understanding of the Neoconservative principles that drive Gove.) What is it that they want to achieve by their noisy rudeness? The education system in England has been so thoroughly geared towards the mode of ‘sit them down and test them in academic subjects’ there is very little more that can be done. The great majority of educators do believe in and apply discipline (though in different ways) and they do want to see their students achieve academically. Rather than gently push on with this trajectory, the Goveans are forcing extreme changes. For example, they aim to mould state schools into the image of private schools and to blur the distinction between the two. (Private schools may get state funding to be Free Schools and Academies will become state-funded private schools.) Alongside these extreme changes, there is also a surprising perversity against the notion that education is a preparation for work, which has previously seen industrialists’ demands for skills drive the curriculum. For example, Toby Young said that he doesn’t want students at his Free School to be employable, rather he wants them to be grounded in a core of cultural knowledge (including compulsory Latin). The idea here, I think, is that people become more employable (in what is supposed to be a ‘knowledge economy’) if you model them on suave Etonians who don’t consciously improve their skills through anything as vulgar as training.
This idea is weak enough as it is but made very shaky indeed when seen in the light of globalisation and the global triple crunch. Peter Wilby writes persuasively here about the threat to our confidence in the ‘knowledge economy’. Only 10-15% of people will be in any kind of elite position in the emerging global industrial system, the rest will perform ‘routine functions for routine wages’ and the West will not be exempt. So, an education system that drives all our nation’s students towards a classical elite education (whilst tripling HE tuition fees and cutting places, while other countries invest in HE), in the hope that they will all become the world’s masters, is bound to fail. The crunchiest part of the triple crunch is the ecological crisis which, when you look at it, makes Peter Wilby’s vision of everyone in mundane jobs seem positively utopian. Our young people won’t just need the kind of ‘scientific management’ skills promoted in the BTECs that were much maligned in the debate, they will need survival skills. Toby Young was horrified that young people might pursue college studies in food hospitality and catering. But, in 10 years he might be horrified to find that his own children don’t have the essential skills to grow and cook food and to provide hospitality for others. Ironically, despite the Goveans’ promotion of knowledge, they appear not to know enough about history, education, young people’s needs and the context in which ‘a learning society’ is becoming essential. I can’t work out what they want to achieve because it isn’t real, so therefore it isn’t knowable.
(A little update: Here’s a personal account of Birbalsingh’s trajectory to the public eye by Aladin. He explains why he didn’t heed her plea to attend the book launch. I was intrigued that she’d clearly asked people to come and cheer her on, which may explain the heckling behaviour at the event. Aladin is a magician, artist and management consultant, by the way, not using a psuedonym as the comments suggest.)
I must have been rather annoying lately. I’ve been on a bit of a mission to encourage serious commentators and researchers to employ more precision with terminologies they use to advocate the arts and the cultural sector. I’ve done this through a couple of emails, comments on threads and lots of tweets, asking the Guardian’s Culture Cuts blog, the RSA State of the Arts conference, Arts and Business and a few other cultural advocates to clarify their terms but have had virtually no response. So after a day of intensified nagging on Twitter I thought I had better explain what I mean and why it matters. The context is well known. The UK Government has decided to tackle the deficit much more rapidly than anyone expected, targeting many public services for cuts, with culture absolutely on the front line for the execution squads, especially in local authorities and in education. In the face of this the cultural sector has not united to challenge the cuts, though there are active networks challenging cuts to the arts and to libraries. There are several bodies well placed to advocate for the whole cultural sector, and I certainly feel grateful for the platforms they are offering. The problem is that they generally undermine the case they are making, and do some parts of the cultural sector a particular disservice, by their lazy terminology. I don’t think this is about linguistic style or agreeing the specific words we use for parts of the sector, but about category errors and conflations which affect statistical claims about the value of culture. For example, Arts & Business has just published a report which was tweeted with headlines that 80% of FTSE 100 companies don’t sponsor the arts, but the research included heritage, museums and libraries.
I should set out how I interpret the shape of the sector, though I fully accept that my model is subjective and provisional. I admit that it can be helpful to ellide or conflate categories to suit some situations, for example when applying for funding. However, when advocating value in the public arena, I think we need a good deal more consistency and transparency of terminology.
The shape of the cultural sector is a matrix of two axes. Axis one is a spectrum from:
- the preservation of cultural heritage
- through interpretations and reinventions of existing cultural forms or knowledge to
- the production or performance of the most novel and contemporary art at the other end of the spectrum.
Axis two is a spectrum from:
- public assets maintained by public funding for public good
- through practices with mixed economic practices, generating social/cultural and economic value
- right through to commercial creative industries at the other end.
One cultural organisation might map its activities all over this matrix, but many can place their core remit squarely in one area. You have to draw the line somewhere around the cultural sector, excluding for example natural heritage and sport, while acknowledging that some cultural organisations might include sport or nature in their remit. I include science interpretation in the cultural sector.
The main concerns of the cultural advocacy campaigns are to protect the organisations or practices which are dependent on full public stewardship and to build more commercial capacities through public investment. As far as I understand from forgotten reading, and I would be happy to be corrected, there are more museums, libraries, archives, and sites of archaeological, domestic and industrial heritage in the public sector than there are arts organisations (excluding individual artists from that count). I’m not promoting one part of the cultural sector over any other, as I’ve worked in and am passionate about all of the parts. I mention the size of the MLA/heritage to suggest that it isn’t a small niche area that is easy to overlook.
The research reports, newspaper articles, blogposts and conference speeches by the main cultural advocates tend to do one of three things:
- Use the term ‘arts’ to denote the wider cultural sector, referring to non-arts practice under the arts umbrella
- Use the term ‘cultural sector’ (or ‘culture’) but then also use the term ‘arts’ interchangeably without acknowledging that arts are a subset of culture.
- Use the term ‘arts’ or ‘culture’ but only focus on the arts, where it might serve their case better by referring to other aspects of the cultural sector.
I should point out that there are some exceptions, where care is taken to be precise, inclusive and consistent. These include the Cultural Learning Alliance (currently asking for definitions of cultural learning), and the Collections Trust.
To summarise in cod maths terms:
Arts + culture = culture ( – heritage) = nonsense
Culture = arts + heritage = makes sense
I’d be very grateful for comments and corrections.
I’m having a really confusing day, because almost everything on my To Do list, for several different projects, paid and unpaid, is to do with the review of the English National Curriculum and the role of culture and creativity in it. I’m contributing to the Cultural Learning Alliance response to the DfE consultation on the National Curriculum. I’ve been at a project pitch this morning about the role of art in Primary National Curriculae across the four home nations (and the fact that we have four National Curriculae, with culture & creativity placed differently in each, is confusing enough in itself). We’re about to start a project looking at how the review of the National Curriculum and changes to teacher training will affect provision of museum education. We’re also looking at how teachers network online to develop professional practice in the arts.
And now, in a very timely manner, I hear from the tweets of the RSA/ACE conference State of the Arts 2011 that Darren Henley has been asked to follow up his Henley Review of Music Education with a second review on cultural learning. The task of this next report seems confused as it was described in two ways; ‘how children can receive a solid cultural education’ and ‘defining creative education’. These scraps of information raise more than a few questions that I hope will soon be answered. Is this review intended as a diktat on the need for a Hirschian cultural canon, ensuring that children emerge from school knowing the story of their island nation and how it rests on the finest artefacts and ideas of human civilisation? Or is it intended to be a restatement of the value of creativity in education and for the economy, given Ed Vaizey’s talk today promoting a ‘creative ecology’ – a context in which value can be more rapidly propogated from the public and commercial creative sectors? Or, both?
The background to all this is the Government’s three priorities for cultural & creative education, which were stated to be: That every child should have access to a good music education, that every child should learn to sing, and that every child should have a solid cultural education. If we translate this to Science as a metaphor to explain why this is category-oddness, it would be like saying: To have a sound education in human biology (above all); to have a chance to conduct experiments in human biology; and to have a solid scientific education.
It might have been more sensible to review the whole domain first (‘a cultural education’) then to ensure the health of each subject which helps delivery of cultural learning, including music. Instead, the Government focused first on one particular artform and have assumed that lessons can be applied to all other domains of culture, as number 36 of recommendations for the Music Review is: “As suggested in the recent White Paper, ‘The Importance of Teaching’, it is recommended that the lessons from this Review be applied to other areas of Cultural Education including Dance, Drama, Film, the Visual Arts, Museums, the Built Environment and Heritage.” (Notice, by the by, that literature, libraries and design are missing from this list.)
It would be interesting if they actually did extrapolate the lessons from the Music Review, although I doubt it would extend to pledging to spend £82.5 m spending on each area.
Is it possible to apply these lessons in similar ways to two distinctly different categories of culture: a) forms of art practice (including the histories of those practices) and b) institutions or environments in which we can experience culture and find their histories archived?
Is this about creative practice in schools or is it about the role of cultural organisations as service providers?
I welcome the fact of a review of cultural learning, and in particular I like the fact that it is embracing the MLA & heritage sectors alongside the Arts to consider cultural and creative learning in a broad way. This is essential in the light of the merger of the MLA into ACE, and may be a great opportunity to consider consolidation of infrastructure to serve providers and schools. I think it is possible to consider creative learning and cultural partnerships in synthesis, as long as care is taken not to conflate them. The danger is that the terms of the report will use music as its starting point, and open out to describe ‘the arts’, without addressing the cross-curricular role of the nation’s extraordinary cultural and heritage resources. So, despite welcoming this news, I’m concerned about its scope. It seems not to be a neutral consultancy exercise but an extrapolation of lessons from a synecdoche (music) to the whole (culture), in order to generate a neat statement about the need for cultural knowledge.
Moreover, what kind of power will this statement hold if the arts become non-statutory subjects in the new National Curriculum and if the capacity for delivering cultural learning beyond the classroom is diminished by cuts? I think that’s another blogpost.