A creative life is a better life. It leads to more innovation, smarter business and happier citizens. So why do we run our education system in a way that so often kills the natural creative spark in young people? And how could we turn things around?
Those are questions Sir John Sorrell, Paul Roberts and Darren Henley tackle in their new book, The Virtuous Circle: Why Creativity and Cultural Education Count.
On February 4 John and Paul came to a sold-out 26 event in London to share the argument in their book and kick-start a lively and inspiring debate about what 26 members could do to bring about positive change. (Darren couldn’t come as he’s about to start a new job: chief executive of Arts Council England.)
Cultural and creative activities are academically, physically, socially and emotionally enriching, said Paul, a former teacher and schools inspector who advised the last government. They should form a vital part of the everyday lives of young people, he argued.
But we need to raise our expectations of the kind of cultural experiences children might enjoy, he said, “stimulate demand”, so young people grow up with a healthy appetite for culture and creative expression, and make sure art and creativity is not just something for a wealthy elite to enjoy.
With recent education policy doing little or nothing to support creativity in schools, Paul urged 26 members to find ways to share their passion for making and enjoying culture. “There is a flame and we have to keep it burning,” he said.
Sir John Sorrell is a revered figure in the creative industries. He’s led Newell and Sorrell, the Design Council and the University of the Arts London. His charity, the Sorrell Foundation, helps young people to discover and use their creativity.
He told the 26 event that the technological revolution was over and we now live in “the age of creativity”, where the world’s most creative countries would be its most prosperous and its happiest.
The UK has a global lead here, and it’s something we ought to boast about, he said. Our creative industries are worth £77bn a year. They are growing faster and generating more new jobs than any other sector of the economy.
But he warned that other countries were working hard – and investing – to catch up.
Sir John wants schools to give creativity the same priority as literacy and numeracy. This “big simple change” would make a huge difference, he said.
And he encouraged creative agencies and professionals to open their doors to young people.
The Sorrell Foundation has already started the National Art and Design Saturday Club initiative. This gives young people aged 14–16 the opportunity to study art and design every Saturday morning at their local college or university for free.
Now there are plans for a National Creative Writing and Storytelling Saturday Club. This would give young people a chance to work alongside professional writers. The idea: “give them a look in the kitchen to see if they like what’s cooking,” said Sir John.
John and Paul’s passion for the cause enthralled a distinguished audience that included Chris Gribble of the Norwich-based National Centre for Writing, Caroline McCormick, a former director of International PEN, Kim Picking from the Story Museum, Nick Capaldi, chief executive of Arts Council Wales, and Lynda Relph Knight, former editor of Design Week.
Can you help? 26 has done a lot over the years to engage young people with writing, literature and creativity. But we want to do more. So if you’ve got any ideas, do let us know. For now, email John Simmons: firstname.lastname@example.org