London ,
26
November
2015
|
18:06
Europe/Amsterdam

Nick Kenyon highlights the City's educational outreach

Nick's speech was delivered at the annual Education Board dinner.

I’m rather conscious that all of you are at the sharp end of delivering education and learning to our young people, whereas I just run an arts organisation. I feel a bit like W.S. Gilbert when he was he asked to address a gathering of vicars. He said “I feel rather like a lion in a den of Daniels….”

It’s great that the City now has a body to bring you all together and to share education policy and best practice ---as Catherine so rightly says, creative and cultural education for all is at the heart of our mission but can be achieved only through partnerships and collaboration. 

So WHY do we want to deliver creative and cultural education, and HOW do we want to deliver it. Maybe I don’t need to answer the first question in this gathering –it seems so absolutely blindingly obvious that every child benefits from acquiring the creative skills that will enable them to flourish in later life, when they may not be artists or musicians or dancers, but will understand what makes them flexible thinkers, co-operative workers, well-trained presenters and debaters, and even who knows, humane bankers.

I’ve been reading a lot recently about the amazing Venezuelan music education programme called El Sistema, which has involved around half a million children in that challenging country in learning instruments and playing in orchestras. There is so much debate pro and con around the benefits of disciplined practice and technical achievement, but when you see the products of El Sistema playing in an orchestra at the very finest level of achievement, they do so with a freedom and a spontaneity and a sheer sense of exuberant enjoyment that puts too many of our musicians to shame. And among the many millions of comments made about their work, one sticks in my mind: a Sistema teacher said –“We’re not training them to be musicians: we’re training them to be citizens”.

As Darren Henley who wrote the Cultural Education study for the DEFE and DCMS a couple of years ago put it, “The best cultural education can change a young person’s sense of the wider world around them, opening up possibilities for their future that may have previously seemed outside their grasp”. There are countless examples of that, but let me just give you one extremely timely instance. The other day our Barbican Community Engagement Manager Sade Banks received an award from Prince William for her work at Centrepoint, the young people’s homeless centre, as that organisation had helped her turn her life around and she is now a mentor and supporter there. But what she said was that it was becoming a community manager at the Bush Theatre when she was 17, at a time when she had never seen a play or been to the theatre before, that really affected her and gave her the confidence to do the work with us that she is now doing. This is a fantastic tribute to the power of the arts to unlock lives.

How many other examples are there like that –an excluded child with disruptive behaviour who joins a local Drumworks group and learns to enjoy being part of a fiercely disciplined, co-operative ensemble. Picks up a saxophone and then decides to learn that, and so on. Helen Fraser of the Girls Day School Trust was making the point about young people’s skills for business in a really excellent piece on Sunday surely ironically placed in the middle of all those depressing league tables. A more worrying trend noted just this morning by our partners Create and supported by the recent Warwick Commission report is how middle class the workforce in the arts is becoming –but without the broad social base that encourages participation that is absolutely inevitable.

So you might have thought the case was totally proven –but I’m not so sure. I had the chance to ask the Prime Minister a direct question the other day (in a private meeting I hasten to add with 200 of his closest friends) and I asked about the way that the UK leads the world in the creative industries, and how were we going to reflect that in our education system going forward, and got totally batted away. I thought it might have been just been me, but then I came across his answer in the Commons to a similar recent question. David Cameron said “What I make no apology for is the very clear focus that we have on getting the basics right in our schools. It is essential that we get more children learning the basic subjects and getting the basic qualifications. It is then possible to put in place the arts, the dance and the drama that I want my children to enjoy when they go to their schools”. Well there, very precisely and rather (as usual) eloquently put, is the nub of the problem: the arts as a nice to have add-on. The idea that engagement with the arts might actually enable children to succeed in core subjects and do better with their lives is entirely absent. We really need this message to come from the top.

I’m not saying that everyone is government thinks that way, and just this morning arts bodies were with Ed Vaizey of the DCMS where the mood is very different, totally engaged, and talking about the different models of creative and cultural engagement for the future. This is where we come to the how. What we have worked to set up at the Barbican and the Guildhall School is a partnership with the boroughs in East London, involving many of you here, some of which the School has worked with for many years, but now under the joint banner of the Creative Learning Department run jointly by Sean Gregory for the Barbican and the Guildhall. And I think it’s now regarded as something of a benchmark in terms of how we aim to bring partners together, understand their needs and their very different structures, in moving towards a new delivery model with allies like a New Direction and Arts Council England –who chose the Barbican as the place to launch its Cultural Education Challenge last month, and that is a challenge we are actively responding to.

We haven’t got everything right –there is still sometimes a mismatch between what we cultural organisations want to offer and what you the educators need –that’s a wiring diagram we need to improve. But we are moving in the right direction and the results can be thrilling. Like when we turned the main theatre stage of the Barbican over to young people to stage Unleashed, their own dance and music show about living in London today, gaining five-star reviews and standing ovations –that was a mixture of their superb talent with real professional guidance. And that’s what we as an international arts centre can bring to the equation, a chance for young people to encounter international talent, to work with Wynton Marsalis on jazz, to respond to the ideas in our new Barbican Box 2016 from Benedict Cumberbatch and Simon McBurney, Deborah Warner and Robert Wilson.

All this can be developed through the exciting work that the City is now doing to establish a cultural hub in the area around the Museum of London and the Barbican in the north of the City. The learning and engagement Forum which brings together a wide range of City bodies led by the Museum of London is launching this month as Catherine mentioned a School Visits Fund, supporting schools who haven’t visited a chosen venue in the last 3 years, and projects including Young City Poets, a Shakespeare weekender in March 2016, and the 350th anniversary in September 2016 of the Great Fire of London –though we’d maybe better not get too re-creative with that one.

This is just the tip of a whole inspiring iceberg of activity which as the cultural hub becomes more visible will result in a City of London Cultural Education Partnership at the heart of the work of the cultural hub. I commend it to you all and we look forward to working with you on it.

Who was it who said “In a well-governed city where art and culture are flourishing, the people are happier”? It was the painter Ambrogio Lorenzetti in his Allegory of Good and Bad Government in Siena in 1338. (Not quite as old as the City of London Corporation, but nearly.) Anyway, it’s still true.

On behalf of all the guests, Chairman, thank you for a splendid evening.