Why do we need the Arts? Not a question that might naturally spring to the mind of someone involved in the rough and tumble of fostering children. Especially, a question that could have philosophers, psychologists, writers and art historians busy answering for the rest of time. It is likely that any answer would be very different and depend upon the era in which a person was living. Quite apart from any aesthetic considerations, art has been used to convey a plethora of religious and political messages for as long people have had such inclinations. Voyaging into this territory could open up a near limitless series of debates which, on an intellectual level, would be stimulating – but to the ‘man in the street’ probably unfathomable and irrelevant. This is not to be condescending, merely to reframe the original question in terms of the age in which we are living. For, without doubt, the digital world which we inhabit is rapidly changing our perceptions of art, art itself and the way we experience it. And here is the key word ‘Experience’: no individual ever has the same experience of a piece of art, but what is concerning, is a situation where some may be excluded from any kind of experience at all. But before going any further, it is important to say that the term ‘the arts’, is widely encompassing: music, drama, dance, sculpture, writing – in short any activity which fits with the Arts Council’s useful definition of the value of the arts – as measured by how they “can illuminate our inner lives and enrich our emotional world.” So, when the Warwick commission revealed last year, that that ‘the wealthiest, best educated and least ethnically diverse 8% of society make up nearly half of live music audiences and one-third of theatregoers and gallery visitors’; there is clearly an issue of access.
This is an uncomfortable statistic and what is heartening is that the government is running a pilot scheme to offer children free access to the arts. This will be part of what has been termed a ‘cultural citizens programme’. And children in care are, of course, also citizens with a right to participate. So, with this in mind, this is a welcome move to create more diverse audiences, as well as attract young people to arts and culture generally. Karen Bradley, the culture secretary, has introduced schemes aimed at providing hundreds of schoolchildren free access to museums and theatres – as well as heritage sites. This forms part of the culture white paper published in March this year. And what is important for those involved with fostering children, is that the intention is to facilitate participation in the arts among young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. Children from chaotic and dysfunctional families who are taken into care, are not likely to have had much exposure to the arts.
UK arts audiences as they are currently comprised are white and middle class. These schemes are timed to commence in September in Birmingham, Blackpool and Liverpool. The government’s white paper also put forward a lottery funded programme envisaged to run in seventy areas and connect with fourteen thousand young people a year. Quite apart from the ‘experiential’ considerations of visitors, irrespective of their age, the artistic heritage of this country is recognised worldwide: our artistic institutions and the talents they develop contribute huge sums to the economy. Opening up the arts to a far wider audience will encourage young people to consider careers within the arts, providing them with a sense of opportunity and purpose. The remit of the Arts Council of England accepts this: “we also understand that arts and culture has a wider, more measurable impact on our economy, health and wellbeing, society and education.”
What is of particular note, is the council calls for it to be recognised that the arts are a strategic national resource. This must mean that participation is a right, and that the resource itself can only be strengthened by the widest participation – most especially the young since they have been so disenfranchised. And having this as a strategic objective will be for the general betterment of the nation as a whole.
There are a wealth of statistics all pointing to the economic benefits the arts bring. In the Arts Council’s own evidence review ‘The Value of Arts and Culture to People and Society’, the Local Government Association made reference to the ‘pulling power’ of arts and culture. It is not only an admission ticket that creates revenue; secondary spend encompasses meals, souvenirs and then there is the impact on a local economy. Just one example will suffice: In its first year, Hepworth Wakefield attracted half a million visitors who contributed an estimated ten million pounds to the local economy.
The most important thing is to think about accessibility: an interest in the arts can provide an incredible motivation for a child to develop a passion. And if you are fostering children, developing an interest in an artistic pursuit can be a very effective ‘bridge’ to enable communication. This can effect a sea change in the attitude and behaviour of a child – and, crucially, educational engagement and attainment. There are currently many worrying indicators that the mental well being of our young people is not what it should be. The Children’s Society’s has produced a recent report suggesting that amongst 10 – 15 year old girls, 14% are unhappy with their lives generally: the online world has had many negative effects – and is heavily implicated regarding that statistic; but it can also play a vital role in bringing awareness of the tremendous range of artistic opportunities and possibilities that exist. What is encouraging about the digital sphere we all occupy, is that ideas about art can no longer ossify: opinion, indeed actual content, is travelling at unimagined speed across borders. Art is now truly global. In the past, that popular phrase ‘art for art’s sake’, which distilled the notion art stood alone and could be judged quite apart from any ideas surrounding morality, history – or religion for that matter; can now be replaced with the now more culturally attuned ‘art for everyone’s sake’. So an idea that was once fundamental to the British Aesthetic Movement will, hopefully, now be democratised by the aims of this government white paper. Those who are committed to fostering children surely deserve the fullest support in providing access to all the arts our culture has to offer: visit www.childrenandarts.org.uk/about-us/
And the good news at the end of this fostering rainbow…the world of fostering children is a fascinating place with no two days alike: there is much that can create a furrow in the brow, but there is so much that can cheer and enliven. And today we have had an amazing response from a leading brand looking to offer career development support for our young people: we are an independent fostering agency pleased to be providing such fostering services.