The recently published Henley Review of Cultural Education could have wide-ranging implications for the arts sector. AP invited Kenneth Olumuyiwa Tharp and Steve Moffitt to share their reflections on it
Kenneth Olumuyiwa Tharp:
There’s much to welcome in Darren Henley’s report, and in the Government’s response, but we need to put the record straight on one thing. I’m pleased that there is to be a National Youth Dance Company, but the Government’s assertion that this is the first such company is a re-writing of history. A National Youth Dance Company ran with great success for 18 years, under the direction of John Chesworth, who, in 2003, received an OBE for services to dance; in that same year, the company had its funding (a total of £15,000) cut by Arts Council England (ACE). Hundreds of dance artists now working professionally cut their teeth in the company. We shouldn’t succumb to collective amnesia, but honour Chesworth’s legacy.
In 2002 I was appointed to succeed John as Artistic Director Designate of the National Youth Dance Company, and subsequently wrote a report on youth dance for the ACE, called Joining the Dots. I proposed the continuation of the Company and the creation of a new National Youth Dance Agency, an umbrella body to help improve signposting and access, increase the quality of dance provision, and develop a joined up national strategy. This is exactly what Youth Dance England has been doing so well; at that time however, it seemed we couldn’t have an umbrella organisation and a company; the company was forced to close.
Now we have come full circle, and are in danger of having a company without the supporting umbrella organisation. The newly proposed National Youth Dance Company, a fantastic opportunity for 30 talented young dancers each year, is being created at a time when funding is being withdrawn from Youth Dance England, the national body working to ensure high quality dance provision for all young people. Just as its work has begun to imbed, we are in danger of returning to the old issues of access or excellence, instead of addressing the equal needs of access and excellence together.
I’m heartened that the Government recognises the need to continue funding other programmes that support the development of our most talented young dancers at prevocational level – like the national Centres for Advanced Training – and at vocational level, through specialist Conservatoires. It’s vital though that short-term political whims do not cloud the issues of what dance really needs to grow in the future. It is essential, for example, for there to be unbroken line of opportunity, from the moment a young person first becomes involved in dance, to those with exceptional potential being able to take the next step, whether that be joining a Centre for Advanced Training or National Company, or entering into Conservatoire-level training. It would be an astonishingly short-sighted outcome, if we were to end up with a National Youth Dance Company at the expense of the work that Youth Dance England is doing to create the necessary infrastructure and raise the standards of youth dance across the country. Ultimately, we need sustained investment in initiatives that deliver long-term change. Government should invest some of the earmarked £15m in supporting Youth Dance England to deliver its 10-year plan and ensure that all arts subjects, including dance, are made central to the school curriculum.
Kenneth Olumuyiwa Tharp, Chief Executive, The Place
I’m pleased – and maybe a bit surprised – to find myself quite excited about what the Henley Review could mean for those of us working in the space between young people, learning and culture. A New Direction is about to make a very significant transition from delivering the Creative Partnerships programme in London to leading Arts Council England’s Bridge initiative in the capital. This new remit is about building connections between the cultural sector and schools and young people. For us, the Henley Review is most important in terms of giving this new remit some real leverage and profile – with Government, with schools and with cultural partners. It is a considered and thoughtful document that communicates coherently the value of culture in young people’s learning and education. I welcome the way that Henley places the arts alongside heritage, film, archaeology and fashion, and starts to articulate a new way of describing young people’s entitlement to a better cultural offer. He also challenges some of the hierarchies that have built up around knowledge-based learning and creative learning and explains why these are not in competition.
I also value the way in which the report builds on good practice that is already taking place. There is so much expertise out there and learning that has already taken place: we need to keep hold of this and make sure that in a time of change and austerity we don’t lose what has been achieved. Key to doing this will be working collaboratively, sharing knowledge and being clever about project delivery – the Henley model of hubs and partnerships could provide a way of making this happen. The review provides an aspirational framework for the Bridge network to engage with, explore and wrestle with. We now have the opportunity to build a more cohesive understanding of what cultural learning is in the regions in which each Bridge is located. It provides the permission and motivation to build a set of potential alliances, partnerships collaborations and initiate new conversations.
There are of course still challenges and battles ahead, just because Henley promotes the importance of culture within the curriculum this does not mean DfE will listen (their initial response is fairly non-committal). It will be important not to lose momentum whilst the Cultural Education plan is being written over the next year: there is a real urgency about this agenda. We can’t afford to spend any more time debating the whys and wherefores of cultural entitlement when youth unemployment is rising and schools are under pressure to disinvest from ‘non-EBacc’ subjects – we have to act. We have to galvanise the sector around providing real opportunities for progression and quality cultural experiences for young people right now, and my hope is that Henley provides a platform for helping to make this happen.