How can education in galleries thrive in the face of challenging times for culture and education more generally? Jane Sillis is encouraged by the opportunities across the UK.

Two school childeren interact with an art piece
Schoolchildren at BALTIC as part of engage’s enquire programme, which ran from 2004 to 2011

© Dan Brady

New initiatives to improve quality and access to arts education suggest that gallery education is at the forefront of the policy agenda. Arts Council England (ACE) has prioritised work with audiences new to the arts and with children and young people. Concerned with quality provision, it is developing a framework to assess the quality of children and young people’s engagement with culture, and with Creative and Cultural Skills is working on a new qualification for cultural practitioners. Other initiatives include the network of Bridge organisations supporting access to culture and championing Arts Award and Artsmark, and the National Skills Academy, which enables young people to train and work in the cultural sector. ACE has also invested in excellent visual arts venues with strong education programmes, and its new responsibility for museums provides opportunities for museums and galleries to share expertise and work together and with other partners. ‘Artist Rooms’1 demonstrates the value of partnership with national organisations, other galleries, and of working with a plurality of resources. Trusts and foundations are supporting education and participation, for example the Alexandra Reinhardt Memorial Award2 and the Paul Hamlyn Foundations’s ArtWorks3 programme.

Education needs champions at a board and senior management level

But the downturn in public funding is forcing cultural organisations to make difficult decisions about what to prioritise. Though there are high-profile examples of good practice, research shows that education is not always central to the mission of cultural organisations4, and education projects can struggle to retain funding. Less support for artists to deliver education work threatens both the livelihoods of artists and the quality of education work in galleries and schools. Education needs champions at a board and senior management level. engage’s leadership programme, Extend5, aims to address this by enabling those working in education roles in all artforms to gain the skills and confidence they need to take leadership roles.

Changes in the education sector in England are also making it difficult to plan ahead. The Henley Review of Cultural Education strongly supports access to culture for children and young people: £3.6m has been granted to support museums to work with schools. But the review of the National Curriculum may result in Art and Design no longer remaining in the curriculum, particularly as the English Baccalaureate does not include the arts. This is coupled with a marked decrease in the number of Art and Design teachers being trained. Opportunities to develop knowledge and skills are urgently needed to nurture the next generation of creative and cultural practitioners. With the prospect of huge university tuition fees, young people need every encouragement to consider the creative sector as a viable career option.

The situation in England is sharply contrasted with Scotland and Wales. The Curriculum for Excellence in Scotland has a strong focus on the arts and promotes the value of involving creative professionals and arts organisations in delivering experiences and outcomes for learners. In Wales, a Baccalaureate is being piloted which will include the arts. The Welsh Joint Education Committee and engage Cymru are exploring how galleries can help deliver key elements of the Curriculum. The Welsh Government is undertaking a Review of Art in Education and highlights the importance of access to culture to young people, particularly those in economically disadvantaged situations. The Review is welcomed by the visual arts sector, but with the caveat that funding for the visual arts is comparable to that for the performing arts. Creative Scotland is undertaking a review of the visual arts that will shape its future activities, and engage Scotland has contributed to this. We are encouraged by the value placed upon creativity and culture by the Scottish Government and hope that this is translated into support for the visual arts and education.  

Gallery education practice in the UK is respected internationally. There are huge opportunities to build on this, but lack of investment threatens to damage practice and reduce provision. engage and all cultural organisations must pull together to preserve the UK’s exemplary arts sector.

Jane Sillis is Director of engage, the National Association for Gallery Education which provides advocacy and support for gallery education

2 This annual artist residency award will be managed by engage from 2013
3 'ArtWorks: Developing Practice in Participatory Settings' is a Paul Hamlyn Foundation Special Initiative with support and funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council, Creativity Culture & Education (supported by Arts Council England) and the Cultural Leadership Programme.
4 Get It: The Power of Cultural Learning (2009)

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