While we in the arts are convinced of the opportunities the arts can create for children and young people, the message has yet to reach and impress itself upon the wider business community. ?Arts & Kids?, the new scheme launched by Arts & Business, aims to reverse this. Colin Tweedy explains how.
The arguments for the engagement of young people in the arts are well known and much debated within the arts sector. Whether it is the development of creativity in the young, the building of self-esteem and self-awareness or the way that the arts can help to develop stronger communities through building cross-cultural links, the arts and their supporters have been very clear in communicating the importance of the work being undertaken. However, much of this debate has stayed within the arts and associated sectors. From our experience of talking to business people, it would seem that the rest of the community is still largely unaware of the arguments.
It is still widely recognised, not least in the business community, that many people, especially the young, believe that the arts belong to others: other classes, other generations or other sexes. Recent research published by the Policy Studies Institute found that although nearly 40% of 18 to 24 year olds tuned in to classical radio stations, only 20% of the British population had attended a classical concert in the past year, put off by the rigid formality and elitism of the setting. Also, although figures this year show an increasing interest amongst young people for GCSEs in subjects such as music and drama, most people do not view the arts as ?serious? subjects and do not understand or value the benefits to which they give rise.
These misconceptions, when held by business leaders, have a seriously detrimental effect on the way that the business community views the arts and its propensity to support them. Arts & Business through ?Arts & Kids? is determined to change this.
Many businesses want to work in ways that will improve the futures of young people. Their reasons for doing this are varied: for some it will play a core part of their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) agenda, while for others it allows them to help support the development of the communities from which they draw staff or customers. For others still, it acts as a way of reaching key customers. But we hear from businesses, ?Because we support the community, we don?t support the arts.?
Within the arts it is widely understood how they can make a huge impact on neighbourhood renewal and on issues such as health, crime, employment and education in deprived communities. How they can also play a vital role in building positive links within and between communities, and between a business and its employees. We need to ensure that the business community begins to realise that through all of these issues and their relevance to young people the arts can help businesses to address their corporate social responsibility agendas. The arts are not a quick-fix solution to deeper social problems and responsibilities but are a vital part of building communities that are healthy, strong and vibrant. If we get the message right, we will be able to encourage additional funds from the corporate sector so that they can become partners in the many existing exemplary initiatives engaging young people with the arts to build awareness of the essential role that arts should play in the lives of young people.
Our core mission is in challenging and inspiring the business community to see the fundamental importance and value of engaging in the arts. In ?Arts & Kids? we simply focus on the importance of supporting children?s access to the arts ? which is a vital part of our central mission. We see Arts & Kids as providing a key UK-wide gateway for businesses that are interested in engaging with 12.1 million young people through the arts.
Arts & Kids
No one, not least Arts & Business and our President, HRH The Prince of Wales, wants the arts to be considered as an optional extra for young people. This is why we have worked together to launch the Arts & Kids campaign. Through this campaign we will use whatever tools and resources are available to achieve our primary objective, which is to persuade business of the importance of the arts to young people. It is not a funding foundation (although it may distribute some funds), it is instead a call to action focused on the business community. Arts & Kids will work with arts organisations and businesses already engaged in this work to showcase what can and is being achieved. It will work in partnership with arts organisations to highlight the work which has been going on for years in arts organisations across the UK in engaging young people. It will work in partnership with businesses already undertaking work to use it as showcase examples to others. Two examples show how this can happen.
The first corporate partner for Arts & Kids is Powergen. It has pledged to develop reading initiatives over three years in a bid to re-energise modern-day storytelling. ?Reading Corners? will give young people the opportunity to read better and enjoy reading more. Arts & Kids is also working alongside Persil. ?Get Creative? is a new initiative that is designed to encourage children?s creativity and learning through play by providing much needed resources for pre-school and primary children. By collecting ?Persil Stars? from most Persil packs from October 2002, parents can help their child?s class or school get their share of at least £7m worth of free art and craft classroom kits ? effectively doubling the resources made available in some schools. Through these Arts & Kids partnerships, we will be able to highlight the business value of engaging with the arts to other companies both in and outside their industrial sectors.
This is not a new area for Arts & Business. Last year, we published a report ?Creative Partnerships? on how business and the arts could work together to create a more inclusive society. In this report we talked about ?Young Gatekeepers?, a scheme designed by Sheffield Theatres to provide young people who might not think theatre had anything to do with them with the chance to find out more about it and to become ?gatekeepers? for their equally doubtful peers. As one young person who had recently left care said, ?I go and watch films, but the only theatre I?d ever seen was big musicals. I?d never really thought about it until now.? After seeing a production by a company of learning disabled actors, he came out of the theatre exclaiming, ?You?re doing my head in, but if this is theatre, I want more of it.?
Converts speak of the arts as opening a window to your soul, to enhance creativity and offer opportunity. As Stephen Fry said at the launch of Arts & Kids of his visit as a twelve-year old to see Mozart?s ?Don Giovanni?, given by the Welsh National Opera in the Theatre Royal Norwich, ?It is sometimes hard to recognise moments of real importance in one?s life. When it comes to my love of music, and thence of art generally, I can however put my finger on a single moment of assurance.?
Act of celebration
Arts & Kids is not about telling anyone how to engage young people in the arts. It is about working with the many experts in the field who are doing this to ensure that everyone in the community, and particularly businesses, are more aware of this work. It is an act of celebration. When will we have succeeded? When we ask a business person ?Why is it important for young people to get involved in the arts?? and they reply, ?Because they are a motivating discipline; they are inclusive and non-competitive. The arts fire imagination, offer a glimpse of wonderland, give choice and hope. They provide all kinds of life skills. They are fun and interesting and different. Through them you can surprise yourself, surprise others and make friends. You get a better picture of what is out there. They offer opportunities and they offer challenges.? That would be success.
Colin Tweedy is Chief Executive of Arts & Business.
t: 020 7378 8143; e: firstname.lastname@example.org