Since its inception 18 months ago, Creative Partnerships has brought together children, teaching staff, local communities and professional artists in many fantastic and varied projects. Arts Minister, Estelle Morris, describes some of the projects that have impressed her.
On September 18 2002, as Secretary of State for Education and Skills, I was involved in a truly great day for anyone in culture and education. The date marked the launch of Creative Partnerships, a pioneering £40m pilot programme sponsored by both the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and the Department for Education and Skills (DfES), originally running to March this year.
The programme’s aim was – and still is – to develop lasting partnerships between schools and creative and cultural organisations and individuals, giving children the opportunity to work with real artists, filmmakers and curators to explore their creativity and raise their aspirations. From the beginning, Creative Partnerships promised to be a journey that captured the imagination of children, parents, teachers and communities. We want to ensure that in time, every young person gets the same kind of exposure to the full range of creative learning and cultural experiences that are currently often available only to children whose parents can afford to pay. Sixteen of the most disadvantaged coastal, rural and urban areas in England were chosen to start off this journey, from Merseyside to the coast of Kent, the tip of Cornwall to the top of the Tees Valley.
Of course, much has changed since September 2002. For one thing, the success of Creative Partnerships has ensured its expansion. Last June, a £70m plan was unveiled to extend Creative Partnerships to a further 20 areas around the country. I have maintained a keen interest in Creative Partnerships and its many achievements, and so it’s particularly exciting for me to have joined DCMS and to be once again closely involved in the programme as it progresses in leaps and bounds. Since coming back on board as Arts Minister, I have seen some brilliant examples of what Creative Partnerships is doing.
I have chosen a couple of examples from my own constituency, Birmingham Yardley. Creative Partnerships Birmingham has been working with 26 schools in the area since 2002. Last Summer, I attended a special book launch at Sheldon Library in Birmingham. The book, entitled Excuses, is a children’s storybook, suitable for year 1 pupils, written by year 4 and year 12 pupils from two schools. One of the key objectives of the project was to work with mainstream pupils to challenge some of the stereotypes surrounding young people with special needs. The pupils worked with artist Lindsay Chalford-Brown and Brays Special School teacher Mike Scott to decide audience, plot, characterisation and design of the book. The next stage included photographing artwork to be used in the book. The group then travelled to Banbury to work with professional printers to see the book being printed and bound. The finished book is the culmination of a great deal of creative and collaborative work, not only for the pupils but also for the support staff at the school who took a lead role by liaising with professional artists and assisting in the teaching and delivery of the project. Excuses will be distributed to local schools, nurseries and libraries.
Performance and production
In November last year I was lucky enough to see a United Theatre Company production, in association with artSites Birmingham and Creative Partnerships Birmingham, entitled ‘What Happened To The Children? The Pied Piper’. The United Theatre Company brought together the talents of some five schools in a production, described by the company as “a journey filled with fire, light, music, puppetry, theatre and dance”, which was staged at Sheldon Heath Community School. It was a fantastic night and a real example of what can be achieved despite some pretty dazzling logistical challenges. Approximately 400 pupils, 40 teachers and staff, 12 members of the community and 40 arts professionals were involved. Through The United Theatre Company, the pupils experienced and managed every aspect of the production from dance, drama and music to set design, costume, marketing and PR. The evening was a brilliant example of Creative Partnerships at its best, not only in terms of teachers and students working with professional artists but also of schools working with each other and with the community. The quality of the children’s performance reflected the skills of the professionals with whom they had worked and it was a joy to both see and hear.
High standards of achievement
Of course, while Birmingham may be closest to my heart, what is happening there is being replicated around the country. The Creative Partnerships project I visited at the Jesse Boot Primary School in Nottingham was equally inspiring. There I met Julie Bartholomew, Artist-in-Residence and Paula Moss, Photographer and Digital Artist. I visited classes participating in projects developed through Creative Partnerships and then went to the school’s new performing arts centre where year 3 children involved in a storytelling project with Footprints Theatre Trust presented their work. To date, Creative Partnerships Nottingham has started 91 projects involving over 8,469 students and 591 teachers.
It is often said that arts and creative work in schools have been squeezed out. Yet my school visits over the past year or so have shown that the standard of achievement in this area is higher than ever. There is a need to build on that and recognise the place of creativity and culture both in the curriculum and in the wider life of our schools. Creative Partnerships help us to do that and I am looking forward to seeing the fruits of more collaborations in 2004.
The Right Honourable Estelle Morris MP is Arts Minister. Contact Francesca Lewis in the Press Office of DCMS. t: 020 7211 6264;