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An ArtsProfessional feature in partnership with Creative and Cultural Skills

Programmes that nurture imagination and ambition can help re-establish the arts as a transformative force, says Robert West.

A girl spray painting a poppy onto a wall using a stencil
A student at New College, Swindon

© Owen Harvey

“I’m interested in how art can be a force for change and how creativity is fundamental for all our lives,” said contemporary artist Bob and Roberta Smith when launching 14–18 NOW’s Make Art Not War, a programme created to encourage young people to nurture creative skills vital to wider learning and matched to future social and economic demands.

“I wanted the project to help them understand the importance of thinking about taking a self-initiated approach to creating work or creative products”

The debate around creative skills has been going on for some time. The work of Ken Robinson and the National Advisory Committee on Creative and Cultural Education back in 1999 struck a chord with many of us working in the arts profession at that time, with its championing of creativity. The idea it put forward, that school progressively made young people less creative through its pursuit of exam success at all costs, is sadly one that there is still a need to argue today. This is despite the fact that, according to the World Economic Forum, creativity is one of the three most important skills people will need to be employable.

Strategic partnership

14–18 NOW was the UK’s arts programme for the First World War centenary. Creative skills were at the heart of a strategic partnership between 14–18 NOW and Creative & Cultural Skills that led to the development of the Make Art Not War programme, with Bob and Roberta Smith providing the thought-provoking question “What does peace mean to you?” 
Produced by ArtsMediaPeople, the project brought on board the 12 further education leadership colleges from our National Skills Academy and placed an artist mentor within each. Throughout the UK, over 1,200 students had the opportunity to spend a year working in-depth with their mentor, and 44,000 students were offered it as a UAL awarding body diploma study option exploring their responses to the provocation. 

This allowed students and staff from different disciplines to come together, opening them up to styles of working with other creative people who sought to prepare young people for the world of work and enable personal growth.

Job creation

The learning potential of this programme about the world of work was not lost on those who took part. Artist mentor Yinka Danmole worked with students at Southwark College in London (National Skills Academy FE leadership members): “I’ve been very up-front with the students about how I go about my work and it’s very much a case of ‘if you can’t find the work, make it’. I wanted the project to help them understand the importance of thinking about taking a self-initiated approach to creating work or creative products.”

This ‘make a job’, don’t ‘take a job’ challenge has been central to the approach we have encouraged when working with our network of college students. FE has a track record of engaging with the less advantaged, and the development of creative habits, such as imagination, collaboration and resilience, along with taking ownership of your own future, are essential if we are ever to see social transformation and a fundamental change in society.

Following the conflict of the First World War, there was a burgeoning interest in the idea of personal growth and this led to a focus on the power of creativity and the developmental benefits of the arts. One might argue that we are now approaching a time where the arts, creativity and critical thinking are needed just as much as they were then.

Project roll-out

So, we are delighted that our proposal for a continuation of the project over the next academic year has been accepted by 14–18 NOW, building upon the blueprint set by our National Skills Academy leadership colleges.

Over the course of 2019/20, we will roll out the 14–18 NOW project to up to 25 colleges around the UK and further support and advocate for the UAL awarding body assessment opportunities, now available to schools and colleges within and beyond the National Skills Academy network.

A cohort of students from Blackburn College will also have the opportunity to work alongside Neil Bartlett, taking inspiration from his ‘Letter to an Unknown Soldier’. His new work ‘24 Hours of Peace’ at the Royal Exchange Theatre this autumn will be livestreamed through Resonance FM.

Will this add weight to the call for young people to be encouraged to develop their creative skills? Time will tell. What we are confident of is that through programmes such as Make Art Not War, our own vision to create a fair and skilled cultural sector can start to be brought a little more in focus as we promote the re-establishment of the arts and creativity as a force for change.

Robert West is Programme Director at Creative & Cultural Skills.

This article, sponsored and contributed by Creative & Cultural Skills, is part of a series promoting apprenticeships and challenging entrenched social inequalities, to create a more diverse workforce.

For more information on Make Art Not War contact info@ccskills.org.uk

Previous ArtsProfessional coverage of 14-18 Now:

The feelgood factor: making flagship programmes work
WWI Centenary Commissions 'exceptionally successful' despite 'unfortunate' oversights, report says

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Photo of Robert West