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Five A Week 7: Some Things to Read & Think About

1. THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT? LESSONS FROM GROWING UP IN IRELAND

Createquity has long been worth reading and thinking about. It has recently developed into something properly substantial – the kind of thing I’d love to see in the UK. (He says covering up his Arts Emergency ‘Sometimes if you want something to exist you have to make it yourself’ badge.) This is a good look at a fascinating report by Emer Smyth on children’s cultural engagement in the context of the digital realm “Arts and Cultural Participation among Children and Young People: Insights from the Growing up in Ireland Study,” a 2016 report commissioned by the Arts Council of Ireland. The findings are very consistent with what the data tells us about the UK – and many of the patterns written about in Every Child.

I want to point at these sentences particularly though: “Being involved in a structured cultural activity is associated with positive outcomes across all domains,” Smyth writes, “with higher achievement levels, academic self-confidence and happiness, and lower levels of anxiety and socio-emotional difficulties.” However, it’s worth noting that the magnitude of benefits of arts activities was quite a bit less than the positive impacts of reading for pleasure (for pre-teens) or being read to (for toddlers).’

And I want to wonder aloud why ‘arts funding’ puts so little emphasis, relatively, on creative reading (one of the most popular activities even amongst boys) in comparison to other arts activities, and so little investment into it? Maybe funding should follow the emerging advise around engagement and start where people are, and with what they find relevant?

2. GENERAL ELECTION MANIFESTO FOR ARTS AND CULTURAL LEARNING

The Cultural Learning Alliance have published their manifesto to the General Election, emphasising themes very in tune with the findings in that irish research: education, well-being and social mobility, with an added concern for the sustainability of the cultural sector that can, given the space, add so much to the education process. They demand continued funding for arts education, adding an A to STEAM and changes to the curriculum.

3. ‘I WAS DEHUMANISED’: LEMN SISSAY ON HEARING HIS HARROWINGABUSE REPORT LIVE ON STAGE

The damage than can be done by inhumane care and education systems, and how theatre can create ‘safe space’, are just two of the things that comes out of this article by Simon Hattenstone about a recent theatrical event featuring the poet Lemn Sissay hearing, and responding to, his own psychological reports. I found it a moving article about a very brave act of self-revelation.

4. TRACEY THORN: THE UNBEARABLE WHITENESS OF BRITPOP

Perhaps the debates about ‘diversity’, ‘equality’ and ‘the creative case’ are best done through discussion of actual art rather than policies or numbers. This brilliant article by Tracey Thorn points out insidious long-running ‘othering’, but also, simultaneously, argues for the legacy of the likes of Massive Attack. She also acutely points out one of Saint Jarvis’s less-becoming moments. I’m a middle-aged man with a love-hate relationship with nostalgia and canons of all kinds, and this is a good example of how to approach them, I think. (Tracey Thorn’s column is consistently one of the first things I look for in the New Statesman, she is that rare thing: a columnist who writes like a human being.)

5. EVALUATING ENGAGEMENT

Doug Borwick, on his Arts Journal blog ‘Engaging Matters’ shares a usefully concise emerging framework for evaluating efforts to engage communities. It has much in common with the lessons emerging from the Creative People & Places programmes, amongst much other work.

5+: ARCHIVE BONUS CHOICE: WALK TALL

Just in case you need it, and I certainly have this blue week in the Tees Valley, a reminder of the music of the Cannonball Adderley Quintet and the words of the Reverend Jesse Jackson:

“…No matter how dreary the situation is, and how difficult it may be, the storm really doesn’t matter, until the storm begins to get you down. So my advice to you, the message that the Cannonball Adderley quintet brings to us is that it is rough and tough in this ghetto, a lot of funny stuff going down, but you got to walk TALL. WALK TALL. WALK TALL.”

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