Arts Council Annual Lecture
From Private Patronage to Public Purse
The American sociologist Edward Shils described the most important cultural change of the second half of the twentieth century as 'the entry of the working classes into society'. As a consequence, and for the first time, the working classes were granted a voice.
Shils could not have known quite how pertinent his sentence would be this evening: Here I stand, many times removed, but nevertheless with my roots firmly planted in the terraced streets which echoed on Saturday afternoons to the roar of the crowd at the nearby Baseball Ground, home to Derby County. Yet I have entered not only society, but a Royal Society at that.
And I have been given more than a voice. Our hosts here at the Royal Society for the Arts have provided me with a platform and a microphone so that my voice can be heard.
The injustice of a system which judges a man's value by his social status has long been recognised. I shall not add my voice to that particular cause this evening. But I will express my surprise over what the newly acquired voice of the people is saying. Over the course of the last two years, focused by the lottery awards to artistic institutions, the man in the street has spoken loud and clear on the arts; or at least the tabloids have spoken loud and clear on his behalf, giving us such memorable headlines as 'Up your arias', and even more groaningly predictable, 'Tutu much'.
I'm sure we are all familiar with the way the arguments go: The arts are elitist. They have nothing to do with our man in the street. They are the province of a closed circle of 'luvvies' who club together, in the words of Mr Terry Dicks, and as quoted by Lord Gowrie two years ago in the first Arts Council Lecture, 'persuading successive governments to give money to the arts, and then use it to subsidise their own leisure at the expense of the rest of us'. 1
Two years on, and the same arguments are regurgitated whenever the opportunity presents itself. They are not too difficult to refute. Lord Gowrie and I, along with Sir Jeremy Isaacs did so with a convincing victory for the arts at the Oxford Union in January.
But the tabloids continue their campaign, purportedly on behalf of the nation. I suspect I am not alone in my belief that the tabloids do not reflect the opinion of the British Public. I believe rather that they seek to influence it, and unfortunately they do so with some success. If you throw enough mud, as we must all be aware, some will stick.
When the Charities Board was under fire for making awards that the tabloids considered an unsuitable use of the nation's lottery pound, the Chairman of that board wrote in a letter to The Times: 'If you do skin deep surveys, you get skin deep responses'. In the same way, if you habitually make skin deep judgments and never delve further into the detailed reasoning which precedes any human action, including the awarding of lottery funds, it is hardly surprising that those judgments are picked up and parroted in a similarly unquestioning fashion.
So I generally listen to the voice of the common man, as reported by the tabloid newspapers with some degree of scepticism. I have found that if an issue is explained in a humane fashion, rather than in the snappy and judgmental sound bites favoured by many areas of the media, human beings are usually capable of great amounts of humanity.
Having said all this, there is one image that has stayed with me for some months now which I can neither ignore nor forget.
Amidst the furore thrown up by the public announcement of the lottery grant to the Royal Opera House, my boss, Sir Jeremy Isaacs, gamely faced the wrath of the nation - via the telephone - on breakfast television.
I held my breath as the calls came in, and was relieved and delighted that most of them were reasonably positive about the award itself and about the value of the arts in general.
The final caller was a gentleman from Leeds, if I remember correctly. He told us that he was unemployed and trying to raise a family of six children. The money available in his household did not stretch to opera tickets, and even if it had, one didn't get the impression that that was where it would have gone.
'What', he asked 'do the arts offer me?'
His question has haunted me, returning, unbidden, into my mind. The time allotted to Sir Jeremy meant that despite his best efforts, it remained largely unanswered. It is a question that will arise from time to time in a society that treats the arts the way we do. But it is a valid question, and one that all men of conscience within the arts have been obliged to face over the last two years. This evening I would like to search for an answer.
It might be useful to start by trying to find the origins of this uprising against the arts in this country. The portrayal of the arts as a plaything of the rich, elitist and exclusive is more and more common. Certainly in the days of private patronage this may have been the case, although I personally doubt this to be the whole story. I suspect there may often have been an element of 'Robin Hoodism' in the relationship between patron and artist. Mozart, for example was supported by the Archbishop of Salzburg, and wrote appropriate music for his court. At the same time he developed ideas that were of importance to him, producing operas in the German language which were lapped up by the 'man in the street'.
In dance, the monopoly of Louis XIV's court ended around 1660 when convention finally permitted the highest nobility to perform alongside the professional dancers, whose reputation was described as 'so murky that the church would not marry or even bury them'. 2 From this point on, the history of dance would now be linked inextricably with its creators and interpreters rather than its patrons, however useful their money would continue to be.
Artists - including dancers - can and do come from all areas of the social spectrum. Artistic ability blossoms in the most unlikely circumstances - artistry, as I have said before, is a question of sensibility, not privilege. It is not passed on with the family silver. (Neither is business acumen, as many families have found to their cost.) There are myriad examples of artists rising above difficult social environments to produce extraordinary and lasting works of art. That they managed to get the wealthy to pay for their artistic development strikes me as very clever indeed.
As many artists have derived in the past - and still do - from the working classes, the arts have in a sense long been the preserve of those classes. Getting the aristocrats to think it belonged to them - if they did - could be called one of the greatest frauds of all time.
The creation of the Arts Council in 1945 put an end to that fraud. The enjoyment and benefits of the arts would no longer be the private domain of a few wealthy patrons. The government effectively purchased the best of the nation's art for the nation.
Fifty years on, we now face a situation where it is not at all certain that the nation wants it.
There are still large numbers of people who, without being able to explain why, would endorse the importance of the arts to society. They would have a notion of what Frances Partridge called 'the importance of the classics, the indefinability of good’. They would acknowledge culture and the arts as a legacy of our civilisation, binding us with the past and speaking for us in the future. They would understand the relevance of the arts as a national asset.
And the arts should be a source of national pride. The artists in this country rank amongst the best in the world, and truly act as ambassadors when they travel abroad. Whilst doing so they contribute hugely to the balance of payments. After Financial Services and Pharmaceuticals the arts are our biggest earner of foreign currency. 3 (A recent report suggested that we dancers make quite a large contribution to Pharmaceuticals ourselves.) Music alone brings in £571 million from overseas earnings. 4
The cultural attractions are a major feature in enticing visitors to these shores. Trevor Nunn, writing in the Evening Standard, has described 'tourism, especially cultural', as 'our biggest growth industry'. Sixty three percent of the tourists who came to Britain in 1994 rated our museums as an important influence on their decision to come here. 5 The knock on effects to the rest of the economy are obvious - man cannot live on art alone. The cultural tourist's pound will be spent on food and accommodation as well as on entrance tickets. Tourism earned this country over £9 billion in 1993.5 Presumably sixty three percent of that figure can be attributed to those cultural tourists.
The nation also benefits from the arts as a source of employment. 650,000 people work in the arts and cultural industries, which is about two and a half percent of the work force. 6 Between 1981 and 1991 there was a 34% increase in the number employed in the arts. This was in a period when the overall working population hardly increased at all. 7
Beside all these facts and figures lies the issue of entertainment - we must not forget that a great many people enjoy the arts and find comfort, pleasure or a means of escape in an evening at the theatre or a day in a museum. Last year there were around 25 million paid visits to the theatre to see professional performances of drama, opera and dance. The box office income totalled over £330 million. 8
These are all genuine and worthwhile rationales for the continued existence of the arts; well rehearsed arguments that combat many lines of attack. They tell us why the arts are a justified recipient of government funding. But I will not dwell over long on them. They are not arguments for someone who is unemployed and unable to afford a theatre ticket. They leave the gentleman from Leeds with his question hanging in the air.
'What,' he asked, 'do the arts offer me?'
We will only find an answer if we delve a little deeper. We must start by asking whether, as a nation, we are still able to appreciate the arts.
I fear that without an appropriate education, we no longer have the ability to recognise them.
What is our national perspective on education? It seems to me that there are two opposing accounts:
The first sees education as an instilling of facts, a feeding of information, with the ultimate aim being the acquisition of a job; the teaching of knowledge that can be stated categorically as true or false. There are obvious holes in this system, not least of which is the categorical fact that facts change. My own geographical education must on a regular basis be renewed. Yugoslavia has gone, the USSR no longer exists. In mathematics, it is the rules that have altered. The widespread availability of the pocket calculator, and the fact that it can now be used in the schoolroom seems to make a mockery of the long hours I spent trying to learn multiplication tables.
The early specialisation in a field of future employment revolves around a view of humanity as no more than the oil that ensures the smooth operation of the big machine of life. The mechanic fixes the car for the salesman, who sells to the supermarket, where the caterer buys the food, so the chef can cook the meal, which feeds the mechanic, and so on. You get the picture. It is a picture that ignores the very qualities which make us human.
With machines frequently replacing man in the work place, it seems a nonsense to prepare young people for a career which, by the time they come to find employment, will probably be obsolete anyway. The technological world changes so quickly that we are automatically engaging in that nonsense if we employ this account of education. In the second Arts Council Lecture, Sir Ernest Hall described a world we are moving to where 'the only reason to employ people will be to benefit from the qualities which raise them above machines'. 9 The premature shift of focus away from those qualities and towards vocational specialisation has uncomfortable echoes of the past age he described, when children were sent to work in the mines, sometimes from the age of five. Physically, our children are undoubtedly better off. Intellectually and emotionally, we are sending them to an equally dark and unhealthy place. Trevelyan's words ring truer than ever:
We are creating a 'vast population able to read but unable to distinguish what is worth reading'.
The second view of education has its definition in the very word itself. Educere - to lead out. This implies that there is leading, and therefore a person to do the leading; a process in which there is human guidance. It also implies the encouragement of those things that are distinctly human: rationality and reason. An ability to make informed judgements. An education of the emotions. We are the only life form that has the ability to understand and make decisions about our actions. We are proactive rather than reactive. We do not simply respond to external events.
True education should provide the intellectual tools for independent thought, moral evaluation and rational judgements. In David Best's words, it should develop qualities such as 'curiosity, originality, initiative, co-operation, perseverance, open-mindedness, self criticism, responsibility, self confidence and independence'. 10 With this list, he articulates an initial aim. In addition, the acquisition of factual knowledge and skills will provide further stimulation and may, should those facts not become outmoded, have relevance in later life. This is certainly not guaranteed. The facts we teach are revisable, and merely correspond to the work that goes on in the upper branches of the discipline.
This is not necessarily a fashionable view in a society that is increasingly dominated by relativism and its once-removed cousin, market forces. We are living in an age where 'better' or 'the best' are rarely recognised. If 'educated' is not better than 'uneducated', how do we justify the role of the teacher in leading the pupil from one state to another? How do we explain the purpose of education itself? The outcome - learning - would be in no way preferable to the original, un-learned state. The opinion of the pupil would, by definition, be of equal value to the opinion of the teacher.
And where market forces and accountability are such decisive factors, the idea of pouring money into an education system which doesn't have as its outcome a palpable measure of achievement would currently receive short shrift.
But the true values of education cannot be measured with ticks and crosses. E M Forster said that 'absolute trust in someone else is the essence of education'. 11 The gaining of that trust may be a huge educational achievement in itself. The revelation of understanding which is demonstrated by no more than a smile or a gesture, or simply by the pupil's attendance, can be worth much more than an 'A' grade in an exercise book.
So in my account, an educated person is a person who has realised his own human potential, in contrast to one who remains narrow minded and closed to experience. A person who is able to make rational judgements and has a sense of values. A person who not only has knowledge but is able to make use of that knowledge. We should not forget that performing a given task involves deciding which procedures to best adopt in the execution of that task. The exercise of practical knowledge is therefore in itself an exercise in human rationality.
Tawney says all this much more succinctly than I do:
'The purpose of an education worthy of the name is not merely to impart reliable information, important though that is. It is still more important to foster the intellectual vitality to master and use it so that knowledge becomes a stimulus to creative thought. Also, it is partly, at least, the process by which we transcend the barriers of our isolated personalities and become partners in a universe of interest which we share with our fellow men, living and dead alike.'
How does one formulate such an education, and thus achieve such a person? How does one provide an education of the emotions? Again I turn to David Best: He tells us that 'in exploring and learning new forms of expression, we are gaining and refining the capacity for experiencing new feelings'. 12
A critical response to the arts will always involve a consideration of the feelings that art evokes. As the distinctive characteristic of art is that it reflects the important issues of life within it, it follows that an exploration of the arts will result in an increase in the knowledge of those issues and therefore in the range of feelings which those issues can arouse.
Along with this refining of the ability to feel, comes a refining of the ability to communicate feelings.
The late Dr Peter Brinson, in this room in 1989, recognised the importance of the arts as a means of communication: '...Non verbal forms of human interaction...are fundamental to the existence of human society and its historical interpretation...Knowledge is communicated through many different modes...including those which do not require verbal communication at all. Not to enter into these communities of discourse is to be disadvantaged, to fail to have been educated as fully developed, intelligent and feeling human beings.’ 13
The developed, intelligent and feeling human being will be able to fulfil a basic human need: the need to communicate. Denial of this need through solitary confinement is a common form of torture. The ability to communicate is vital to our wellbeing. It is through thought alone that feelings become words, and words, even though they may never be spoken, are the basis of communicable actions. An education in the arts is an education of those processes through which thought may be developed. In addition, the arts are a wonderful medium in which to communicate those thoughts.
The widening of experience concurrent with an artistic education will lead to greater self-understanding, and the increased concepts available through a study of the arts will allow for greater understanding of others.
Without this increase in the concepts that we can employ in our perceptions, we cannot begin to recognise the arts as art. 14 All our understanding is determined by the concepts available to us. If the notion of art is not within our repertoire, we may recognise art in some other, perhaps valuable way, but not as art. A whole avenue of understanding and communication is therefore disabled.
To clarify this, take the example of the London bus. If you were a time traveller, or a visitor from another planet, you would not be familiar with the idea of London Transport. The sight of something huge and red hurtling towards you at breakneck speed would inspire in you quite different emotions from those which fill the weary commuter at the end of a day's work. Being familiar with the concept 'bus', he knows that the red monster will stop at his request, pick him up, and transport him to another place. (An analogy that has more to do with art than I intended.)
Or, to elaborate in a different vein, if you were brought up in a country where snow is a regular and familiar occurrence, you would not perceive it in the same way as we do in Britain. You would consider it an efficient means of transport, a useful insulator, or a wonderful source of hydro-electric power. Our perception of snow is altered by our limited concept of its utilities.
Our ability to recognise art is in the same way limited if the concept 'art' is not available. To misquote Peter Brinson, 'Art will not prosper in our society until it becomes a shared language'. 15
It can still be recognised and absorbed in other ways. Art can be appreciated as an aesthetic experience, touching those parts within us that respond to physical beauty. But if dance, for example, offers only aesthetic stimulation, it is offering nothing more than gymnastics, or ice dancing. (I have nothing against either: Along with the rest of the nation I enjoyed the remarkable achievements of Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean, and will always remember Nadia Comeneci's series of perfect 10s. But I hope that you will all join me in my campaign to ban the use of the phrase 'artistic interpretation' as it used in relation to the flirtatious antics slotted in between the diagonal tumbles of the gymnast's routine. Physical perfection decorated with a smile does not constitute art.)
More importantly, art may encourage and stimulate self-expression through creativity. This in itself serves a vital function. We must all find some means of expression, and I believe that if we do not create, we will probably destroy.
Where is the capacity for expression in a society which becomes ever more homogeneous? Take a trip northwards along the M1. Go into any service station along the way and you will not know if you are in Watford Gap or Woolley Edge. Everything is standardised, a single synthetic statement which leaves no room for the variations in the personalities of the people who work there. Even the idiosyncratic place name that used to serve as our address is becoming redundant. You no longer live in the charmingly evocative Primrose Hill. You live in NW1. Numbers are replacing names as a means of identification.
All this is fine if you believe people to be robots; send them back to their zone, feed them pulp and bring them back to work to start the cycle over again. But none of us do believe that. So where is the individuality and creativity to find its outlet?
The only type of creativity that is left seems to be the creation of human life. Not only does it provide a sense of ownership, and a lasting legacy; it also gives a licence to notice and reflect once again on the good and joyous things in life. We freely use those things to communicate with our children - music and songs to stimulate, and movement to soothe. For some reason we abandon this line of communication as they grow up.
I am not recommending the arts as an alternative to parenthood. But I am recommending the arts as a means of fostering creativity and allowing us to see the individuality in each of our lives.
Without that creativity, the only way to make our mark is through destruction.
Creative Art has long been used as a remedial tool in prisons. Schemes such as the Koestler Awards recognise the enormous importance of self-expression through creativity and the part it can play in rehabilitation. We talk of art reflecting life: It does so not in the fashion of an overmantel placed so high that the reflection is never seen. It reflects life so that we may see ourselves within it, and having truly seen ourselves, reflect upon what we saw.
If art can be used in a remedial role, does it not follow that it could be used as prevention rather than cure?
It can, and in some places, it is. There are several examples around the country of projects that use contact with the arts as a tool for change in the lives of those involved.
In my capacity as a judge for the Prudential Awards for the Arts this year, I came across one such project taking place in the North of England.
Dance in Action was conceived in 1992 in response to the Henry Smith's Charity's desire to support projects in the North East that would 'initiate new ways of combating the acute social deprivation prevalent in the area'. 16
The aim of Dance in Action was 'to turn around existing patterns of youth activity' and 'investigate the value of dance as a means of social reform'. 16 Over three years, 200 young people from severely disadvantaged social backgrounds have been recruited into 16 dance groups. They meet weekly and their activities often culminate in performance. For one group, which consists unusually of seven men and one woman, success in the regional heat of a Youth Dance Festival resulted in performances at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, and the chance to visit London for the first time in their lives. These young people, aged between 18 and 21 come from the communities that played host to the Newcastle riots five years ago. Most of them have been rejected by their families.
The project has enabled a 17 year old boy who left school without any GCSE qualifications above grade D, (in his own words, 'I wasn't there much') to start a National Diploma in Dance - a two year, full time course at Newcastle College. This would not be so extraordinary if he had the benefit of a stable domestic environment, or at least the support of one of his parents. He has neither. The most remarkable thing about him is his clear determination to succeed: He has mapped out for himself a further four years of study to achieve his goals.
'Young peoples' life expectations have changed' 16 - anecdotal and subjective evidence, but the longterm success of the project can only be analysed and evaluated in the long term. The progression of one boy from truant to focused student is a powerful example of what is possible.
A similar example comes from Govan, an area of Glasgow that I have seen described as 'charismatic'. Earlier this year, a Canadian dance company worked there with an after school youth group. Let me give you their own account of the experience:
'The creation of their own dances was the key to their dedicated involvement and self-discipline. It gave them something of their own to value, something for which they had to be personally responsible. Everyone worked together in teams, which challenged boundaries, trust, co-operation and respect for others. All the skills which are needed for such teamwork go beyond dance. They are the social skills required in a positive way in a wider world. One of the most outstanding successes was getting the children working happily together who don't normally mix or trust each other as a result of existing boundaries in the community. Personally we will never forget the warmth and generosity this community showed us.’ 17
Subjective, yes, but compelling nevertheless.
I speak mainly about dance, as that is the area with which I am most familiar. But I also believe that with its relationship to human movement, dance has a particular part to play in human development through artistic expression. With its fusion of mental and physical effort it connects the organs of thought with the instruments of human action. In many cases, physical action can be employed to demonstrate thought long before words can. It has always existed as a means of expressing intent, and still does, often without the realisation of the participants in courtship 'rituals' in discotheques and night clubs. Far from being the most 'elitist' of the arts, I believe it may actually be the most accessible. We use movement and gesture throughout our lives - 'Dancing is part of human history, part of the history of human culture, part of the history of human communication.' 18 It is a concept with which we are all familiar, even if the particular type of dance with which we are familiar may not be an artform.
All dance may be a valid means of self expression. It does not follow that all self expression is art. I am reminded of a cutting I was given from a newspaper a few weeks ago.
"There's this woman who's composing a dance for spring and she lists to herself all the wonderful things she's going to express through it. Then you see her dancing it, and there are two little boys watching and one looks puzzled and asks 'What's she doing?' and the other says 'I think she's trying to lose weight'."
Art must turn its self-expression outwards and encompass the audience in that expression. It must speak in a unique voice that is nevertheless understood by and increases the understanding of others. It must connect. However healthy self-expression may be, it is not necessarily art.
Art exists on a related but different level. It exists that we may learn from it, and in doing so, learn about ourselves.
It will not do to imagine that these values are obvious, that the benefits of the arts can be transmitted by osmosis. If that were the case, we would simply send pupils to a local gallery and they would return to us educated, transformed. We know this does not necessarily happen. (Although, of course, it can. There are some people who show a natural responsiveness to the arts. I have never heard this better articulated than by Richard Hoggart's aunt - the soft, not the hard one - who responded to the overture from La Traviata with the exclamation 'eeh, it's music which makes you want to give all your money away'. And there are the Leonard Basts of this world, the ones who instinctively turn to the arts in the search for a passport out of the drudgery of their own situation.)
I believe that we are all innately responsive to the arts, but that our natural response is rarely nurtured, and is too often suffocated in our early years. Where the flame has been extinguished, experience in the arts needs guidance. It must be led by human contact. You cannot simply throw art, even great art at people. It will bounce right off their turned and stiffened backs. We should have no aim for art as mass culture. It is the product of, and relates to those qualities that make us individual, not those qualities which define a mass. But each mass is made up of individuals; we infiltrate the mass by touching the individual.
Without this personal contact, this guidance that comes with education, it is not surprising that the man in the street finds a difficulty in recognising the values and the benefits inherent in the arts.
If the values of the traditional and established sections of the arts are not recognised, what hope is there that any further development will be? As contemporary works are created, as they must be to ensure the continued relevance of the arts, we move further away from a body of people who do not have the mechanisms to move with us.
In a climate which demands accountability, the creative elements in the arts are seriously threatened. If we must answer to the paymaster, the box office, or the sponsor, programming will always err on the side of safety. Risks will simply not be taken.
Commercial sponsorship will only in rare cases be directed towards work that is new, difficult, and therefore 'risky'. If the philosophy of sponsorship is expressed as a 'payment by a business firm for the purpose of promoting its name, products or services' 19 it obviously follows that such a firm will seek out those performances which will most cost effectively fulfil that purpose. In nine out of ten instances, this will be a known best seller that will both succeed at the box office and at the same time delight the sponsor's guests and their spouses.
This leaves the business of funding the innovation, the risky bits, to the Arts Council alone, which in turn leaves them open to the criticism that too much money goes to 'difficult' or 'elite' art, and not enough to the 'people's choice'.
Without risk there can be no advancement, and without advancement, there will be no heritage for the future. The arts will cease to be socially and politically relevant, and they will cease to speak to us and for us.
True art will rarely be accountable in the market place. This does not mean that we cannot account for its value.
As RG Collingwood said: 'The work of art proper is neither seen nor heard.' 20 How can it therefore be quantified?
Its real work lies in allowing us to see the options which are open to us as human beings, regardless of the restrictions which our circumstances or upbringing would seem to enforce.
There are other things that can do this. I would not argue that personal growth is the unique preserve of the arts. Other experiences can bring about a broader vision of the choices available in our lives, and of the issues which are important in it. Religion is one such experience, but it must be the subject of a different lecture. Love is another, but love unfortunately requires reciprocation, which may not always be forthcoming. I do not think we can lobby for a Department of Dating.
So there is art, and specifically the increased knowledge of life, and the refinement of the feelings it inspires which an exploration of the arts can provide.
Can all this be put into practice? In our overcrowded and under funded schools can we strive for an education system that stresses human rationality and the development of the emotions through the arts? Tony Blair said in the wake of the Labour Party conference that 'without a first rate education we cannot have a first rate economy'. 21 He may be right. But I would say more specifically that without a first rate education we cannot have a first rate human being. It may mean more investment in the short term, but in the words of Don Foster, the Liberal Democrat spokesman: 'If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.'
We could start by re-evaluating our very concept of education, giving proper consideration to what the arts have to offer in its effective delivery.
At present, the teaching of my particular subject, dance, takes place within the Physical Education Curriculum. Its status as an artform is automatically negated, and the benefits of dance are reduced to good posture and the ability to differentiate between good toes and naughty toes. In Primary Education, the only stage at which dance is a compulsory component of the syllabus, the emphasis is almost entirely on the development of physical skills.
I am not against the physicality of dance providing a 'way in'. 'There has to be a hook, or the connection will not be made; the graft won't take'. 22 But the study of dance can provide more than a straight back and strong legs: For the artistic values inherent in dance to be of benefit, the pupil must move beyond mere physicality.
When the child reaches the age of fourteen, Physical Education in itself becomes optional. Even where it is selected, dance has a one in four chance of being a key element in the course. It is only at this stage that the programme of study at last makes reference to the 'communication of the artistic intention'. 23
The likelihood of the child taking dance as far as this, which is of course totally dependant upon dance being a subject which the school offers, seems rather slim. The likelihood of that child becoming a member of the audience for dance in later years seems even slimmer.
The report commissioned by the RSA on the effects of the National Curriculum on the teaching of the arts in our schools 24 finds a 'growing disparity in the ability of schools to meet its minimum requirements'. It reminds us that the minimum entitlement should be a starting point rather than a target in itself, and warns that even the guaranteed level of provision is now out of reach for a sizeable number of pupils.
In the first lecture of this series Virginia Bottomley told us that 'creative and cultural education is vital for raising the rounded citizens of tomorrow'. If the National Curriculum is not delivering that education, just where do we expect it to come from? What sort of citizens can we expect?
It doesn't have to be this way. Earlier this year at the end of a long day of rehearsals, when all I wanted to do was go home and put my aching feet up, I dutifully fulfilled a long standing commitment to visit a school in Tower Hamlets. However much I resent my deeply ingrained sense of duty, there are many occasions when I have reason to be very grateful that it is still there. What I saw that evening was the embodiment of everything I have said tonight. I came away humbled by the experience.
Mulberry School is an inner city girl's school tucked into a site behind the Commercial Road. For those of you who aren't familiar with Tower Hamlets, I will simply say it is not Mayfair. A recent batch of graduates arrived at the school with only eight out of two hundred and ten pupils in the top band of reading ability. They left, however, with the highest number of GCSE passes in the borough.
The school is unusual in that it has prioritised the arts. Both the head teacher and the governing body ensure that there is a commitment of staff time and resources so that the arts are not an extra, but the entitlement of every child in the school. Pupils at Mulberry must study all the artforms, and at GCSE they follow either an Expressive Arts course or Physical Education with dance as a key element. The school has witnessed the benefits that this emphasis on the arts brings to other areas of the curriculum. Further afield, New Scientist has reported similar findings in studies in Switzerland and the United States.
In recent years the girls have enjoyed arts residencies with Emlyn Claid, Ricochet Dance Company, Theatre de Complicite, Lindsay Butcher, The National Theatre and The Royal Ballet. Not a bad CV for a 16 year old. I have worked with only one of that roster. They have developed and performed a version of Romeo and Juliet, the culmination of a project with The Royal Ballet - that so-called 'bastion of elitism' took the District Line beyond Sloane Square. Shobhana Jeyasingh was commissioned to choreograph 'Answers from the Ocean' for a performance in Wapping Hydraulic Power Station. With The National Theatre and Lindsay Butcher they incorporated aerial circus skills into a production of The Tempest. I almost forgot to mention its commissioned score. The school maintains strong links between all its departments, and each of the projects combines elements of design, music, dance and drama.
The school sees the arts as a 'vital opportunity to experience the world through other people's eyes, and through other people's vision reach an understanding of that world'. 25 This belief underpins and visibly illuminates everything they do.
I left the school with the words of Shakespeare ringing in my head:
'O, brave new world that has such people in't.' 26
I also found the answer for the gentleman from Leeds in the words of a girl from that school in Tower Hamlets. She told us:
"When we heard that we would be hanging down from trapezes and flying on ropes, we thought 'no, this can't be done, it's just impossible', and when we got to do it, it was just so easy. We thought 'if we could do that, why can't we do anything in life?' It just really proves that to us."
How I wish you could have heard her say those words:
If we could do that, why can't we do anything in life?
- The Philosophy of Cultural Subsidy, Lord Gowrie, Chairman of the Arts Council of England. RSA, 9th January 1995
- Alexander Bland, A History of Ballet and Dance
- Facts about the Arts 96, Arts Council Publication
- Central Statistical Office News Release, 5th October 1994
- The Overseas Visitor Survey (1994), British Tourist Authority Data
- O'Brien J and Feist A (1995), Employment in the Arts and Cultural Industries - An Analysis of the 1991 Census: Arts Council Of England
- Feist A and Hutchinson R (1990), Cultural Trends 1990: 5, London: Policy Studies Institute
- Society of London Theatre/City University Data for 95/96
- In Defence of Genius, Sir Ernest Hall. RSA, 8th February 1996
- Best, D N (1985) Primary and secondary qualities: waiting for an educational Godot, Oxford Review of Education
- Forster, E M, Where Angels fear to Tread
- Best, D N (1974) Expression in Movement and the Arts (London: Lepus Books)
- Brinson, Dr Peter, The Role of Classical Ballet in Society Today, RSA, 16th January 1989
- McFee, G (1994) The Concept of Dance in Education
- Brinson, Dr Peter, The Conscience of Dance, RSA 11th March 1992
- Dance in Action Project Evaluation, Janet Archer, Director, Dance City. January 1996
- Holy Body Tattoo, Vancouver, Canada
- Brinson, Dr Peter (1991) Dance as Education: Towards a National Dance Culture (Basingstoke: Falmer Press)
- Office of Arts and Libraries leaflet of the 1980s, quoted by Richard Hoggart in The Way We Live Now (1995)
- Collingwood, R G (1938) The Principles of Art (Oxford: Clarendon Press)
- Today Programme, Radio 4
- A line of Richard Hoggart’s, used in a different context.
- Physical Education in the National Curriculum (London: HMSO)
- Guaranteeing an Entitlement to the Arts in Schools, RSA in association with the Arts Council of England and the Gulbenkian Foundation
- Arts Residency Work at Mulberry School, a video directed by Richard Coldman
- Shakespeare, W, The Tempest