Harriet Harman

Member of Parliament for Camberwell and Peckham. Mother of the House of Commons.

Speech on Young People and the Arts at the Roundhouse - 09/06/20

Harriet Harman MP, Labour’s Deputy Leader and Shadow Culture, Media and Sport Secretary, today, at the Roundhouse in London, made a speech on Young People and the Arts:

9 June 2014

[check on delivery]


I would like to start with a huge thank you to Marcus and Nicola and your team here at the Roundhouse for hosting this event.

You're blazing a trail on the question we are discussing today - which is the fundamental question of how we ensure all young people are engaged with arts and culture.  I've seen for myself here today the pioneering work you do with young people so there's no better place to be having this discussion than in this iconic venue.

And I’d like to thank all of you for the many discussions we've had together and for taking the time to be here today.

It’s very easy in difficult times just to feel on the defensive, but we should do the opposite.  This is exactly the time to think big.

I think we're all determined that, despite the challenges which are everywhere, it is possible to make a huge leap forward on public policy on the arts.

And that is why today I'm publishing a consultation document which sets out a series of questions about arts policy and young people which I hope you'll give answers to and which will pave the way for a big and bold arts commitment in our manifesto.

Why arts and culture matter

I come to this as someone who believes that the arts are fundamental to what it is to be human.  For how each individual develops and understands and sees themselves and the world around them.  For how we understand and interpret time and place.

And that is why it must be for everyone, not just for some. And that's why it is a public policy imperative to make that the case.

There has been a view that public policy on arts, culture and creativity should focus principally on the contribution it makes to the economy. And that is certainly important. 

But it’s about far more than just the economics...

It’s about what it means for each and every individual, for all our communities as well as the economy.

Arts are important for individuals

I think we should talk about rights here.  It is every child’s right to open up and explore their artistic and creative potential which should be a journey which goes on for the rest of their life.

It gives them the opportunity to learn to enjoy, understand and make a rich contribution to every aspect of their lives – social, political, economic, psychological.

A sense of where they’ve come from historically, a sense of where they’re going; and how they may want to change that and take control of their lives.

It helps them in every way to become that unique person that they, and they alone, have the potential to be.

So, that being the case,  how, then, can we accept a situation where some get that opportunity and others do not? How can we tolerate cultural exclusion?

Creative and cultural learning supports attainment in all subjects including in literacy and maths.

And research shows that taking part in arts activities at school can make up for early disadvantage in terms of:

• likelihood to progress to further education;
• employment outcomes; and more general benefits, like
• participating in society through volunteering and voting.

Having an appreciation of, and an engagement with, the arts gives a young person what many of you have described to me as cultural capital - which is important in and of itself, but also contributes to social mobility.

Research demonstrates that taking part in arts activities develops social skills like confidence and communication, giving young people wider social networks in school and in their wider community.

Some children will find they have a unique talent and want to pursue a career in the arts or creative industries.  That's not just the right of each individual, it’s important for the talent pool for our artists and creators of the future.

Arts are important for communities

Young people’s engagement in arts is vital in for their sense of community and place.  The leaders of our great cities - like Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, Gateshead - are in no doubt about the importance of the arts to civic identity.  And that is why they are so determined to sustain the arts in their cities.  Albert Bore, the Leader of Birmingham City Council, once said that without the arts, our cities are deserts. 

And, beyond the individual, the whole community benefits when the arts are a path to rescuing a young person who has gone off the rails or when the arts play their part in helping people struggling with mental illness.  Arts and culture refresh the parts that others can’t reach - that's why it is so incomprehensible to ban books being sent to prison.

Arts are important for the economy

At a time when people ask where the jobs of the future are going to come from, and how we're going to pay our way in the world, we should be in no doubt about the importance of arts and the creative industries for jobs, growth and the economy.

This country excels in the arts and culture in all their forms.  We produce some of the greatest creativity on the plant – whether it’s music, fashion, film, theatre, broadcast, design, art, our libraries, our museums.  Our cultural creativity is admired and envied – and consumed – around the world.

That's why the creative economy already accounts for over 2.5 million jobs and contributed over £70billion a year to the UK’s economy and £15.5 billion of exports.  Creative industries are growing faster than any other sector.

This artistic and creative success which is so evident today did not come out of the blue - it is built on years of public support and investment.

Investment which nurtured the creative talent of people from all walks of life, in all parts of this country because arts and culture thrives on the widest pool of talent. 

For our economic success in this sector to continue to grow in the future, it needs a widening not a narrowing talent pool. 

Why focus on young people?

So it is alarming that, when we know it’s the right of every child to art and culture; when we know how important it is to the community and when we know we need the widest talent pool for our creative economy - that we are going in the wrong direction.

That is what underlies your concern that because of what the government is doing, the arts are in danger of becoming:

•More remote from children from working class backgrounds;
•More remote from young people in our disadvantaged communities;
•More remote from young people in our regions; and
•More the prerogative of a metropolitan elite.

The government has cut the Arts Council.  Local councils have been cut to the bone and the hardest hit are the councils in the most deprived areas.  That's particularly damaging for arts and culture in our regions. 

And they have downgraded the role of arts and culture in our education system and we are already seeing the results of that.

A decline in arts in school

The indisputable fact is that since this Government came to power there's been a marked reduction in the participation of children in the arts - look at what the Government's own report "Taking Part" says is what's happening in schools.

For primary school children, participation in arts activities is down by a third:
o music down from 55% to 36%;
o theatre and drama down from 49% to 33%;
o dance down from 45% to 29%; and
o visits to a heritage sites have declined

In a third of all museums[1], visits from school children have decreased.
And, the whole government narrative around the Ebacc, which the arts community fought so valiantly against, sent a damaging signal to downgrade the arts in education.

So now the number of children sitting arts GCSE’s is declining.  Since the election...
o music down 9%
o drama down 13%.
o film excluded from the curriculum altogether.

They've cut teacher training places in arts education by 35%, and the numbers of specialist arts teachers has fallen.

This makes no sense in terms of the arts and our creative industries but it makes no sense in wider educational terms either.

We reject the binary choice between science and arts.

We need our young people to grow up to be problem solvers – to be creative and analytical – to become innovative and inquiring in their chosen profession. 

The STEAM subjects – science, technology, engineering, arts and maths – in combination are more than the sum of their parts. 

Music improves spatial reasoning and has long been associated with better maths. 

Arts and engineering excellence have been linked back as far as Leonardo di Vinci.

There must be no sense that arts and creative subjects in education are somehow a “soft touch”.  Nicola Benedetti rightly highlights the discipline, focus and application that music demands.  And try telling Deborah Bull or Arlene Phillips that dance is a soft option.

Artistic endeavour demands all that and great courage – exactly the things that young people need for their future in a demanding and changing world.

What we would aim to do in education 

That is why I am determined that, in our manifesto, we will give arts their proper place in education - a point that you have emphasised so clearly and so publicly. 

In discussion with you, we want to shape a clear commitment for a Labour government to a universal cultural entitlement for every child.

That would mean two things - experiencing excellence and participation. 
You'll see in the questions we ask - should this mean a guarantee that every child visits a theatre, concert, gallery every year? Should every child be guaranteed to take part in music, drama, dance and painting?

What we need you to help us with is to craft something which is not overly bureaucratic but which does demonstrably deliver.

Which gives the certainty that it is really getting to every child, without it being top-down, one-size fits all.

One of the things which is clear is that arts provision in schools is not even a post-code lottery, it is so patchy that it varies even from school to school. 

Some schools include arts in their curriculum and take up opportunities to visit local arts institutions and others just don't.

It so much depends on the commitment of the head or a particular teacher. One of the key questions in our consultation is what role Ofsted should play in ensuring high standards in creative learning activity in every school.  Should a school be able to be rated as outstanding if it doesn't provide an outstanding cultural education?

We've already made a commitment that if we get into government we will offer after-school clubs through every primary school. I want to hear from you how we can mainstream arts and culture into this expanded after-school sector.

Education is so important because it’s the only chance for all those children who don't get culture at home. This doesn't mean that families who don't have culture at home do not value it – given half the chance, they do. 

When I was invited by David Lan to see the excellent student production of a Samuel Becket play at the Young Vic, I chatted to the woman sitting in front of me. It turns out she lives in my constituency and works as a cleaner. 
She was bursting with pride seeing her daughter shine on stage

The Young Vic programme that had given her daughter that opportunity, had unleashed her inner tiger mum.

So don't let anyone think that the aspiration for your children is confined only to pushy, middle class parents. 

Our approach to arts subsidy

Labour strongly believes there's a public policy imperative for the government to support the arts. 

I am very clear that, for all the reasons I've set out, we must have state support through public funds for the arts. It cannot be left to the private market or philanthropy. 

But there is a democratic imperative for the arts to show why the hard-pressed tax payer - struggling with the cost of living crisis -  should fund the arts.

Public funding is only sustainable to the extent that the public who are paying for it support it. So the public have got to see:

• What is public funds are being put into it and
• What they are getting out of it.

Unless people know the vital role of public funding in the arts they enjoy, they won't defend it. 

In any programme, on any plaque in a theatre/gallery or arts venue you can see the names of companies that have donated or generous philanthropists. 

But the biggest donor - the tax payer is virtually invisible. Just a micro dot of the arts council logo is not enough. I think every programme or plaque should have a pie chart showing the public support.  Just like private donors can't be taken for granted - nor can the public donor.

So they've got to see what goes in.  But they've also got to see what comes out of it

That is particularly the case when there is, and will continue to be, a squeeze on public finances.

Whilst in better times, it might have been possible to fund the arts without consciously engaging public support, that just isn't the case now. 

When the NHS is struggling, and councils face agonising choices about cutting care for dementia sufferers - public funding for the arts is only sustainable to the extent that the public know it matters for them. 

And the public will not support the arts, especially at such difficult times, for family and public finances, if there's even a suspicion that its disproportionately something for the elite, for a privileged few.

We all have to turn and address this big issue. 

If you are getting public money, people have to have a stake in what you do. 
So we have to have a genuine and visible widening of access and inclusion.  For example I know the Royal Opera House does great work in Thurrock which I visited recently. 

But when I went to the Opera House last week - even from the cheapest seats in the house - I couldn't see in the audience anyone who wasn't like myself - white, metropolitan and middle class.

For institutions which get public funds, it can't be like that. To change audiences, there has to be committed, focused intervention. 

And you can see when that's done. 

At a St Lukes concert I was at by Aurora last month, there was a group of young people who were clearly not the usual suspects.  They clearly didn't know to wait until the end and enthusiastically clapped after the first movement. I was delighted when they did that - it showed that they were there for the very first time and, more importantly, that they loved it. And they were made to feel welcome.

You will see the challenge we pose on this in our consultation document - should we make the role of the Arts Council much clearer and more specific on this than it is now and should it demand much greater accountability?

Should it be a clear condition, fully spelt out, for organisations getting public money through the Arts Council, that they demonstrate how they will extend opportunities to young people and publish progress on how they are doing this year on year?

And arts institutions have, even if they are national, a particular responsibility to the children and young people in their own area.

It massively strengthens the case for public subsidy when an institution - like the Turner Contemporary - can say what percentage of primary school children in Thanet and Margate have been through their doors, and be committed to increase it year on year. It’s almost worse to have Turner Contemporary in your area if it’s for other people, not for you.

That goes for higher education institutions too.  Camberwell School of Art is a wonderful national school.  But its in the deprived community of Camberwell.  I don't want any child to have gone to Oliver Goldsmiths primary school - in the same block as the Arts school - but never have been up those steps.  A start is being made by the college, the local council, local schools and Peckham Platform.  But we've a got way further to go.

I know a lot of good work goes on you are passionate champions of. But, it's not nearly enough and most people don't know anything about it.

Universality doesn’t mean dumbing down

There's always the argument that universality means dumbing down.
I challenge that vigorously - it is a false dichotomy to say you must choose between universality and excellence.

I don't believe that none of the children in Oliver Goldsmiths, Harris Academy or St Thomas The Apostle are interested enough or talented enough in painting, graphics, photography, sculpture or fashion to go to Camberwell.

It was universality in dance in Cuba that gave us Carlos Acosta.

It was universality in Venezuela's El Sistema that put the bassist Edicson Ruiz into the Berlin Philharmonic.

The danger is that, at the moment, there is a growing number of young people with no meaningful exposure to arts and culture. 

And nor must we let the best be the enemy of the good. The good is a stepping stone to the best.

It wasn't elitism that gave birth to the creative excellence of Tracey Emin, Danny Boyle or Steve McQueen.

We shouldn't protect the arts from the people - we need to allow people into the arts.

The BBC Proms is funded by the public through the license-fee payer.  I love to experience their excellence in the Albert Hall - and people come from all around the country but I don't see people from my own constituency there.

The BBC is a huge and important arts organisation and I'm delighted that they are bringing this all together with BBC Arts.

But we pose the question in our consultation - should the BBC ensure that in all aspects of their work they have a targeted, specific and visible focus on inclusion of young people across the regions - including through audiences, internships, and engagement with schools.

Across the whole country – local councils

It is very important when thinking about a universal entitlement for young people, that we look at the particular, and very different, challenges that there are outside London, across the regions.

The reality is that - especially outside London – support and funding for arts and culture depends on local councils.

Because of their importance to local arts I've pulled together a network of the councillors who have the lead responsibility in their council for culture and the arts. 

Our Creative Councillors’ Network brings together best practice on supporting arts not just on direct funding but also through things like planning and licensing permissions, using public spaces for the arts, sharing council back office functions with small arts organisations and using empty shops for the arts. 

Many have taken a lead working with arts organisations in their local area and drawn up a specific arts and culture strategy. 

One of the questions we pose in our consultation is whether all local authorities should have the responsibility to take the lead on developing a local arts and culture strategy with a particular focus on the inclusion of young people.

Our record and ambitions for the future

In laying the ground for the future, it is helpful to glance back to learn what we can from the past.

We're fiercely proud of what we did in government:

• Free entrance to museums and galleries, meaning a third more visits by the under-16s;
• Creativity in education, and Creative Partnerships;
• Trebling the Arts Council’s budget, and supporting the arts through local government funding and regeneration projects; and
• The Cultural Olympiad.

But there were some things that we did not do:

• We did not embed and entrench the sense that every young person has a right to the arts and this is a universal entitlement - irrespective of a child’s family background or where they live.
• We didn’t very publicly make, and win, the case for public subsidy for the arts underpinning this.
• We should have done more to banish the notion that the arts is seen by the public mostly for the privileged few.

Notwithstanding the fact that if elected, we would inherit difficult financial circumstances - that is what we should do now.

Britain is blessed with:

• Brilliant creative talent;
• Dynamic artistic cities;
• Vibrant festivals; and
• One of the world’s most iconic cultural institutions - the BBC.

But what we don't have from the current government is ….
• Substantial, strategic, visionary leadership; and
• An arts policy fit for the 21st century which ensures art and culture for all.

Ed Miliband and I are very clear that we want, at the heart of our 2015 manifesto, a bold offer for young people and the arts.

That would be my mission as Culture Secretary and I know that working together with all of you, we could make that happen.

Thank you for being here today.


Editor’s notes:

1. Cuts Survey, Gina Evan, Museums Association, 2013


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