With the world on hold, has the music stopped for the arts too?
By Danielle Batt: Arts Columnist
I do not want art for a few, any more than I want education for a few or freedom for a few,’ but with COVID-19 endangering both the arts and arts education, the vision of William Morris is looking increasingly unachievable.
With an estimated £300bn public money being spent on the virus this year alone, and with theatres closing for the foreseeable future, it is inevitable that funding for accessible arts projects will be cut significantly. Similarly, with students missing nearly 3 months of face-to-face teaching, and with schools under pressure to produce strong public examination results, there is discussion about a reduction of the school curriculum to enable students to catch up. This could involve cutting the arts completely and, whilst it may only be a temporary measure, limited access will undoubtedly influence the subjects that this cohort of students choose to study from the age of 14. Art education will therefore only be available to those who are able to pay privately: exacerbating the rights of the privileged.
An arts education is imperative in accessing and appreciating a source of great pleasure and beauty: something that society has depended on during lockdown through film, television, music and literature. The arts explore what it means to be human, reminding us of our commonalities and our shared experiences. They allow us to express ideas that cannot be articulated and are intrinsic to cultural identity. Whether it be music, architecture, paintings or plays, art offers us a window into the lives of others and encourages us to consider historical events from different perspectives. By including them in the curriculum we are communicating their importance and reinforcing the notion that they are worth protecting.
Highlighted by Elliot Eisner of Stanford University, the arts play an integral role in developing students’ approach to problem-solving; they encourage good judgment and demonstrate that there is often more than solution to a problem. They require an element of surrender to the process rather than offering a clear trajectory: necessitating an acceptance that the product will evolve and develop as the unanticipated possibilities of work unfold. The arts teach students innovation, creativity and the ability to ‘think outside the box’: something that technology is unable to provide.
Furthermore, in regard to performing arts, ‘soft skills,’: collaboration; communication; public speaking; leadership and adaptability, are developed and nurtured. Perhaps most importantly, art provokes us to view situations from different perspectives. They communicate social, political and economic issues and they evoke empathy, thought and curiosity. Forum Theatre, coined by Augusto Boal, is often included as part of the KS4 curriculum and involves the audience actively taking on the role of the least empowered characters and experimenting to find a solution to the challenges they are facing. Art influences the way in which we perceive and interact with the world and is imperative for creating open-minded and critical citizens of the future.
As a society we have a responsibility to ensure that all young people, whatever their socio-economic status, have access to a well-rounded education that prepares them to thrive in adulthood. The arts are fundamental in equipping students with these skills and providing access to them is worth fighting for.