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Work / Opinion

Arts cuts are bad for our health – what are we going to do about it?

Jodie Cariss works as part of Forever Curious, a creative initiative set up to work with local east London primary schools. One of the many things they offer is a series of “buddy up” sessions, where industry professionals share stories with a view to make them come to life. Below, Cariss writes how increasingly important it is that these initiatives exist in a climate where cuts are rife and asks: What next for a generation let down by state funding for the arts?

The world feels messy. Politically unstable. A growing sense of slowly mounting chaos and fear over the unknown. One of the UK’s worst-hit areas is the education system. Teachers are leaving in droves. The National Audit Office has tasked mainstream schools with making £3 billion in savings by 2019 – that’s around £800 per pupil. Nearly a quarter of the teachers who qualified since 2011 have already quit the job.

Inevitably, money for creativity and the arts within the curriculum has been fiercely reduced, in some areas to non-existence. Our schools are facing a scarcity of teachers – or at least, many with depleted energy after meeting growing demands – and art cupboards with just one ream of A4 paper for 900 students. I’ve seen it with my own eyes in a Hackney school.

So what happens to a generation of young people, particularly the 4.1 million who are classed as underprivileged, with limited opportunities at home, and fewer at school?

There will be a rise in adolescents with behavioural issues, leading to a less mentally-well adult generation. We know creativity has a direct correlation to the way we feel and how we express emotion, and poor mental health is already on the rise, with one in four people experiencing a problem each year.

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Without sounding like the doctor of doom, the education crisis will pave the way for social and creative regression. Why? Because creativity is fundamental to the way we understand the world, form and keep relationships and develop our own sense of self. The ability to create, which begins in early development as play and forms the foundation of the way we find meaning in later life, is essential for a balanced and stimulated generation.

Creative industries are already struggling with workplace creativity. A few years ago, Adobe carried out an extensive report (The Creativity Gap) and found that only one in four people feel that they are living up to their creative potential and people spend only 25% of their time at work creating.

I used this research as a catalyst to develop Forever Curious with Wieden+Kennedy London. The creative platform is designed to foster creativity in nine to 11 year-olds from local east London primary schools.

Tony Davidson, executive creative director at W+K London, summed up the situation well when he said: “Without creativity we are dead. Creativity disrupts, questions, challenges and drives us forwards. Watching people find and realise their creative potential is a wonderful thing. We need more mavericks, more people who go with their guts, and to put creativity back at the heart of education.”

Forever Curious is a three-year programme which develops confidence, celebrates creativity and promotes human connection. It marries schools and the creative industry in an authentic and meaningful way. In the past five years, I’ve teamed up with account director James McHoull to work with 500 kids and 400 W+K employees, specifically targeting young people from lower income families and those with fewer opportunities. We’ve also recently launched the programme in Portland.

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Every child works with a buddy from the agency, who is equally engaged in the creative process. Each phase has a school assembly, a workshop day full of creative activities and exciting experiences and the work is curated and celebrated in a public exhibition. The process shows everyone involved that they matter and what they produce is valuable.

It’s a critical time for the education system, so it’s imperative that external expertise, energy, resources and industry talent are used to support, develop and inspire the next generation.

The creative industries need to use the resources they have in a tangible way to increase the confidence in and awareness of the sector and drive aspiration for the next generation. If this stuff doesn’t happen on a wider basis our children and their children are heading into a pretty dark time creatively. Get your company to light a light which can be seen and felt.

Jodie Cariss is a Therapist and founder of CarissCreative and Self Space.