Editorial – MUSIC:ED https://musiceducation.global The global community for music education Mon, 23 Nov 2020 17:01:07 +0000 en-GB hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.6 https://musiceducation.global/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/cropped-MUSICED-ident-f64c72-round-light-with-stroke-960x960-1-32x32.png Editorial – MUSIC:ED https://musiceducation.global 32 32 The arts sector should take the reins of recovery https://musiceducation.global/the-arts-sector-should-take-the-reins-of-recovery/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-arts-sector-should-take-the-reins-of-recovery Mon, 23 Nov 2020 17:01:07 +0000 https://musiceducation.global/?p=165812 Creative Coalition 2020 ideas canvas

Creative Coalition 2020 ideas canvasLord Neil Mendoza’s recent talk at the 2020 Creative Coalition Festival highlighted a problem that has dogged arts education for decades: how do you quantify its value?

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Creative Coalition 2020 ideas canvasCreative Coalition 2020 ideas canvas

Lord Neil Mendoza’s recent talk at the 2020 Creative Coalition Festival highlighted a problem that has dogged arts education for decades: how do you quantify its value?

Validation culture is a political construct designed to manipulate human nature. We all get a little dopamine buzz from receiving a ‘like’ on social media and we feel validated if there is evidence that our kids are at a ‘good’ school. Remember ‘Parental Choice’?

In truth, most parents don’t want to choose without reassurance; they want statistics to tell them what to choose. Similarly, many employers, especially those large enough to have a Human Resources department, rely on exam grades and degrees to validate their choice of recruit.

In the 1980s, league tables and box-ticking became an obsession

It has long been thus. Statistical evidence of ability, exam boards, unified matriculation etcetera was designed to level the playing field for young people unsupported by nepotism and privilege. Government after government pushed us further into boxes. But at some time in the 1980s, league tables and box-ticking became an obsession. Since then, governments of all colours have used manipulated statistics as ‘proof’ of their success at giving millions of young people a secure future. What were supposed to have been indicators of attainment have become the goals themselves. Kids don’t learn for learning’s sake. They learn to pass exams to get a good job.

This has become so endemic in education that it affects local property values and school funding. It costs teachers and head teachers their jobs and precipitates school closures. A raft of fiscal penalties and incentives for schools drives the wedge of social division deeper and makes the imperative to meet targets an existential threat for schools in areas of social deprivation.

Our addiction to certified evidence of success has skewed the national curriculum against subjects that statisticians find difficult to quantify. It contains huge traps for the creative community. How do we fit art and creativity into statistical achievement suited to our obsession with validation and our endemic lack of trust? Sure, Janet’s learning two musical instruments but what matters is her A* in a STEM subject. The statistical tail is wagging the educational dog.

The creative community needs to step up and find a way of explaining its value to the nation

Lord Mendoza, the Government’s Commissioner for Cultural Recovery and Renewal, seems to be on the creatives’ side. A wealthy publisher and philanthropist, he has a history of supporting the arts and great knowledge of it. At the Creative Coalition talk he said that the vagueness of perceived value in the creative community had influenced the government’s lacklustre support for artists and freelancers in the pandemic; the creative community needs to step up and find a way of explaining its value to the nation.

‘I’ve got a brilliant place where I can act as a champion both within DCMS (Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport), working very closely with the secretary of state and the ministers, and working with Number 10 and the Treasury,’ he said. ‘The help I need from the sector is to give me material data to encourage the government that we’re all doing a good thing.’

His recruitment seems to signify a step-change of attitude within some parts of government. Despite Chancellor Sunak’s stubborn refusal to recognise the plight of tens of thousands of creative freelancers and the painfully late roll-out of the Culture Recovery Fund, there are MPs and ministers in the DCMS that are pushing for change.

They can see the damage caused by Michael Gove’s tenure in the Department of Education from 2010 to 2014, which removed arts subjects from the points-scoring part of the International Baccalaureate. They are twitchy about the removal of bursaries from all arts subjects in teacher education.

Schools are speaking out, too. The National Arts Creative and Cultural Education Survey carried out in July showed schools seeing the arts as key to lifting communities out of the trauma of lockdown.

The survey was initiated by the Bridge England Network as a response to the pandemic. It sought to gather indicative information from schools about the potential needs and creative aspirations for their pupils from this term onwards.

Having all the A* passes imaginable is no substitute for being healthy and happy

Among what were considered the most pressing learning needs by the 529 respondents, mental health and wellbeing came top at nine out of 10 with over 46 percent giving it 10 out of 10. 45 percent of those respondents, comprising teachers, heads and other educators, said they would use the arts to ‘a great extent’ as an aid to recovery from the pandemic.

What this might indicate is the start of a positive push-back against the validation culture pervading education and towards pastoral care of young people; a recognition that having all the A* passes imaginable is no substitute for being healthy and happy.

This is encouraging, but it requires government financial support. Lord Mendoza’s concern is that Rishi Sunak will not open the coffers without proof of value. Sunak’s sidebar on launching his SEISS (Self-Employed Income Support Scheme) about freelancers getting away without paying full National Insurance hinted at contempt for those whose careers do not fit his tidy mind. And to be fair, as bean-counter-in-chief, he can see the economic earthquake coming and he needs to protect his back before splashing the cash. So, unsurprisingly, he wants his decisions validated.

Mendoza suggests something similar to that devised by the environmental lobby, which invented ‘Natural Capital’ as an indicator of the off-book economic benefits of being green, including national well-being, physical health and providing a legacy for future generations.

Value beyond the balance sheets

In his role at the DCMS, Lord Mendoza has adapted that to create Cultural Heritage Capital to show value beyond the balance sheets, the stuff anyone in the arts knows as inherent to life. He says it  ‘will transform the way the sector is able to argue to the Treasury, because we know within the sector just how much good we do, but we find it very hard to quantify.’ He believes that the creative industries and schools need to use this information as leverage against what the Treasury view that artists  are unviable people asking for handouts to play games.

The Creative Industries Federation launched the Creative Coalition as a way to change that perception. Everyone from corporations to politicians to institutions to individual artists is welcome to participate in creating a united front against the box-tickers. The 60 talks and workshops at the festival will soon be put online for members to view and comment upon and individuals can claim the first three months’ membership free at the moment.

The principle is simple. Creative people are the ideas people, so they should be ones coming up with suggestions for the future of the country.

Perhaps the creative sector, and especially the arts education sector, is being offered a golden opportunity to prove its worth

‘Keep putting the pressure on but put the pressure on in a positive way,’ says Lord Mendoza. ‘It’s like that cliché: stop asking for stuff but tell us what you can do to help.’

Perhaps he is right. The system is clearly not fair – but what child ever got what they wanted by saying so?

Perhaps the creative sector, and especially the arts education sector, is being offered a golden opportunity to prove its worth, to spearhead the recovery of a nation in mental and economic trauma, and perhaps, just for a change, those in power might have no choice but to stop counting beans, start counting their blessings and listen.

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MUSIC:ED asks: how can any civilised nation call music ‘unviable’? https://musiceducation.global/how-can-any-civilised-nation-call-music-unviable/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=how-can-any-civilised-nation-call-music-unviable Mon, 05 Oct 2020 22:15:58 +0000 https://musiceducation.global/?p=161098 Classical spectacular at the Royal Albert Hall

Classical spectacular at the Royal Albert Hall'Unviability' is Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s reasoning for not extending his Covid-19 support schemes to thousands of UK businesses. It has caused panic through many industries that we take for granted as part of British life, with the government implying that musicians should retrain for ‘better jobs’

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Classical spectacular at the Royal Albert HallClassical spectacular at the Royal Albert Hall

The watchword for the UK Government is ‘viable’ and we will be hearing it more and more in the coming weeks.

‘Unviability’ is Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s reasoning for not extending his Covid-19 support schemes to thousands of UK businesses. It has caused panic through many industries that we take for granted as part of British life.

24/09/2020 – the day the music died

Musicians’ Union (MU) and BECTU members were among those who carried out a silent protest in Parliament Square against Sunak’s measures last week. Placards said, ‘The Wolf Is At The Door’ and ‘24/09/2020 – the day the music died’. T-shirts dangling from makeshift gallows read, ‘Our entire industry hung out to dry’. One sign spelled it out, ‘400,000+ theatre workers, over 15.3 million audience members, over £14 billion in revenue – we are viable.’

This week, the events industry warned of 90,000 redundancies if companies don’t get help. The Musicians’ Union and UK Music have denounced the Northern Ireland ban on live performance and the MU has released figures suggesting a third of its members may have to give up music as a profession. Unions and industry bodies are united in begging the Chancellor to rethink.

The government is responding with a ‘tough love’ stance. It has started saying that businesses that can’t survive weren’t viable in the first place and that it is turning its support to retraining the workers who have lost their ‘unviable’ vocations.

Who decides what job is viable or not?

On the last day of September, in response to Ed Milliband MP’s question about the lack of support for the cultural and tourism sector in Rishi Sunak’s plans, The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Alok Sharma, effectively said that the cultural and tourism industries were unviable and that the government would pay to retrain them to get ‘better jobs’.

The problem is, who decides what job is viable or not and how do they come to that conclusion? How can any civilised nation call music ‘unviable’?

British music is a huge contributor to the Exchequer and a powerful global soft power influence. British music contributes far more than the fishing industry, to use a provocative example. Music earns more money, employs more people, has greater global influence and has a positive impact on the health and well-being of the nation (accepting, of course, that the fishing fleet would also do the latter if we ate more fish).

The government’s own policies have driven hundreds of thousands of people out of work and pushed thousands of businesses to the brink of collapse

Music is not a luxury. Whether a musician is a teacher, a therapist, a busker, orchestra member, band member, session player or superstar, one would be hard-pressed to think of them as disposable. Music is vital to mental health and wellbeing and musicians have a right to earn a living from their profession.

The twist in the government’s logic is that the only reason these businesses have become ‘unviable’ is because of the government’s Covid-19-related restrictions. The government’s own policies have driven hundreds of thousands of people out of work and pushed thousands of businesses to the brink of collapse.

What happens when the members of the LSO have retrained as plumbers?

However much one might agree that these measures were necessary to save lives, they are the reason musicians and music-related businesses have suffered, not through any self-inflicted ‘unviability’ or flawed business models.

And what happens when things head towards normality? What happens when the members of the LSO have retrained as plumbers and Mumford and Sons are picking fruit in the People’s Republic of Kent? What happens when music therapists have replaced foreign care workers and music teachers are bricklaying for Persimmon? What happens when the pub musicians of Northern Ireland have become customs officials?

The record industry has fared well through this. It makes money from streaming and everyone is streaming more than ever before. Tens of thousands of new singles are released digitally every week and although each makes pennies for the artist, the owners and shareholders of the platforms are coining it.

Talent, skill and passion make all our lives worth living

Some of them are putting a bit back into the pot, recognising that their talent source is under threat. But they cannot help the thousands of freelance musicians who have been denied access to the Self Employment Income Support Scheme, skilled artists who can teach, perform, compose and run their own businesses. They can do nothing for the technicians and support industries who have built viable careers and viable businesses on the back of British music. They cannot keep the venues open that their star signings will need to promote themselves.

The only way to keep this invaluable national resource intact and ready is for the government to wake up and recognise how important music will be to our recovery and support the thousands of people who may never become famous, but whose talent, skill and passion make all our lives worth living.

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