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Speakers' Notes

Paul Roberts

Chris O'Connell

Paul Roberts

"My interest in the Warwick Commission is encapsulated in the imperative to develop creative confidence in every child. Embedded, high quality cultural/creative experiences change young lives, change schools and change expectations of young people held by teachers and parents

I suggest 3 challenges forthis group in taking forward the Warwick Commission into a local response:

• The Gap
- 70% of children of parents with the lowest academic qualifications have less than 3 hours per week of cultural experience
- 80% of children of parents with degrees have more than 3 hours per week
- 8% of the population accounts for 44% of attendance at live music
- 91% of the creative/cultural workforce have had to work for free
This is morally and economically unacceptable. The discourse is wrong – the concentration should be on unlocking demand from the unengaged rather than increasing supply to the already engaged.

• Curriculum
- There has been a 50% drop in GCSE Design/Technology
- 23% drop in Drama
- 46% drop in Craft-related courses in HE
Again the discourse is wrong – literacy and numeracy are essential but the PISA pursuit is flawed. There is an inverse proportionality between PISA results and student enjoyment and also national measures of entrepreneurship.

• Levers of intervention
Create interventions in the education system to champion culture/creativity – many levers of intervention have been lost in recent years in dogmatic pursuit of autonomy and devolution. Too much is left now to chance in the hands of individual headteachers.
- Vision/framework needed in England as exists in Wales and Scotland
- Ofsted: No school should be deemed outstanding without a quality and embedded cultural/creative curriculum
- Pupil premium to support cultural/creative education
- The development of Cultural Education Partnerships
- Arts Council-funded National Portfolio Organisations have committed, under their funding agreements, to make high quality provision for children and young people – we must hold them to account for their delivery against that commitment.

So three challenges…..1. The Gap…….2. The curriculum……..3. Levers of intervention."

Chris O'Connell

"The report is a stimulating read, thank you. I want to focus on Goal 2’s and 5, areas of engagement, diversity and participation, and identity.

Our response is about how we as practitioners with over 20 years experience on the small scale touring circuit, stopped and looked at what we were doing and how we could pro-actively address our awareness of that '…narrow social, economic, ethnic and educated demographic that is not fully representative of the UK’s population.'
So we founded the Shop Front Theatre in 2009, in an empty fish and chip shop in Coventry city centre. It’s a 40 seater flexible space, and was created as an embedded long-term alternative to accessing arts and culture in the community, and we have just had a three-year extension to our lease.

Think here of identity as outlined in Goal 5 of the report, and of place making, encouraging local citizens - to paraphrase the report - to see themselves as co-commissioners of their city’s culture, that the shop is a place that brings communities together, and reflects their expressions of identity. This applies to participants and artists alike. Since 2009, we have engaged with over 10,000 people, in what would have been an empty space, through experiencing our own professional theatre programme, and other arts events.

The shop was inspired by a visit to Chicago and spending time with theatre artists who have pioneered a series of ‘store’ front theatres embedded into the fabric of their city. They are identified by their local council as making a valued contribution to their city’s culture and coffers. We are working similarly in Coventry, contributing to the micro economy too. We are well supported by the city council with a rent-free lease, and the ongoing conversation is to convince them, and other public funders, as well as to create meaningful dialogue with potential private investors, about what we have discovered about the importance of personalisation in culture - that investing in people and projects, rather than master plan rebuilds, is fundamental to expressions of identity, creativity and culture. I believe that the ways in which people are choosing to access education, or retail or culture is not as it was. As communities and agencies look for belonging and increasingly seek to have a voice, the long established educational or cultural certainties of universities or museums, or theatre buildings as places of recourse have, and continue, to shift.

Working from our street corner site opposite Argos, next door to an off-licence, as well as making our own work, through the arts, using the arts, we have found new audiences and participants and initiated a dynamic volunteer programme. We respond to the amateur, educational and retired sector, and work with agencies ranging from history societies, schools, professional theatre touring companies, emerging playwrights, faith groups, the probation service, pupil referral units, the Citizens Advice Bureau, 50 plus writing and theatre initiatives, and more.

We are not complacent about demographic or diversity, and we agree with the assertion in Goal 2 that low engagement in the arts is, to quote: 'more the effect of a mismatch between the public’s taste and the publicly funded offer, posing a challenge of relevance as well as accessibility.' So I am not claiming the Shop Front Theatre is in anyway a panacea, but I am conscious from having conversations with people who knock on the door of the shop and ask what it is we do in here and can I come in for a look, and through my own recent research, that there is an age-old perception problem still raging away here. What is defined or presented as the arts or culture in many cases has no relevance or right of entry to too many people’s lives.

Shahnaz Akther, an emerging local writer who attended a workshop at the Shop Front Theatre, said to me: 'There is a perception of theatre, which is personified by a conversation I had with my brother, when we first discussed the idea of going [to the Shop Front Theatre]. 'Will I have to dress up to go?'...he asked.' It sounds trivial, but I think Shahnaz wanted me to understand that for her, or her brother and friends, the traditional theatre spaces donʼt offer a consistent window into a world with which they can identify with and want to explore. 'For me' Shahnaz said, 'that is the key word, identify.'

The report notes in Goal 2, 'the challenge we face is how to effectively ensure that all enjoy the opportunity to develop their particular cultural preference and experience genuine access to the means to produce…'.

The Art’s Council own research via its public value programme has told us that people want to play more of a role in decision making in the arts. The Creative People and Places fund is a step towards that, but what of this report’s recommendation that there be a strategic shift in funding and policy infrastructure? Ok, so how about something that supports the evolution of localised alternative re-found, re-imagined, non-institutionalised spaces like the Shop Front Theatre, like Ego Performance, who work out of an old paper distributors, like ArtsSpace, who occupy an old sweet shop in City Arcade? A new strategy that perhaps has the tools to invigorate the public sphere, to empower people towards culturally democratic, diverse and open expressions of their creativity, hitherto clearly so poorly pursued, or realised, by so many people under the auspices of existing models.

What are the challenges that face us? There are many, but primarily, like many grassroots innovations that are uniquely placed to meet some of the challenges of this report, we are overlooked by an existing policy infrastructure.

We can only do so much given our current resources and capacity. We do believe however as the report indicates in Goal 2, that ours and similar spaces and places can be pivotal in the facilitating of more relevant everyday cultural activities and opportunities, and in the nurturing of community identity."