Last week I was invited to speak at the Houses of Parliament by Deborah Bull. Deborah is an amazing lady is the Director of Culture At Kings - a sort of think tank designed to better connect the arts sector with higher education & government.
Deborah had invited me following a speech I did at Harriet Harman's Young People in the Arts launch where I highlighted that engagement in the arts has allowed me to be the best person I could be. This message really seemed to resonate beyond the event (which I'm delighted about).
This time, I decided to highlight the importance of an early intervention by talking about my relationship with the arts from an early age. Full transcript below.
All in all it was an extremely positive event - I just hope that policy makers do take this document and it's recommendations into account. Something that really resonated with me was said by Pauline Tambling: that as a sector, we're obsessed by the 'new' and by 'projects' - in order for us to really crack this, we need to think much more long term, and learn from the past.
That's what we're hoping to do as part of What? Next Generation: and I hope that our voice will continue to be heard in these conversations.
I'd like to thank Deborah and everyone at KCL for inviting me to speak with you here today.
I hope that what I can offer you is an insight into what an amazing impact arts & culture can have on just one of many children and young people around the UK, and just how important an early intervention is in allowing young people to thrive and become respectful, caring and responsible members of society.
So my name is Dana, I'm 24 years old, I'm an artist, I'm an audience member, I'm an employee, I'm a student, and I'm a voter.
What ties all these elements of my identity together is my admiration of, appreciation of, and fascination with, the arts.
My earliest memory of engaging with culture in some way relates to a time when I couldn't sleep. As a child, whenever thoughts were running through my head, whenever I was feeling confused, or sad, or excited and I couldn't sleep - I would go up to my father and he would take me into his arms, put on some heavy metal, and rock me to sleep in both the literal and musical sense. Heavy metal music, often perceived to be angsty, instigating violence or even satanic, to me brings up feelings and memories of comfort, care and love.
I remember being 14 and filling in the form deciding which GCSE's I wanted to take. Having taken part in extra curricular drama activities at the school since the age of 12, I knew I wanted to take drama. I didn't know why, but I knew I enjoyed it, and I knew that performing on the stage gave me a sense of confidence and understanding - although there was no way I could articulate that at that time. I remember being "advised" that I couldn't do it - that because I was good at Maths, I should take Business Studies and Double Science, so drama didn't fit in to the timetable.
I remember being 16 and moving to a different school, and when picking my A Levels - Maths, Business Studies and Economics - deciding that if I didn't take Drama as an AS, I probably wouldn't be very happy, so my drama teacher than made that happen by shifting the timetable.
I remember being 17 and being in a warehouse in East London. My drama teacher had booked us tickets to see Punchdrunk's Faust. I remember experiencing that show and finding myself, finding my purpose - thinking "I want to make things like this happen. That's what I wanted to do with my life.
If it hadn't of been for my drama teacher, I wouldn't have studied it for A Level and got the good grade that I did. If I didn't study it at A Level, wouldn't have studied Drama at university which means I wouldn't have got the first class honours that I did. If I didn't go see plays that explore personal politics I wouldn't have got politically engaged and I wouldn't be voting in the next election. If I didn't study it at university I wouldn't have realised I could work in the arts. If I didn't have the opportunity to be a paid trainee at the Roundhouse I wouldn't be able to be in the job I am now. All of these experiences had a knock on effect on each other. All of these experiences didn't happen because of policy... but they could be - and that's where you all come in.
I am not alone in how I feel about the arts. I am part of What Next? Generation - a group of passionate young people who are hoping to secure the future of statutory funding for the arts. We wrote a manifesto about why we believe the arts & culture are important and a series of pledges/recommendations we would like to see our governments and arts organisations commit to. We worry about the world we face when we grow up - a lack of culture and creativity - and we want to do something about it. We want to see an end to unpaid internships, we want to see arts provision available to all pupils at all schools - not just those who can afford to have it - and we want to see young people on governing boards, being able to make decisions that have been traditionally been made by the people who aren't affected actually by those decisions. We know what we want and what we need, we just need the opportunity to be able to say it - much like I am lucky to have today.
But it shouldn't have to be about luck -
Seneca the philosopher once said that luck is when preparation meets opportunity. If you're not preparing young people for a creative career and cutting down on their opportunities to take part in arts activity or gain arts employment, the only thing you're "creating" is bad luck and an uninspired generation of apathetic future voters.
So in conclusion, read this paper. Learn from it, listen to young people and make policy changes that means that their knock on effects will make the engaged and thriving society this government aims to create.