How the Creative Arts positively affects all our lives - Dr Rosemary… Jump to main content

How the Creative Arts positively affects all our lives - Dr Rosemary Dunn Memorial Lecture 2019

Thank you for inviting me to give the Rosemary Dunn Memorial lecture - I am greatly honoured. I did not know Rosemary, but I understand that she was passionate about music and education and of course she was Chair of the Deal Festival. As you will know, she set up the Sounds New festival in Canterbury celebrating new music and the work of contemporary composers. And my understanding is that she was outraged by all forms of injustice and challenged them throughout her life.

Rosemary Dunn was clearly a remarkable woman.

The subject of my lecture is “How the Creative Arts positively affects all our lives”. This is rather a fitting subject in honour of Rosemary’s work in creating spaces for music and the Arts to be enjoyed. The fact that you are all here tonight is a testament to Rosemary’s vision for the Deal Festival.

There are many ways you could read the title of the lecture. Are we looking at how the arts effect our mental health, or our physical well- being , our soul or on a more prosaic level is the question how the arts can equip us for the world of work and life in general?

These are all valid and I will be touching on quite a few of them during the next 45 minutes or so. But I also think we need to consider what is happening to the arts in our schools. Because if we continue in the same way we have been going for the past few years then the arts will disappear from the lives of many of our children. It will just be the privileged few who get a fully rounded Arts education. And this has huge implications for all of us.

I think Grayson Perry sums up the importance of the Creative Arts perfectly:

"Art helps us access and express parts of ourselves that are often unavailable to other forms of human interaction. It flies below the radar, delivering nourishment for our soul and returning with stories from the unconscious. A world without art is an inhuman world. Making and consuming art lifts our spirits and keeps us sane. Art, like science and religion, helps us make meaning from our lives, and to make meaning is to make us feel better."

Music is all around us and is central to so many of our lives. There are numerous charities working in the Arts. According to the Charity Commission website, there are 1,126 charities registered in the UK with the word music in their title. Whilst there are 4,733 charities registered in the UK with music as an ‘activity’. Two of them are ISM charities, namely the ISM Members Fund supporting musicians in need while the ISM Trust provides professional development addressing all areas within the music sector from education to how to survive as a musician when you start work.

The Creative Arts are an effective tool in connection with Health and Wellbeing.

Gavin Clayton, executive director of the charity, Arts and Minds and one of the founders of the National Alliance for Arts, Health and Wellbeing, says: “evidence shows that taking part in creative activities has a positive impact on people’s mental health. The arts are important for wellbeing because beauty has a role in our lives. If we don’t listen to that, or pay attention, then that can cause problems.”

Arts and Minds, a leading arts and mental health charity, has been running weekly art workshops for people experiencing depression, stress or anxiety in Cambridgeshire for the past seven years. Led by an artist and counsellor, its Arts on Prescription project offers a chance to work with a range of materials and techniques, including printmaking and sculpture. The impact has been outstanding.

An evaluation revealed a 71% decrease in feelings of anxiety and a 73% fall in depression; 76% of participants said their wellbeing increased and 69% felt more socially included. As one participant says: “I feel so much better having had the time and space to do some art. It makes such a difference.”

Cambridgeshire’s success has been mirrored across the UK and the findings are supported by the conclusions of a report by an all-party parliamentary group (APPG) – Creative Health: The Arts for Health and Wellbeing.

The report, published in July, which followed a two–year inquiry, found that the arts can help keep us well, aid recovery and support longer lives, better lived. The arts also help meet challenges in health and social care associated with ageing, loneliness, long-term conditions and mental health. Crucially they can also help save the care sector money.

So why can the arts be so beneficial? “The arts are a way of forming, shaping and holding in front of your eyes something you feel internally,” says Phil George, chair of Arts Council Wales, who last November called on the government to fund the arts to improve health.

“It’s about storytelling,” he says. “It helps people develop a narrative of their lives and relate to their own experience in a new way. I’m convinced from the evidence that investment in the arts for health would pay off. It would be beneficial, not just in terms of wellbeing, but in terms of the pressures and costs that mental illness puts on the system.”

Artlift is a charity delivering an arts-on-prescription scheme in Gloucestershire and Wiltshire. Health professionals refer patients with a wide range of conditions – from chronic pain to stroke to anxiety and depression – to take part in an eight-week course of two-hour sessions, led by a professional artist working in poetry, ceramics, drawing, mosaic or painting. A cost benefit analysis of Artlift from 2009 to 2012 showed that, after six months of working with an artist, people had 37 percent less demand for GP appointments and their need for hospital admissions dropped by 27 percent. Setting reductions in costs to the NHS against the cost of Artlift interventions, there was a net saving of £216 per patient.

And the amazing impact of the Arts continues.

As populations of developed nations age, so the number of cases of dementia increases. As a way of helping care for and support people with dementia, music has been shown to often have a dramatic effect.

Whether it's 60s soul, operatic arias or songs from the shows, music can soothe, stimulate and bring to mind long-forgotten memories.

The power of music, especially singing, to unlock memories and kickstart the grey matter is increasingly a key feature of dementia care. It seems to reach parts of the damaged brain in ways other forms of communication cannot.

'We tend to remain contactable as musical beings on some level right up to the very end of life,' says Professor Paul Robertson, a concert violinist and academic who has made a study of music in dementia care.

'We know that the auditory system of the brain is the first to fully function at 16 weeks, which means that you are musically receptive long before anything else. So it’s a case of first in, last out when it comes to a dementia-type breakdown of memory.'

Many music students throughout the UK, as well as more experienced musicians, now regard care home visits as part of their learning experience. As well as being enormously beneficial to those with various forms of dementia and their carers, they can also be helpful and rewarding for the musicians themselves.

Organisations like Singing for the Brain, Music for Life, Lost Chord, Golden Oldies and Live Music Now have made it possible for every care home in the country to have access to live musicians, both professional and amateur, most of them trained to deal with the special needs of an elderly, memory-impaired audience.

Music for Dementia 2020 is a national campaign to make music available for everyone living with dementia by 2020. The Utley Foundation is leading the way by creating a national taskforce to help improve the quality of life for people living with dementia through music by making it readily available and accessible.

And there are even charities, such as Liberty Choir who are working with those being held in secure premises. The Choir has a unique task, bringing music to those who are either incarcerated in a prison, perhaps serving a long custodial sentence or being cared for in a psychiatric hospital where the individual can receive the help that he or she needs. The choir’s unique mission is to raise the spirit of those in confinement and to help them to find liberation through the medium of song and by expressing themselves artistically through singing.

Music can also act as a preventative measure for young people from turning to violence or crime. According to an ITV London news segment in July this year, Grime music artist, Novelist explained that music can be a positive factor in steering young people away from violence. He uses his music as a catalyst for changing young people’s mentalities around crime before they act upon them. His music video, “No Weapons” graphically depicts crime and the consequences of those actions. He believes he has a responsibility to be a positive role model to young people and believes that by showing the realities of crime in his music video, he can prevent young people from making the same mistakes and instead to channel their feelings and their situations into meaningful music and art.

In 2014, a poll conducted for the ISM found that 85% of adults backed the statement that ‘Music education must not become the preserve of those children whose families can afford to pay for music tuition.’

And there is plenty of research which shows the amazing impact that studying music has in terms of other output. Research by the University of Kansas has shown that students in schools with high quality music education programmes scored around 22% higher in English and 20% higher in Maths compared to schools with low quality music programmes, regardless of socio-economic disparities among schools or schools’ districts.

And of course, Professor Sue Hallam’s key work, The Power of Music, highlighted the positive impact access to high quality classroom music education has on listening skills, awareness of phonetics, literacy, and special reasoning which supports the development of certain mathematical skills.

Teachers can ignite the first flicker of passion for the arts that can be developed and supported. I would like to share with you some personal testimony from a range of performers which really does show the power of music. The first is from Laura Mvula. She said:

“Learning to play the piano from the age of 8 was the start of my relationship with music through education. Even just hearing my teacher Mrs Matthews play the piano was something I looked forward to each week. Mrs Matthews encouraged me to develop musical style and to have the confidence to play beyond the notes on the page. She had genuine faith in all her students and had an immense amount of patience. After Mrs Matthews there were so many teachers who took the time to invest in music education. It was a teacher who first suggested I tried singing solo – something I had never been interested in doing. It was a teacher who introduced me to composition as a degree option and, once at Birmingham Conservatoire pursuing that degree it was a teacher who suggested I consider writing and performing my own music. All of these teachers went over and above to draw out the best in me and to push me to keep going. They truly cared about developing young people’s creative lives.”

And then Alison Balsom has said that “learning music is not a luxury”. This certainly reflects her own background. She started to learn music at a primary in Royston called Tannery Drift where she had the chance to learn lots of different instruments and came into contact in her words with “great, inspiring teachers”. She started with the trumpet and she never waivered from her choice. In an article from 2014 she said “You have got to have inspiring mentors, people who are passionate about it as well and support you.” She said of her first music teacher “I had this amazing teacher called Bill Thompson. He was the most inspiring teacher and really super fun. All of us couldn’t wait for band practice. It was a little brass group actually – there were probably seven of us – but quite a lot of us have gone on to become professional musicians, which tells you a lot about the teaching.”

And Damien Lewis said of his music teacher:

“When I was roughly your age, 11 or 12, I sang in a chamber choir and had an inspirational teacher, Mr Woodgate, who rearranged Beatles tunes. And so, as an 11 year old I was able to sing Eleanor Rigby and I Love Her and other Beatles tunes in four-part harmony, and it’s a memory I treasure to this day.”

As a result of the amazing impact from music education, music students are often able to demonstrate skills and attributes that help improve their overall employability. Music graduates are employed across a varied range of fields such as publishing, editing, media production, broadcasting and marketing. It is also the case that large numbers of music graduates work in finance, banking and the legal world.

A report from the Culture and Sport Evidence Programme “Understanding the impact of engagement in culture and sport”, found that the employability of students who study the arts is higher and they are more likely to stay in employment. And indeed our UK conservatoires also show very high levels of employability for their students.

If the UK, post-Brexit, is going to be an ‘international trading nation’ as we have heard, children and young people must be educated for the industries of the future.

As Richard Morrison said in the Times just after the 2016 referendum : ‘Thank goodness that’s over. Now can we turn our attention to something just as important? I mean igniting the brains, the imagination and the ingenuity of the young people who will steer the country — with success one hopes — through the middle decades of the 21st century.

Will they be narrowly fixated, or interested in many things? Will they be curious about the wider world? Will they be creative as well as functional? Will they support our country’s cultural riches, from Glasto to Glyndebourne, carnival to Coriolanus, Strictly to the Switch House? Or, trapped on the consumerist treadmill of getting and spending, will they lay waste their powers and never uncover the talents hidden within themselves?”

The music sector contributed a staggering £5.2bn to the UK’s economy in 2018. Successful British acts including Ed Sheeran, Dua Lipa and Sam Smith helped exports of UK music soar in 2018 to £2.7 billion. Employment in the industry hit an all-time high of 190,935 in 2018. Most of these people are at its creative heart - composing, creating, recording and shaping the future of music. And let us not forget the 29.8 million visits made to UK live music events last year. So you can see the potency of culture both in terms of income generation and engagement.

According to a study by researchers at Oxford University and Deloitte:

“In the future, businesses will need more skills, including: digital know-how, management capability, creativity, entrepreneurship and complex problem solving.”

Given that about 35% of current jobs in the UK are at high risk of computerisation over the next 10 to 20 years, music is going to be critical in this new world.

This depiction of a future run by robots was reiterated in a recent report by Carl Frey co-director of the Oxford Martin programme on technology and employment at Oxford University. The report suggested that 15 million jobs are at risk of automation in the UK. On the low end of his research, alongside doctors, surgeons, audiologists and occupational therapists and multi-media artists stood just 1.49% chance of computerisation, musicians, writers and authors had a 3.84% chance of computerisation and elementary school teachers a 0.44% chance of computerisation.

Things were not quite so positive for credit analysts who have a 97.85% chance of computerisation.

Where future jobs will come from was covered in the evidence of Andreas Schleicher, director for education and skills at the OECD on 26 February to the Education Select Committee. He said: -

‘In the fourth industrial revolution, art may become more important than maths. We often talk about soft skills as being social and emotional skills, and hard skills as being science and maths, but it might be the opposite. The science and maths might become a lot softer in the future, where the relevance of knowledge evaporates very quickly, whereas the hard skills might be your curiosity, leadership, persistence and resilience.’

He talked about the strengths of British students, saying we were better at tasks that ‘are more associated with the past than the future. The kinds of things that are easy to teach and easy to test are precisely those things that are easy to digitise.’ In his view, the greatest weakness in UK schools is that we are teaching routine cognitive skills and not focusing on non-routine analytic skills, such as problem solving and making judgements.

The ISM supports the evidence presented by Andreas Schleicher and would agree that creative subjects must be placed at the heart of a child’s education if we are to make the most of the Fourth Industrial revolution and not become a victim of these technological changes.

And despite all the wonderful aspects of the Creative Arts and the immense impact it can have, I am afraid to say that the presence of creative subjects in the UK education system is looking rather dire. The disappearance of music from so many of our schools has been at the core of the ISM advocacy work for many years now. Despite both compelling evidence for a good musical education, several significant shifts in education policy are having detrimental effects on the access to and delivery of music education in schools. It is to these threats that we now turn our attention.

The APPG for Music Education's State of the Nation report, published on 4 February 2019, jointly authored by Dr Alison Daubney (University of Sussex), Gary Spruce (Birmingham City University) and the ISM, found that the pressure of accountability measures for maths and English results (especially in Year 6) had had a negative impact on curriculum music provision in primary schools. More than 50% of the responding schools did not meet their curriculum obligations to Year 6, citing the pressure of statutory tests as a significant reason for this. The prevalence of singing in primary schools had also diminished.

Significant research into secondary school music provision has also highlighted the decline of music as a curriculum subject right across secondary and post-18 (tertiary) provision.

Music is no longer taught across Key Stage 3 in more than 50% of state-funded secondary schools. There is an increasing move towards music only being offered on a ‘carousel’, - where music is only offered for part of the year on rotation with other (usually arts) subjects. And the time allocated to music in the Key Stage 3 curriculum is reducing:
curriculum time has been taken from music and given to EBacc subjects. Only 3.1% of curriculum time is now allocated to Key Stage 3 music.

Music is part of the national curriculum. However the national curriculum does not apply to academies. The National Audit Office reported that in January 2018, 72%
of secondary schools and 27% of primary schools were academies or free schools and thus not obliged to follow the national curriculum.

So what is going on?

As you may know the EBacc is a headline accountability measure for schools in England which has had a major impact on what pupils study in secondary schools. It was first introduced by then-Education Secretary Michael Gove in 2010 to address our poor showing in the PISA tables. It was based on the Facilitating Subjects for choosing degree courses as determined by the Russell Group.

The EBacc excludes creative, artistic and technical subjects such as Music, Drama and Design and Technology which means schools are less likely to offer these at GCSE. And yet it is precisely these subjects which fuel our incredibly successful creative industries worth over 100 Billion pounds per annum, the same amount as construction or banking. The CBI in their very important report, Centre Stage last month carefully analysed the strengths of this fast growing sector and noted the very serious challenges facing it from Government’s education policy to Brexit.

The impact of the EBacc is devastating. Figures from this year show a fall of 18.6% in GCSE music since 2014/2015. A similar picture is within primary schools where SATs are driving out creative subjects, including music.

And A Level music has the distinction of being the fastest disappearing a level, with a decline of 41.7% in music entries in England since 2010.

And parents know this is not right. Recent research by Ofsted showed that 68% of parents felt music was not covered enough by schools.

As Richard Morrison noted in 2016, as each year passes our teenagers are being taught less and less about culture, creativity and craftsmanship.

However, the Russell Group has now dropped the concept of Facilitating Subjects. The Russell Group, which represents the most selective universities, announced in May this year that it will no longer list “facilitating subjects”, saying that it has been “misinterpreted” by people who believe these are the only subjects that top universities will consider. Instead the group has replaced its guidance, with a new website that hopes to offer more personalised advice to students in a bid to widen access.

So if facilitating subjects have gone presumably there is no longer any reason for the EBacc. We wait to see…..

In the words of Albert Einstein:

“Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.”

He also said, “The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.”

The recent DCMS Committee’s report entitled ‘Live Music’ called for music and arts subjects to be included in the list of approved EBacc subjects reiterating its findings from its 2013 report. This was followed by another report Changing Lives: the social impact of participation in culture and sport which revealed concerns about the downgrading of arts subjects in schools, with all the consequent implications for children’s development, wellbeing, experiences, careers and life chances.

In its recommendations, the Committee wrote: ‘It is not enough for the DCMS and DfE to simply expect schools to provide a ‘broad and balanced curriculum’: they need to take action to ensure that this is actually happening. The report stated that the Select Committee remained 'deeply concerned about the gap between the Government’s reassuring rhetoric and the evidence presented to us of the decline in music provision in state schools, for which the EBacc is blamed and which affects students from less advantaged socio-economic backgrounds disproportionately.’

The Committee also commended the work of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Music Education which is supported by the ISM, stating they would ‘welcome sight of the Government’s response to each of the 18 recommendations in its recent report ‘Music Education: State of the Nation’.

These concerns have been echoed in a recent slew of interventions. On 23 October the CBI noted the value of the creative industries in their report Centre Stage and called for creativity to be considered equally important to numeracy and literacy in our schools. They also called for a creative subject to be added to the EBacc.

The CBI were in many ways echoing the findings of the Durham Commission’s report on Creativity and Education. They have called for the EBacc to be reformed with the inclusion of the 6th pillar for the arts. And the recently published Creative Industries Manifesto called for creative education to be put at the heart of the school curriculum. Lord Storey, Liberal Democrat spokesman in the Lords on education in the debate in the House of Lords on 22 October, called on the government to bring forward changes to the EBacc. He noted that by narrowing the curriculum, creative subjects in our schools have declined while they have flourished in the private schools sector.

Lord Storey also analysed whether the EBacc reforms which were introduced by Michael Gove because he said the country was badly performing in the PISA tables had had the desired positive effect on our standing in Maths English and Science. And the answer was no. He noted that over the period of time since the reforms were introduced our standing in the PISA tables has actually dropped. So the EBacc has not done what it was supposed to do. But it is well on the way on destroying creative subjects in our schools.

As Tagore said:

“Don’t limit a child to your own learning, for he was born in another time.”

So this is what the creative arts are currently facing within the UK education system. We need to protect and conserve creative arts education to ensure the next generation of performers, composers, artists and last but not least, Creative Arts educators.

Sir Ken Robinson has talked repeatedly about the importance of creativity in our schools. Sir Ken defines creativity as the process of having original ideas which have value. Creativity is about fresh thinking. Creativity involves making critical judgments about whether what you're working on is any good, whether it's a theorem, a design or a poem.

He says there are various myths about creativity. One is that only special people are creative; another is that creativity is just about the arts; a third is that it's all to do with uninhibited "self-expression". I agree with Sir Ken that none of these are true. On the contrary, everyone has creative capacities; creativity is possible in whatever you do, and it can require great discipline and many different skills.

In Sir Ken Robinson’s book Finding your Element, he drew together some of the lessons people with particular passions can teach us. Hans Zimmer is an Oscar-winning composer, who has created the scores for some of Hollywood's most successful films. As a child he loved to play the piano but had no patience for scales and rote learning. Whenever he tried to play or compose, his teacher would stop him and say: "Go and practise your scales!" He admits to being disruptive at school until he found a headmaster at his ninth school who responded to his desire to fulfil his musical needs.

It was the flexibility of that school and the inspiration of a few teachers that helped set Hans on the way to his extraordinary career.

The real driver of creativity is an appetite for discovery and a passion for the work itself. When students are motivated to learn, they naturally acquire the skills they need to get the work done. Their mastery of them grows as their creative ambitions expand. You'll find evidence of this process in great teaching in every discipline.

Facilitating this process takes judgment – and creativity, on the part of teachers. For creativity to flourish, schools have to feel free to innovate without the constant fear of being penalised for not complying with the programme. Too much prescription is a dead hand on the creative pulse of teachers and students alike. And I am afraid that is the situation we find ourselves in at the moment.

Music is a powerful contributor to wellbeing. Exam pressures, a volatile external environment and technological and social change, in particular social media, are all linked to young people’s wellbeing. Listening to music makes most young people feel happy; and the effects of making music are even more powerful than listening to it. Music helps to form friendships which results in an increased sense of belonging. Those who regularly make music feel more in control of their future.

So what teachers, artists and musicians do is incredibly important. They give young people the opportunity to find their creative voices and prepare them for the future. And the arts can be a constant companion through life, bringing comfort and solace when most needed and even helping stave off trips to the GP and the hospital. The arts are central to what it is to be a human being and without them we wither.

And in recent research, music has been found to be a Universal language. Researchers who analysed hundreds of cultures have found that not only does music exist everywhere but there also appears to be an underlying structure that carries meaning between the most distant societies. They found that songs that serve particular purposes such as love songs or lullabies share similar features and therefore transcend cultural boundaries. A Samoan love song will be recognised as romantic by Blackfoot Indians of North America.

No matter which culture they came from , songs of certain types had similar scores. The Science journal suggest that songs are a “product of underlying psychological faculties that make certain kinds of sound feel appropriate to certain social and educational circumstances”.

So music is a part of being a human being and we need it in our schools.

As Plato said, Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, and life to everything.