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Why we need to protect and expand the arts for young people

Posted on 26 January 2017

By Abigail Pogson, Managing Director at Sage Gateshead

How can we possibly equip our children for the challenges which lie ahead? I don’t know about you, but my newsfeed acts as a constant reminder of the complexities and challenges of life in the 21st century.

On Tuesday the Cultural Learning Alliance published ImagineNation, its second report evidencing the value of cultural learning for Children and Young People. The Alliance is a network of schools, cultural organisations, artists and youth organisations working to pull together evidence from across the UK and to ensure that policymakers don’t lose sight of the value of one of our key determining human characteristics – creativity.

The report brings out powerful evidence that experiencing, learning about and participating in cultural activity develops vital social skills and supports progress in curriculum areas such as literacy and numeracy. It can help a young person finding meaning in the world and themselves.

Sage Gateshead has contributed to the report. Cultural learning is our bread and butter – it sits at the heart of what we do, with a particular focus on young people. In term time thousands of young people come in and out of our building to hear concerts or participate in workshops. Each weekend hundreds of young people come to our Centre for Young Musicians to learn music. Every day we hold classes for under 5s and in our dj/recording studios over 500 young people who are at risk come to weekly sessions to make and record music together, often gaining qualifications which enable them to take a crucial step into education, employment or training. That’s just in our building. In schools, hospitals, care homes and community centres across the region we are working with partners to bring music to young people. Each individual will take something different away. Overwhelmingly though, in our experience over 12 years and with 1.5million participants, it will be positive.

Here’s just one example: Ben (not his real name), aged four has been attending our fostering early year’s music making since he was a baby. Ben has been going through extensive tests to discover exactly what his disability is and therefore his needs are. Ben’s carer, Louise, has been attending the group since it first started and uses music as a way to communicate effectively with Ben. His life is now full of music. Louise has started her own weekly sessions for families with young children with SEND, incorporating a range of activities, including music. She also takes Ben to family music events during school holidays.

One crucial thing which the report and Ben’s story show is that cultural learning can significantly increase the progress which a young person living in challenging circumstances makes. It can get them onto a level playing field with others who have been luckier with their start in life. This knowledge has informed a lot of our work at Sage Gateshead over 12 years, as we have worked with the NHS, local authorities, the police and schools to find ways to use music to support young people who experience health or social inequalities.

In the report Sage Gateshead’s former Chair, Lord Puttnam, who is Chair of The Cultural Learning Alliance, says:

“Learning through culture and the arts leads to creative thinking, confidence and problem-solving – all skills which are prized by employers and which young people need. If we fail to offer our young people the opportunity to participate in the arts and culture, then we fail to support them in becoming the leading thinkers, innovators, creative business and community leaders of the future.”

In these fast-paced times, when technological, social and especially political change are putting pressure on our sense of identity and our place in the world, we must surely do all we can to ensure our children are as well equipped as possible to find meaning and, through this, deal with the decades ahead.

Read the full report here.

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