Art for Education’s Sake

With further cuts to arts spending announced, considers the importance of theatre within education and warns against the ‘soft subject’ taboo

Image: Linford Butler

Image: Linford Butler

It would appear the incumbent Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, has the same level of tact as her predecessor Michael Gove. Mrs. Morgan recently made remarks which have sparked fury in the arts world and, yes, I am one of those people infuriated by her remarks. But what, I hear you cry, has upset so many people in so few words? Surprisingly it was not an announcement of further cuts to arts spending, rather Mrs. Morgan felt the need to lambast prospective and current arts and humanities students: “[They should] steer away from the arts and humanities if they want to access a wide range of jobs.” (Garner, 2014) Mrs. Morgan then compounded her comments by adding: “If you didn’t know what you wanted to do… then the arts and the humanities were what you chose because they were useful, we were told” (Paton, 2014) I can assure you, Nicky, this was quite the opposite; we actively pursued those courses and here’s why you are so sorely wrong.

Firstly; to access a wide range of jobs, you need not only to know your subject area, but also have the confidence and ability to share your knowledge. Theatre students do not simply learn lines or crowd please. We understand the human condition, and understand it well. Being able to read a person’s emotional behaviour as well as their body language allows us to engage on a far more intricate, deeper level – nurses or doctors need similar abilities. We also empathise with others, helping to share their knowledge and understanding and develop the confidence to deliver and inspire others too. It is a common misconception that all theatre and acting is about is being fake or lying to an audience. Ask an actor what their craft is and the majority will tell you of the quest for the utmost truth.

Secondly, basic business skills. Whether you are managing a theatre troupe or a business team, you need to have the ability to manage your finances and delegate roles. We often work with shoestring budgets in theatre for the passion of doing so, rather than having any reward in mind. What good is that I hear you holler? It teaches you the true value of money and shows the dedication of those people who work for the love of doing. Sounds like a good set of life skills already, right Nicky? Well as if that wasn’t enough, let us not forget the wealth of theatrical heritage this country has to offer: Shakespeare, Pinter, Beckett, Churchill and Kane to name but a few. If we shun our artists and those in training we are effectively cutting the chances of any current talent rising to the same levels as those aforementioned. I would also remind people of the economic value of the UK’s creative industry. Recently, the department of Culture, Media and Sport released a press statement valuing the creative industry (including arts and theatre) at £76.9 Billion, contributing £8.8 million an hour to the UK economy and is set to continue rising in value (Department for Culture, Media & Sport, 2015). Why was this something Mrs. Morgan forgot to mention when being so quick to dismiss our degrees in arts and humanities? Perhaps you should reconsider when your party is constantly drumming into our heads, the issue of government deficit.

Theatre is not just a dropout’s last resort, nor a choice made because we don’t know what else to do. It is a creative medium that allows for personal development, shared experiences and has the ability to inform and educate. When I trained at East 15, we were far from idle students with few options to turn to. In fact as training actors we were encouraged to read and engage with our other interests as much as we were to commit to our training. This lead me to read more on politics and psychology, in order to better understand the world around me and how it informs our art. Equally, when no acting work was assessable, with the skills I had learnt I was able to create my own work with a theatre company in Nottingham.

Unfortunately for arts and humanities students, teachers and professionals alike, we are seen by a select few as secondary to ‘STEM subjects’ like maths and science. I am not saying that academia should be second; rather that the arts, humanities and sciences should be on a more equal footing. That way we might all benefit from a shared mutual success.

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