The Federation International Summit 2018 - a perspective from two Oxford University students

December 14, 2018

Written by Helena Greening and Olivia Williamson
(2nd Year, Fine Art, St Edmund Hall, Ruskin School of Art, Oxford University)

The offering of a cup of tea after getting up at the crack of dawn was the perfect start to the International Creative Summit. Welcomed into the warmth of the gathering crowd, the atmosphere was connected and full of life. We were a world away from our Oxford University bubble. It was surprising to find out that students were invited as a last minute addition, yet this was a crucial step for the summit to make. Involving students in these political, forward thinking discussions, that are at the crux of the creative future, makes the industry more accessible; it opens doors and allows for a fluid relationship between generations of creatives. So much of the creative industries is invisible, happening behind the scenes, and we
need to make it as visible as possible so that parents, teachers and communities fight to make creativity an essential part of the curriculum. Industry can use it’s voice to explicitly demand that arts subjects continue to be taught, as there is growing demand for creative thinking, skills and adaptability in the workplace. This summit was a wake up call that there is still a creative industry, one that is thriving more than ever.

“Be Kind. Be Curious. Be Brave” - Tom Fletcher

As creatives we are made to jump through hoops like horses, to ‘tick boxes’. Navigating suffocatingly tight curriculums, dealing with budget cuts and continuously justifying why the arts are an important part of society (even though they have proved their measurable and immeasurable worth) demonstrates that there needs to be a shift in public perception and in government. Yana Peel (Chief Executive Officer, Serpentine Galleries) spoke about how they have to raise 10 million just to keep the Serpentine Galleries open for free, but emphasised the importance of art being accessible for the public, citing Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s ‘The London Mastba’ a floating sculpture on display from June to September this year in Hyde Park as “a gentle disturbance that in a time of darkness makes people smile”. The ‘Future of the Creative Workforce’ panel consisting of Andria Zafirakou (Winner of the Global Teacher Prize 2018), Marquise Stillwell (Founder of Openbox), Tom Fletcher (TD Tom Davies) and Alex Beard (Author of Natural Born Leaders) opened up the floor to a conversation filled with risk. They asked us as creatives to dare.To dare is to waive the boundaries, to be critical and imaginative thinkers, to be willing to take the risk. The fact that the winner of the Global Teacher Prize 2018 was unable to take art GCSE because it wasn’t seen as important was shocking, but not as shocking when we recapped on the fact that the arts are not only being
discouraged, but they are being cut. In a contemporary and thriving setting, arts and science need to be working side by side. Surely we cannot just promote STEM as the most important when the links are so vital? The Arts develop interpersonal skills that are essential in the jobs sector, we need person to person emotional contact that allow for the development of the self and body in space, for our political position to rise, and for human needs to be dealt with.

In the current education system, arts are dismissed as soon as the focus switches to the goal of well-paid and prosperous careers. The ongoing prejudice that arts are ‘girly’ subjects that don’t require ‘intelligence’ is an entrenched myth. On the panel of ‘The Future of the Creative Workforce’ there was a strong focus on education. Times are changing, attention span in children is diminishing, technology increasingly plays a huge role in early learning whilst also being a mode for procrastination. The younger generation are spending less time interacting face-to-face than ever before. The Arts are a mode of social interaction that should be encouraged in schools to broaden horizons in preparation for any career path and to equip for a quickly evolving society. They are essential. In Zafirakou’s school, the students work freely and openly, as she instills in them that mistakes are part of learning. Children were visibly grounded and better equipped to focus on their next class after a group session with the school’s Art Therapist. Throughout the discussion there was a collective understanding that the arts are a vital part of life and learning.

Creativity is a language we speak globally and it’s a language we need to use fluently. During the summit the panelists reflected on how consumerism is fundamentally changing. Social media and technology are driving this shift, and so it becomes a platform for activists, changemakers and the individual to steer where that change is going to take us. New products are constantly emerging, but what Cassie Marketos (Senior Vice President, Kickstarter) has found is that there is a move towards supporting ethical and social values. This environmentally friendly, cruelty free and ethical production demand is being adopted by businesses as well, as its attracts employees who want to feel proud of their workplace. A trend for social conscience is partly to do with the image we want to project of ourselves, which begs the question “are we more materialistic than ever before?” Neither us nor Marketos want to live in a world where people buy products to flaunt on instagram. Gravitating towards making a difference on an individual level through what we consume will push industries to meet those values and change for the better. To save interconnectedness of people and places, we need to re-write the economic system. LUSH (a vegan and cruelty free cosmetics company) is
re-examining its entire production line. Adam Goswell ( Creative Technology & Innovation, Lush) explained it seemed like a natural transition to start developing their own electronics so the technology they used throughout the company was ethically sourced. Their other venture is Naked LUSH zero waste concept store operating in Milan and Berlin- where everything being sold is a package-free alternative. It’s easy to forget how much plastic we use in toiletries alone, a single-use bottle for every conditioner, shampoo and shower gel you go through in a year. Goswell hopes the industry will be inspired, and we hope so too.

“Waste Really is a Design Flaw.” - Adam Goswell

LUSH was born out of a company that initially failed. As Stillwell put it in the previous panel “The ability to fail and to fail better is extraordinarily important. A culture that encourages trying new things, taking risks and listening to your gut is important - but we are being schooled to pass exams, to play by the rules of the game which bypasses creativity.” How many teachers, parents, children and business professionals need to raise their voices with concern for the current archaic education model before it is addressed by our government? We need
a space of learning where play and risk are still able to breathe. An environment that is messy, colourful and open to experimentation so that we can feel alive.

“A safe space for unsafe or risky ideas.” - Yana Peel

Perfect white sterile spaces in their masses is like swallowing antibacterial hand wash: harmful and being used in the wrong place. Stillwell talked of the sense of liberation when hacking away at a piece of wood with a saw, now a far away thought when trapped in the boundaries of health and safety. We know how important health and safety is when it comes to anyone using machinery or tools, where one wrong move could lead to a hospital trip, but there is also so much joy gained through getting stuck in and using our senses. It is an experience that is grounding, and important for one's mental health to be able to be completely open to failure and learning. It is worrying that the number of students taking arts subjects has fallen to its lowest level in a decade in England, following cuts and policy changes. Entries for GCSE Design and Technology have dropped by 32% between 2012-2017. A-level History of Art has been cut from the curriculum completely by Michael Gove during his time as Secretary of Education. Only 8% of 16 years olds are taking art, music or drama, and as Zafirakou’s said quite clearly, “people don’t think that the arts are a valuable subject”. With this knowledge, we know the creative industry can play a key role in fighting for the arts in education. Support the roots. The arts are an entire ecosystem, from the roots up. This is a message echoed by London’s first Night Czar, Amy Lamé, a role created to advocate nightlife. She oversees an industry worth 26 billion, one that employs 1 in 8 people in the city. It is an area of huge growth, but one that also faces lots of challenges. In the last 10 years, 35% of live music events and 61% of LGTB venues have been lost. With grassroot music venues and others disappearing off the map, Lamé wants to help those spaces not just to survive but to thrive. We need those spaces for people to grow, and as social beings we want to go out, to have live experiences. Building a future where the nightlife is for all ages, ethnicities and races is at the core of the Night Czar’s heart.

“The future is at night.” - Amy Lamé

“The future lies in being willing to take the risk.’ - Marquise Stillwell

Jeremy Wright (Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) was welcomed onto the stage, looking like he had walked into a room full of sharks, visibly tense but smiling. Understandably so. In those six hours, Wright was possibly the only one to use the term Brexit, everyone else just referred to it as the ‘B-word’.

“Our creativity is our calling card to the world and it can be found everywhere you look.”

He immediately started talking about his visit to the Koestler Trust, bringing culture and creativity into our prisons. When 50% of those in prison are thought to be dyslexic, five times overrepresented (1 in 10 of the population are dyslexic) it should come as no surprise that these programmes are so successful in prison. If these cultural programs being applauded for the work they did in prisons had the same government support for working in schools, then I think we’d find there’d be fewer people in prison. It is simply not enough for creative subjects to be sidelined and pushed into extra curricular activities that is neither accessible to everyone nor adequately funded. As Wright said, “So let us dispense with the idea that we must choose between creativity and technical excellence. That young people should have to choose between STEM and the arts.” The government needs to match these words with actions; not simply in generously funding some after school drama, but in reinstating the arts as core subjects and creativity as an essential part of education. Wright joked we must all be more interested in lunch than asking him questions. We decided lunch could wait, and questions on the current proposed £30,000 salary threshold for entering the UK, cutting off many high-skilled creatives, was alarming and thought provoking. It was encouraging that Wright said he would argue to the Home Office for adaptable system to permit the free-flow of ideas. Two questions was all he had time for, before being called off stage by his team. In the final panel of the day, it is Ekow Eshun (Creative Director, Calvert 22 Foundation) who says “In previous times the success of the arts was not because of the government but in spite of government”. We hope that the latter does not continue, and that what positives were discussed by Wright remain at the top of his agenda and on his conscience as much as it has ours.

The summit ended with a poignant performance from Jamel Duane Alatise, a student at Guildhall School Music & Drama. The conversations had pulled us in so many different directions, expanding our horizons and leaving us filled with hope, energy and a sense of community. Attending was the highlight of our first term. We walked away knowing that a creative industry existed, and that we wanted to be a part of it.

Oh my! This swiftly escalated
Like certain situations because we've been educated to lack patience and scheme for papers of all things.
So I meditate aka self medicate
Because I need to purge the virus of victimising
And so I'm improvising my ascension
Because there was no essential mention of spirituality
Only strict guidelines of how to adhere to your reality

(A section from ‘I Found God in the Streets’, Jamel Duane Alatise, 2018)

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