Davos: Culture on the World Stage

Deborah Bull, Director, Cultural Partnerships at King’s College London, was among the world’s political and business leaders and intellectuals taking part in this year’s recent annual World Economic Forum at Davos. Deborah was named as one of the top four participants on social media at the Forum. Follow her at @BullDeborah @CultureatKings #davosculture

It was a privilege to be invited to this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos as one of a small group of cultural leaders. The media at home tend to focus on the economic and political debates at Davos, but the Forum offers the opportunity for a broader and more inclusive conversation, with art and artists as an important part of the mix. As the Forum’s Head of Arts & Culture explains, ‘The arts are included in Davos now more than ever because they are needed’.

The unique value of Davos is that it brings together so many different perspectives: we know that it is at the interface of these different perspectives that new approaches to our global challenges are likely to emerge. It was heartening to see the role of creativity referenced time and time again as vital to the process of innovation. Given my role at King’s, it was particularly pleasing to hear Professor Michael Spence of NYU Stern – a Nobel Laureate in Economics – highlighting the need to combine creativity with evidence to tackle climate change.

Creativity was the theme of my first presentation, along with Professors Carol Becker (Columbia University) and Ken Goldberg (University of California, Berkeley). My focus was on creativity as a quality that is innate in us all – a unique human resource and one that will be available as long as we have breath. I also spoke about the role of arts engagement in developing creativity, the growing evidence base we have published via CultureCase.org and the partnerships we are creating at King’s between artists and academics, to provoke new perspectives on research.

There is a range of spaces in the Congress Centre, including a BetaZone with a large scale, high definition screen, where I moderated a session in which Martin Roth (Director, V&A) and James Cuno (J. Paul Getty Jnr Charitable Trust) shared their thoughts about the digital revolution in museums. I also took part in a panel discussion on the Impact of the Arts, in which I was able to share some of the work we are doing through Culture at King’s to increase understanding of the potential of arts and culture to contribute beyond their intrinsic value. In particular, I talked about the growing body of evidence about the role of the arts in developing creativity, improving mental and physical health, increasing cross cultural understanding and engaging the public with contemporary challenges. It was good to see the session attended by participants beyond the ‘obviously converted’. The audience included a range of individuals, including Edmund Phelps, Nobel Laureate in Economics.

As the conference went on, it became more and more clear to me that it will take a combination of creative thinking, technological advance and changes to public behaviour if we are to address the global challenges that were this year’s Davos theme. I’m delighted that in bringing cultural as well as political leaders to Davos, the World Economic Forum recognises that art has a role to play in this. Art and artists help to shape our culture, the way we see the world, the way we communicate and the decisions we take. This was the theme of my third presentation, alongside Haifaa Al Mansour (Saudi Arabian filmmaker), Platon (photographer), Patrick Chappatte (cartoonist) and Will.i.am (musician, social activist and philanthropist). The event provided a genuine ‘Davos moment’, when I found myself sitting within inches of an intense conversation between Kofi Anaan and will.i.am. But it also provided powerful examples of how the work of artists can influence the way we think and the way we behave, and the role of leadership in driving change. As the world’s decision-makers gathered in Davos, it was inspiring to see art as part of the mix.

‘Love’: the beauty of working with lenders

Carolyn Rosen is project manager for the ‘Love’ exhibition, a partnership between the Cultural Institute at King’s College London and the Jewish Museum. The exhibition uses crowd-sourced objects to explore the theme of love across different faiths.

I was given the opportunity to help manage the Your Jewish Museum series, and was immediately delighted to be part of such an innovative project. As someone with a keen interest in promoting interfaith and community initiatives, Your Jewish Museum felt like the perfect chance to work on several shows aimed at highlighting deeply personal pieces which would not otherwise have come together in a single space.

Meeting with lenders is the most beautiful part of the process for me. I love working with members of the community, practitioners of other faiths, students, artists, longtime friends of the Jewish Museum London, and people who had not yet visited the Museum when they received our call for objects. It is a privilege for me to hear their stories, learn about their lives and what they hold dear, then help manage an exhibit which testifies to the sanctity of these pieces.

Tahnia Ahmed, left, models the wedding sari of her mother Hasna Hena, one of the crowd-sourced exhibits. Photograph: Linda Nylind for the Guardian

Tahnia Ahmed, left, models the wedding sari of her mother Hasna Hena, one of the crowd-sourced exhibits. Photograph: Linda Nylind for the Guardian

One of the most special aspects of the show, and a very important one for me, is that the lenders have written their own texts to accompany the pieces. There is a real ‘voice’ for each object and for each particular story. As a result the show feels even more intimate, the objects themselves even more precious. We find love in its many forms: parental love, marital love, God’s love for creation, love for each other and for a community, gentle love and fierce love. This is truly a beautiful show, one in which visitors will delight, and it will undoubtedly inspire more reflection on what love means to those who come see it.

Love runs from 20 January until 19 April, at the Jewish Museum London, Raymond Burton House, 129-131 Albert Street, London NW1 7NB. Keep an eye out on the Culture Institute webpages for the next calls for objects, for Journey and Sacrifice.

Step by step: arts policy and young people 1944–2014 – so, what next?

Dana Segal responds to the Culture at King’s report on behalf of What Next? Generation, a movement focused on bringing together younger and emergent arts practitioners and professionals to champion the role of arts & culture in our society.

We were delighted to be a part of the Step by Step enquiry launch on Tuesday 13 January. It’s about time that policymaking for children and young people is impactful, and the only way this can be done is through longitudinal implementation and evaluation and, as Marcus Davey recommends in his response, with the involvement of young people at the heart of the entire process.

We support and agree with many of the policy recommendations that are part of this insightful paper. Ahead of the general election in May we have written a manifesto and a series of pledges, all of which relate very strongly to the final recommendation of the paper: that policy should be implemented so that arts activity is encouraged outside of the school system.

That’s not to say that we do not believe that arts activity should be a core part of education; because we strongly believe that all children should have access to arts and culture through their education regardless of their wealth. We don’t think it’s a coincidence that one of the most expensive private schools in the country also happens to have a very long list of visiting music staff.

As stated in the paper, family and social life of young people play a crucial role in forming their identity and impacting on their later life. As I highlighted in my conclusion at the launch: if it wasn’t for my father’s passion for music, and my drama teacher’s support to take the subject and experience live theatre, I would not be the person I identify myself as today: a voter, an employee, a student, etc.

Up until this point, it was due to specific people: but hopefully following this paper, it can be due to specific policies implemented to ensure all young people can access arts and culture.

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Step by step: arts policy and young people 1944–2014 – another response

In his response, Kenneth Olumuyiwa Tharp OBE, Chief Executive, The Place, points to the ‘collective amnesia’ of Government and calls on the arts policy community to be better informed about the past.

The fact that history should repeat itself is not of itself a surprise. As the great Joni Mitchell incanted ‘everything comes and goes, marked by lovers and styles of clothes’. However love and fashion are notoriously fickle, and whilst the impact of their often cyclical whims may be of great immediacy – and of personal significance – by contrast, the impact of cultural or educational policy, for better or for worse, can be immense and long-lasting. All the more important therefore that we get it right, and that we are helped to this end by having gathered together in a way that is immediately accessible a trail of our previous endeavours, so that we may continue to learn their lessons.

The last five to ten years have seen great change in both cultural and education policy, especially in those areas that seek to have impact on the ways in which children and young people engage with the arts. Not all those changes have been met with warm approval from professionals working in the arts and education sectors. At the same time, even in the last couple of years there seems to have been a significant and welcome shift in thinking, with the strengthening of a shared belief across the political spectrum about the vital importance of arts and culture in creating rounded individuals, contributing to well-being, and to social cohesion, and there is broad recognition of the immense contribution the creative industries as a whole make to the UK economy. However, the way in which policy seeks to determine the way in which children and young people engage with the arts, both in and out of school, and the role of the state in supporting that through the implementation of policy is still a matter of great debate.

In that regard, this report and its recommendations serve several important needs: firstly the need for a historical record of arts policy in relation to young people’s access to the arts, but secondly, and of equal import, the need to maintain a clear perspective on developments in this field over a longer period, to strengthen the sense of shared history and to safeguard against collective amnesia in relation to sometimes even recent events. That need was made all too clear to me when members of the current government in 2012 responded to recommendations within the Henley Review of Cultural Education.

The Department for Education and the Department for Culture Media and Sport proudly announced the launch of the ‘first National Youth Dance Company’, oblivious it would seem that a previous incarnation existed with the exact same title, and with great success, for 18 years, led by the late John Chesworth OBE. The first National Youth Dance Company had only ceased to exist in 2004, less than 10 years before the heralding of a new venture. It hadn’t been forgotten in the dance sector; many dance professionals still working in the sector cut their teeth in that company and its enormous success was something for which John Chesworth was rightly honoured, for his services to dance. Yet how quickly others seemed to forget.

Whilst I wholeheartedly applaud the reinstating of our National Youth Dance Company, which is once again thriving, I was dismayed at the time at the collective amnesia of government who, through Arts Council England, funded the original venture and who, for their own credibility if nothing else, should have been better informed about the very recent history. Who knows whether this ignorance was just a matter of oversight, or whether perhaps, as this report suggests, it may have also been the result of ‘a policymaking culture that prizes freshness over precedent’, where there are fewer incentives to look back over our shoulder, even when the evidence, along with its lessons, is sitting right there under our noses.

This report and its recommendations are timely, relevant and an important marker from which I hope we can all learn. Thank you to Deborah Bull, Dr James Doeser and all whose contributions made this report possible.

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Step by step: arts policy and young people 1944–2014 – a brief response

Marcus Davey OBE, Chief Executive and Artistic Director of Roundhouse, calls for greater involvement of young people in developing arts policy.

I would like to thank Deborah Bull, the authors of Step by step and Culture at King’s for this most important study. I think it is fair to say that many organisations are guilty of reinventing the wheel due to a lack of contextual and historical knowledge or understanding. This report gives us an excellent glimpse in to how we have arrived at current arts policy making for young people.

What is plain to me is that over the decades there have been great and eminent politicians, arts policymakers and at times artists who have didactically made decisions about what would be good for young people. It is becoming less rare but it is so often the case that the voices of young people are not considered or heard when developing arts policy. In the past there has been too much policymaking about what will be done for young people and not enough about what can be done with and by young people. This historical view outlines policymaking taking place in government and at the Arts Council. Another important supporter and developer of work for young people are local authorities. In my experience it is more often than not the case that local authority funding is directed at engaging young people in to the arts. This has been true for some decades and often not linked to Arts Council or government initiatives. This too could be an interesting area for review, especially at a time when local authority funding is being so significantly reduced.

At the Roundhouse we have two young Trustees, a Youth Advisory Board and by the end of our next business plan period 10% of our workforce will be made up from young paid trainees. This guarantees that in all our policymaking, programme development and project review that the voice of young people is heard. I firmly believe that to create policy for anybody you must involve them in the process.

I wholeheartedly support the recommendations in Step by step and I hope that, in all future policymaking about young people, young people shall be involved. It goes without saying that it is crucial for decision making to be set in context and this is a great reminder for us all to look at what we do and how it builds on the past, rather than running in parallel to it.

Image by Steffan Hill

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