What do Philip Pullman, Dame Judi Dench, Antony Gormley and Doreen (aged 9) have in common?
They all “get it”: the power of cultural learning, that is. They are all quoted in the report recently published by the Culture and Learning Consortium, after lengthy consultation both within the arts sector and with its users and stakeholders What is clear from the report is that the people consulted are in no doubt that cultural learning is essential for a healthy society and should be prioritised along with other basic education. The report pulls no punches. It speaks of cultural learning as “oxygen, life-enhancing and life-changing”. It warns of the consequences of cultural deprivation and, in these uncertain economic times, stresses the urgency of action to preserve the progress that has been made towards universal cultural entitlement.
The report exhorts government to ring-fence or protect investment in cultural learning. It urges funding bodies to encourage collaboration across sectors and reward quality rather than quantity. Policy makers are challenged to work with providers to develop collective standards, gather robust evidence and disseminate good practice. Cultural learning should become a core element in both initial teacher training and courses for arts professionals. Schools should have cultural learning ‘champions’ responsible for awareness-raising and advocacy: they could be teachers, parents, governors or young people. Cultural learning should be integrated into national, regional and local strategies, particularly for children and young people, and embedded in the forward planning of cultural organisations.
Working in museums, we witness the transformative and far-reaching effects of cultural learning every day, but many of our compatriots, including politicians and other decision makers have not had that privilege. But there is hope. The power of cultural learning is a renewable resource: sharing the experience creates converts. The energy invested pays huge dividends but they are subtle, long-term and not easily identified. If we could build a ‘national grid’ for advocacy, harnessing the passion and creativity generated by cultural learning, we could light up the lives of the whole country.