The Value of Creative Opportunities – Realising Human Potential

My speech this morning at The Cooper Gallery, Barnsley.

The Olympics have been an amazing example of realising human potential, but they have not solely been about sport.

The opening and closing ceremonies of the Games reinforced Britain’s leading role as a creative force globally and, compared to Beijing, reportedly at a third of the cost.

We’ve seen work from, Richard Long who was responsible for the amazing road art at Box Hill and Thomas Heatherwick both conceived and made the Olympic cauldron, fashioned out of bronze petals contributed by each participating nation.

Who can forget the Queen parachuting into the stadium with James Bond or Mr Bean playing the piano – all examples of imagination, skill, ingenuity, creative thinking and a very clever artistic interpretation of our own unique British sense of humour and identity?

The Cultural Olympiad has of course also taken place at the same time as the Olympics. This has featured projects and performances in art, dance, film, comedy, theatre, music, fashion, food and heritage.

Over 16 million people across the country have taken part in, or watched performances – with a host of workshops, events and cultural projects being run since 2008.

The Olympic Games were awarded to London on the promise to inspire a generation; connecting a broad range of diverse cultures, faiths and religions, and in so doing providing a lasting sporting and cultural legacy.

So I believe, we now need to use the Games to deliver on these promises and for it to be used as a wider catalyst for change –
change needed in our society and in our education system,
change which will inspire new ideas and innovation for future generations,
change also in the access to cultural stimuli whether it is art, dance, film, comedy, theatre, poetry, music, fashion, food and heritage.

Change which will have positive effects on the individual and society at large so that we can use the legacy as a mechanism for realising human potential.

So what is creativity?
The educationalist Ken Robinson has argued that one element of creativity is ‘divergent thinking’ or the ability to make the associations and lateral connections between ideas.

Patsy Rodenberg, one of the world’s leading voice and acting coaches said; “to live life to its full potential you really need to allow yourself to return to the positive presence you were born with.”

Instinctively, children are born with, but gradually over time, lose the ability to make these lateral connections.

About 10 years ago, George Land and Beth Jarman published their research on divergent thinking. They gave a series of tests to 1,600 3 to 5 year olds.
98% scored at genius level or higher. They gave the same test to the same children 5 years later, at the ages of 8 to 10, only 32% scored at genius level.

At the ages of 14 to 15, the result was 10%. The same test was given to over 200,000 adults and the figures were 2%. So what can we conclude from these results?
One; that we have an education system which decreases our ability to think differently and two; we need to think differently in order to better nurture creativity.

So what changes should we be making to support and encourage creative opportunity?
We need to promote creativity, entrepreneurship and innovation and start to do things differently. Abdul Kalam a former President of India said, ‘Educationists should build the capacities of the spirit of inquiry, creativity, entrepreneurial and moral leadership among its students.’

Labour is addressing these challenges through our policy review, looking at how we include spoken skills and creativity in a revised national curriculum,
encouraging and assessing not just individual competencies through a strict delineation of subjects and lessons,
but how creative skills can be assessed, developed and encouraged when individuals come together and work in a group environment – essential life skills needed by all.
In essence, ensuring there is a balance between creativity and rigour and empowering schools and teachers to use their talents to support creativity, to develop enduring life skills and help realise human potential.

Steve Jobs believed, and I quote, that: “Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesise new things.”

Therefore the education system should not only be revised to cater for creativity – so we can ‘synthesise new ideas’ but also we should facilitate greater access to a wide range of cultural stimuli –
So individuals have a wide range of experiences to draw upon which is crucial to creative thought.
It is interesting to note that Steve Jobs frequently stated that his background of calligraphy gave him an unusual perspective which helped develop the apple products you see today rather than his technological knowledge which he admitted was rather rudimentary…

So I would like to identify some key areas where I believe effort and energy should be focused.

Firstly, make the necessary changes to the national curriculum and methods of assessment. This includes the need for personalised learning, where children’s education is built around their interests, their needs and their attributes.
Education that emphasises and assesses collaborative problem solving skills, creativity and risk taking but also adopts formative rather than summative assessment in certain parts of the curriculum.
We also need to ensure that we get the balance right – ensuring that each child builds core knowledge with continued focus on the basics but which sits alongside those changes that I have just mentioned.

Secondly, we should improve access to art, dance, film, comedy, theatre, poetry, music, fashion, architecture, science, food and heritage both inside and outside school.
The previous Labour Government did this by doubling the funding levels for the arts and providing free admission to museums and galleries. We need to build on this legacy – not destroy it.
Because it’s important that young people have access to a range of cultural stimuli, because it’s part of the way in which creativity can be developed. In a world where many of the jobs that the next generation will go on to do, have yet to be invented –
It’s worth repeating; jobs that don’t yet exist:
creativity, along with other important life skills will be important – essential, and will endure –
whatever the job, whatever the environment, creativity matters.

Thirdly, ensure that schools collaborate with each other, the wider community and other third party organisations. This will ensure that a broad range of opinions, experiences, opportunities and skills are passed onto pupils who can often feel isolated when learning in the same environment and with the same people.
It is also more likely to help learning and engagement – for example science experiments run by a nearby laboratory maybe more engaging but still deliver the same learning opportunities as a science experiment delivered in the way set out by the curriculum.

Fourth, recognise and support creativity not only in schools but in colleges, universities, in the workplace and in business. This will build upon the work carried out by schools and will ensure creativity endures into adulthood.
Let us be clear – all of this is under threat at the moment.

Fifth, we must recognise that creativity and innovation do not just relate to the traditional subjects of art, drama and music, but instead it is an approach to thought and ideas; one which can be applied in any discipline, and any career.
A career in engineering or law, retail or manufacturing,
business or teaching requires the ability to think outside the box as much as the vocation of the artist or musician.

And this in turn, will ensure that the UK remains at the cutting edge of ideas and technology; that the 18th century’s industrial revolution, turns into the technological revolution of the 21st, and who knows where for the 22nd century.
In order to do this the Government must invest in research and development sectors, as well as creative skills at school.

Sixth, ensure creativity is protected through upholding and strengthening UK intellectual property law so that people can’t steal from the fruits of the mind.
This will involve changing attitudes and better informing the consumer – most people wouldn’t dream of stealing a DVD on the high street – but many people see it as acceptable when done online – this attitude needs to change.
As part of this process, we also need to ensure that the tax system supports creativity and helps creative endeavours get off the ground.

Lastly, recognise that creativity is not the preserve of Government – far from it.
It is the architects that transform cities and towns, the dancers, actors, curators, directors, artists, poets, musicians, sculptors, poets and scientists:
that create, inspire creativity, are custodians for innovation and provide the very fabric of our daily lives –
without which our existence would be very much the poorer.
These are the people that we need to listen to; ensuring ‘the system’ and ‘the state’, recognises, enhances and supports their efforts.

The models for enhancing creativity will, I believe need to combine private enterprise and public money but I would argue that public subsidy permits risk-taking and that we should not allow private philanthropic giving to be used as an excuse for Government to shuffle off its responsibility.
Yes – of course there is an important role for sponsorship, for private donation – but this tends to disproportionately benefit already affluent areas – it comes easier in Belgravia than it does in Barnsley.

So I believe philanthropy should not be used as an excuse to avoid adequate government support.
I think it’s worth remembering that, Alan Bennett’s the History Boys went on an international tour and into the west end from its inceptions at the National Theatre.
It has brought earnings of well over £1million back to the National Theatre to be invested in other programmes. Therefore, any government initiative that threatens this model should be resisted.

So what are the benefits of creative opportunities?
Though this can be hard to define, Britain more than ever survives and prospers by the talent of its people.
We therefore need to invest in our human capital – to allow people to innovate, to create, to think anew and to be creative.

I believe it should be the role of Government to ensure that a range of stimuli: plays, poetry, books, films, art, design, crafts are available to all – not just the few and that this supports innovation, thinking, reflection, creativity and helps inspire individuals.
Through this process people develop, we come together; we see things differently and understand where others come from.

The benefits are seen individually, economically, in the community and collectively,
and without doubt, make us a better nation.

I see the benefits people get from creative opportunities everyday –
the child who plays in the school orchestra or appears in the school play –
the young people who sing in their local choir –
the kids I took from Barnsley to see the Olympic park;
the benefit derived from a trip to the gallery, theatre or museum
the skills, the disciplines, the experience they get are both valuable and transferable.

Their character and self confidence can be developed through the Arts – as when done well – creative opportunities can greatly help – as one mechanism – there are of course others – their full human potential to be realised.

But it’s not just about the next generation.

All of our daily lives are enriched by creative opportunities – whatever and wherever they may be, whether it’s:
a night out at the cinema, the theatre, a concert, an exhibition,
a night in with a book, a film, or music, or the TV
Whether it’s a visit to the local or national, museum or gallery
All of these activities can help us to realise our human potential too.

Culture in a globalised word is also an important form of diplomacy. Access via technology has changed this, broken down barriers and therefore the way we express ourselves culturally is often the first interaction we have with those outside our country.
In a globalised, complex and highly networked world we are increasingly working with other countries, with a raft of programmes, internships and collaborations being made with our museums, theatres, arts councils, universities and private organisations –
we need to ensure that the Olympics legacy will increase these opportunities for us and for the next generation.
The current direction of travel does not recognise or support the value of creativity opportunity – we need to change course.

I also believe that creativity is sometimes less about the eureka moment, such as Archimedes bath tub or Issac Newton’s apple but often about a struggle over time – with many elements coming together to inspire innovation.

So I end with a story, summarised from the book ‘Imagine: How Creativity Works’ by Jonah Lehrer:
In 1965, Bob Dylan had been struggling with a gruelling tour schedule, press intrusion and food poisoning caught on holiday in Portugal.
He was getting tired of playing the same songs, as opposed to creating new ones and he had had enough.
In London, at a sold-out Royal Albert Hall, Dylan told his manager he was quitting the music business. He was finished with singing and song-writing and was going to move to a tiny cabin in Woodstock, New York.
In Woodstock, Dylan was alone when he was overcome with a strange feeling. "It's a hard thing to describe" Dylan would later recall "It's just this sense that you got something to say." What he felt was the itch of an imminent insight, the tickle of lyrics that needed to be written down. "I found myself writing this song, this story, this long piece of vomit," Dylan said. "I'd never written anything like that before and it suddenly came to me that this is what I should do."

The song was ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ – it was composed differently from other songs in that the lyrics didn’t make sense and it was based on simple melody rather than a bringing together of different mediums and influences. There's some Delta blues and "La Bamba", but also plenty of Beat poetry, Ledbetter, and the Beatles.

The song helped revolutionise rock and roll, challenged the conventional wisdom of song writing, helped characterise a generation
and is still, fresh and vibrant nearly 50 years later.

Society needs the Bob Dylans of this world,
Society needs the JK Rowling’s, the Steve Jobs, the Danny Boyles, the Stella McCartney’s – those that can synthesise the cultural stimuli around them,

To create, innovate and inspire.

It’s up to us to ensure that individuals today have the same opportunity – Because we know it has value.

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