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In Conversation with... Dr. Robert Watts and Dan Dickey

'Art Funding for schools has been declining since 2010. Has this impacted creativity and how art subjects are valued?'

Dr Rob Watts, painter, teacher and now senior lecturer in Art & Design Education at Roehampton University and Dan Dickey former English teacher, founder of Arts Projects for Schools and lifetime supporter of the arts agreed to sit down with me and tackle the thorny question.

The question of ‘comparative value’ was an interesting kick off point pitting the value of art subjects against core subjects in schools and whether they are perceived to be of equal value? Both felt that the ‘short answer’ was ‘No’, however you needed to look beyond the obvious and understand the parameters in which ‘value’ and ‘success’ are currently measured. In fact measurement was the crux of the issue. Dan’s view “Core subjects are essentially linear whilst creative subjects are lateral and therefore in terms of preparing a child for the world of work, the arts are not viewed in the same light.” The use of frameworks and testing for measurement of achievement is not a new phenomenon, however Rob emphasised …”Core subjects are more directive, not in opposition, to the arts, nor to the exclusion of creativity. The arts are, by their very nature, experiential, subjective and difficult to quantify, but this is central to their value in a learning environment. A single starting point like drawing a vase of sunflowers creates a multitude of diverse responses from the children, diversity of interpretation is encouraged and celebrated.”

Value is subjective, and Rob was clear to point out that creativity is not the sole purview of the arts…”Creative solutions in science, mathematics and other subjects are equally valued, however the quality of teaching and creating an engaging learning environment is critical to promoting creativity in children”

Frameworks, curricula, private versus state schooling, funding, socio-economic conditions and even geographic locations were batted back and forth, but both felt that despite these potential ‘hand-cuffs’ on creativity, the arts were still valued in school and in wider society. In the world of work Dan felt strongly that candidates with creative mindsets were …’more employable, progressed more quickly and stood out from other more ‘linear’ candidates’… and Rob was quick to point out that …’opportunities for creativity are potentially at an all-time high as technology develops and children have greater and greater access to platforms that not only allow them to view images but also to create their own.'

Listening to them, it was clear that education, business, community and family are all integral to engendering creativity. The subsequent value that a proud parent feels receiving their first handmade Christmas card or to the cybergiants of silicone valley employing technical wizards for the billion dollar gaming industry is a clear indication of how creativity and the arts are valued.

It struck me that perhaps despite the potential barriers. ‘Art finds a way’.

By Gareth Coombes-Olney


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