Take heart, friends, involving yourself in the arts has finally been recognised officially as improving our lives. Yes, you may have missed this, I nearly did, but the All Party Enquiry into the Arts that has been investigating the latest innovations in the ‘field of arts and health’ since 2014, has released a report saying that creativity is beneficial. Wow, is that good?
Well, in theory, it should be, but what will happen to these findings, I wonder?
Ideally, it will be reflected in practical ways, and the value of adult learning that is not job-centred will be recognised by the funders. According to Mark Brown, writing in the Guardian, the former Arts minister, Lord Howarth, said:
“Sceptics say where is the evidence of the efficacy of the arts in health? Where is the evidence of the value for money it can provide? We show it in this report.
“The arts can help people take responsibility for their own health and wellbeing in ways that will be crucial to the health of the nation.”
Don’t get me wrong, learning for work is good, very good. As someone who came late to Higher Education I value the chances to re-train, and change professions. But I also took part in creative writing evening classes for adults for several years before that, and we definitely were part of the ‘recreational’ learning provision.
Our ages ranged from early twenties to late seventies. Some of us had jobs, many were retired. For two hours a week we put aside our other lives and entered new worlds. I’ve never forgotten the joy of having that space, or the way we were encouraged to share ideas and reach outside of our boxes.
If most of the students kept their classes at hobby status, that didn’t mean the courses were frivolous. What I saw then was how the mix of ages and ambitions came together to create something enervating.
I credit those classes with giving me the confidence to get back to formal education, when the opportunity arose, even thought that wasn’t their purpose. Classes have always been about so much more than training.
The social interactions between people who share interests doesn’t just stimulate the learning synapses, it engenders social skills. Students exploring ideas on one subject digress onto others, share experiences, interact with people they might not have had chance to mingle with any other way.
Is it too broad a generalisation to say that learning turns us outwards, rather than inwards? Now that I view the world from the other side of the desk, my answer is no.
So I do think these findings are important, but I’m also concerned about what might be done with them. Let’s not think only in terms of placing creativity where it is part of a therapy system, we need to recognise that giving everyone access to creative-learning benefits the system.
It is important that the therapeutic value of the arts is recognised, and expanded on, and this report is valuable on those grounds. But let’s not forget preventive strategies. In other health reports, we’ve been told that keeping our minds active is one of the keys to achieving a healthy and happy longevity.
Ed Vaizey, arts minister for six years, said:
“I was very conscious as a minister that I worked in a silo and it was incredibly hard to break out of that silo, incredibly hard to engage with ministers from other government departments. The arts, almost more than any sector, is a classic example where silo working does not work.”