Whose voice is sought, cherished, and amplified in contemporary culture?
There is a tendency to hear only those who are able to shout loudest in the arts. But that practice does not tell us if the cultural silence of our most challenged communities is taken as approval, disinterest, or disconnection.
My concern is that the creative voice of the most marginalised and disengaged in our society is rarely heard; their songs are unsung and their stories are untold.
My bigger worry, and I worry a lot, is that the 240,000 young people living in poverty across Scotland—those one in four who might benefit disproportionately from access to, engagement with, and participation in the arts and culture—have so little support for individual, collective, or community creativity. And thus, their cultural identity goes unrecognized and their creative potential untapped.
We know that engaging creatively builds resilience, raises self-esteem, connects people, and strengthens identity. Being more creative can play a huge role insupporting individual and community well-being and easing the strain of modern life. Yet we are such a long way from systematic, long-term solutions to celebrating these facts, as evidenced recently by the foundation Nesta and the Cultural Learning Alliance (CLA), a collective voice working to ensure that all children have meaningful access to culture.
If sustained access to the arts and cultural engagement can improve attainment, cognitive ability, behaviour, skills, and mental and physical well-being, as well as positively influencing the likelihood of voting, volunteering, getting a degree, and getting and keeping a job, then why are arts education, creative learning, and cultural engagement programmes sitting so quietly on the sidelines of our contemporary cultural practice?
Certainly, there are arts charities delivering valuable standalone projects and schools are doing their best within the curriculum and as time and priorities allow. But with ever-dwindling resource and an increasingly competitive funding environment, even the aggregated help from organisations is not enough for teachers and youth workers, who can only whisper at the possibilities of significant societal and educational improvement as a result of arts access and participation. How long do we suppress the massive potential of the arts to help make the difference to their imagination and ingenuity and support young people to achieve and attain in life, school, and work?
What we need is big, bold, ambitious, and transformational governmental strategies to build long-term and sustained creative and cultural activity in areas where the effects might resonate most strongly.
We need to strategise, lobby, network, connect, collaborate, advocate, and invest in the people who are passionate about putting young people first. We need to support visionary organizations to develop creative ideas and solutions to tackle the major societal changes we face today. That way we can build an inclusive creative nation in which all voices can be heard, and build from a single whispered note to a resounding cultural chorus.
Echoes of Silence was first published in The Arts Journal as part of Global Cultural Fellows with the University of Edinburgh - https://theartsjournal.net/2017/07/18/echoes-of-silence/