Teresa Early, Artistic Director at Theatre Peckham and I are launching the project report from our Creativeworks London Round 6 project on Wednesday 12th November. The research is intended to be a critical step for Theatre Peckham in setting up new routes into training and employment in the creative and cultural sector. We’ve convened a panel of people who are deeply connected to the value that the arts has for young people. As I prepare for the event, I’m reflecting on what I’ve learned and what I hope we can share with others as we begin to talk about the outcomes.
What we understand as the ‘value’ in participating in culture and the arts is in the process of being redefined. A momentous conversation is taking place in the UK. The Cultural Value Project is a research initiative, introduced by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) in 2012. As part of this initiative, the AHRC has supported over 70 independently led academic projects investigating the arts and culture and the value they bring to individuals and society. More than ever before perhaps, there is a necessity and a drive to develop a language that is understood and recognised by the funding bodies, the applicants and those participating in projects. We are striving to better understand what actually happens to people in their encounters with arts and culture.
It is within this broader context that this project has positioned itself. It is within this context that 34 young people have told us what matters to them, what they value and what would help them further as they strive to achieve, to succeed and enter into further education and training in the creative and cultural sector. In order to explore this aspect of cultural value in a way that would directly impact on the work that Theatre Peckham does and might do in the future, qualitative research in the form of interviews was carried out between April and July 2014. Young people from a range of settings in Southwark were invited to participate in a 60–90 minute interview as part of the project.
The key things about participation in drama, theatre and performance that were deemed to be of the most value were:
– The pleasure that people experience when performing or working hard during a creative process;
– The fact that participation enabled people to access opportunities they wouldn’t ordinarily have known about;
– Community and the sense of belonging engendered by providers of a range drama and theatre activity;
– Transferable skills that people have learned and utilised in other areas of their lives;
– The increase in knowledge that people have experienced in, for example the political and historical contexts of plays as well as the acquisition of qualifications that has been a valuable outcome of their participation.
The participants talked about a number of barriers and obstacles that they faced as they were trying to navigate their way through/towards a career in this sector. They spoke about financial barriers, family and societal views of drama, race, class and background as a barrier to success among other things. Most of the people interviewed had some financial concerns when it came to pursuing a career in acting for example. Approximately 53 per cent of respondents identified their socio-economic background as working class. Reasons for financial concerns were varied and more complex than the issue of Student Fees. Many of those interviewed perceived the industry as very difficult to get stable work from. There was a perception of extreme competition for jobs in the sector with long-term financial stability being a concern. One person said:
“I think it’s money doubts, not during the process but afterwards because that’s when you’re, you’re left to find a job and things… It is hard, going for a career option sort of to do with theatre or something.” (Charter School Student)
The young people also offered a number of specific and concrete ideas for inclusion in this kind of provision. Denise Keane, Head of Education and Training at Theatre Peckham feels that those things and the report generally, are going to be key to the future planning for the organisation.
Dr. Catherine McNamara is Reader in Applied Theatre and Pro-Dean (Students) at Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. She is the academic partner for this collaboration with Theatre Peckham.
Marine Begault is a graduate of Central’s MA Applied Theatre and is a Research Assistant on the project.
This article was first published on the Creativeworks London website on 10th November 2014.