One of the unique aspects of the Arts Council's work towards ‘raising the standard of work for, with and by children and young people’ is the way they have cast their role as hosting the debate, while holding back from telling the sector what the answer is. Even the Arts Council’s core ‘Quality group’ is comprised of practitioners like myself from outside Government. Sometimes this group has reached unanimous agreement, sometimes the debate has been heated an unresolved – but at all times the debate has been authentic, not the ‘listening exercise’ some of us experience where Government eventually retires in private to take the real decisions.
Back in December 2011 the Quality group designed and contributed to the first Quality Debate, at which 200 participants spent a day at the CBSO in Birmingham debating the concept of artistic ‘quality’ in relation to young people – which is different and more challenging in many ways from the concept of quality in cultural activity aimed at adults. Some of the discussions felt like we been there before (product versus process etc), but it was good to draw the strands together and take stock.
But the event also brought sharp focus to the shared understanding that discussion – proper, reflective, considered discussion – is itself one of the main factors which help us raise standards and constantly improve.
Now one year on the Arts Council have published new research carried out by NFER and Shared Intelligence about the principles of quality in arts and education. They have also tested those ideas at a brilliant national event at the Sage Gateshead led by young people, where teenagers explained how they would raise quality in the arts – and also challenged assumptions and language used by adults.
This video provides an overview of the event, and highlights the discussions, thoughts and ideas that the young people had:
The next stage is to hold another national event on 20 February in London, and the Quality group have again shaped the design and content. This time we will begin with a morning exploring the quality principles and the ideas which underpin them. But the event will change gear into an afternoon of practitioner-led ‘open space’ discussions, with ideas and topics pitched by participants. The aim is to get beyond talking about quality, to planning and scoping real practical ideas and actions - which put the principles of quality into practice.
So unlike many events where the buzz of the day quickly fades into a memory, we want the buzz of the day to be a springboard for real action. We might get there simply by people entering into the spirit of the event. But we are also looking for ways to increase the chances of ideas from the event becoming a reality in the months which follow. We can’t really say more than that now, except that we really hope people do enter the spirit of the event and come forward with ideas which go beyond ‘conference talk’ and could actually be put into practice.
We have begun inviting people who have been involved in the quality work to date or who we think will want to contribute, but we are also making some places freely available. If you have already been invited there is no need to register again, but if you have not already been offered a place and want to attend, then visit the Eventbrite page.
And finally, if you have been following the quality debate, or have read the report and have ideas for open space discussions you want to pitch – then write them in a comment below or Tweet it using #cypquality. And if you do make it on the day, we’ll take you up on them.
This post was written by James Mackenzie-Blackman, a member of the Arts Council's external reference group on quality, children and young people.