When I arrived at the Arts Council a little over two years ago, I discovered (with some alarm!) that I was going to be the Executive Board member with responsibility for Goal 1, for ensuring that ‘excellence is thriving and celebrated in arts, museums and libraries’. Who was going to determine what was ‘excellent’ – our arts and cultural leaders? The professional critics? …Me? Would it ever be possible to agree within the Arts Council – let alone amongst arts and cultural organisations – what are the key determinants of ‘quality’?
The wording of this principle implies not only a deliberate distinction between the three elements (excite, inspire, engage) but also a degree of serial progression through these three forms of experience.
To ‘excite’ a young person is to provide them with an experience which is likely to be highly enjoyable and thought-provoking, possibly frightening or even disturbing, but invariably positive and life-enhancing.
To ‘inspire’ is to go further – to suggest new ideas or discoveries and to provoke an urge to take some form of action or decision arising from them.
As one of the few adult ‘gate-crashers’ at Arts Council England’s #cypquality consultation event on 3 November I am unable to tell you much about what went on as I was kicked-out (politely I must add!) so that the young people could get on with their task of debating the thorny issue of quality. We were allowed back in however at the end of the day to hear participants present their ideas.
The Arts Council’s Young people’s quality event was a great 24 hours of performance, networking and finding out what other young people feel about the arts industry and how it can be improved to benefit us. The event was pretty full-on and we were literally thrown right in. We were divided into different groups to find out what type of things the younger generation of the artistic world want and need to make the most of whatever talent or skill they have, and then we were asked to consider how Arts Council England and other arts organisations can help them.
I’m confident that the event on Friday ‘How do we know it’s propa belta?’ would have convinced any cynic of the true value of actively involving children and young people (which is one of the seven 'quality principles' to come out of Arts Council's work on young people, the arts, and quality).
One of Arts Council’s five long term strategic goals is focussed on children and young people. A key priority within this is 'raising the standard work produced by, with and for children and young people'. This is inherently challenging, it raises many issues such as ownership, authenticity, purpose, and who defines ‘excellent’.