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June 25, 2018

How to look at art: Creativity is a new economic model

Painting by students of MASK’s art-for-creativity workshop
Painting by students of MASK’s art-for-creativity workshop

Recently, I was sent a report[i], the essence of which is this: According to the Confederation of British Industry which represents a third of the UK’s private sector workforce, employers need ‘first and foremost’ creative (effective problem-solving) employees[ii]. Yet, the time allocated to art – critical to creativity-learning - has been substantially reduced in state schools in the UK in the last five years. This mismatch between the business need and education input is typical to many other countries too. So, what is going on?

There are two possible explanations. First is policymakers’ lack of understanding. Governments prioritise STEM subjects at the expense of the arts. In this flawed thinking they believe that literacy and numeracy equal economic prosperity and individual productivity, and that ‘to count is to be economically effective, and to create – is not’. Mistaking creativity for an ability to paint, draw, sing, etc, they lack the understanding that the art practices are key to learning creative thinking. Art for them at best is a leisure to enhance social life. Their negative perception of art is reflected in parents, school management, and students. The damaging consequences of this flawed thinking can be felt by industries and job markets for decades. 

Another explanation is that the reduction of art in schools is deliberate. The leading African artist Ibrahim El-Salahi, who was a senior government official responsible for education and culture in his native Sudan, quoted me a saying favoured by the Nazi Germany leaders: ‘when I hear word ‘art’ I want to reach for the gun’, meaning that governments can deliberately supress creativity of people, reserving it to a selected few. The ability of people to generate new ideas, think independently, oppose conventions and change the status quo can be threatening to the establishment.

The UK government’s ‘Red Flag Act’ of 1865 comes to mind. To control innovations in transportation (creativity in business is called ‘innovation’) and any changes it might bring, the legislation ordered automobiles not to exceed the speed of 3.2 km per hour in cities; the men holding red flags were to walk in front of the automobiles. The legislation lasted for 30 years. In the same way in the UK today the government might be imposing the ‘red flags’ on creativity-learning in schools by cutting back on art.

 

Time has changed, however. Technological progress rapidly transforms the way we work and live. In the 21st century, creativity is ‘the engine of economic prosperity’, according to the World Economic Forum. Creativity is the new infrastructure, the new economic model, and the true ‘IQ’. Creative people have the confidence to build the future. The establishment, therefore, faces the dilemma: to suppress creativity and sabotage economic growth, prompt unrest and become irrelevant, or to support creativity and drive prosperity. What will they choose?

The Kenyan government has made their choice, and it is ahead of the UK. The recent Kenyan school curriculum reform made creativity a ‘core competence’ of the basic education. ‘Creative Arts’ is to be taught in primary schools, and the secondary school students can learn creativity directly at the workshops facilitated by the trained teachers. The government is setting up the National Skills Council and reviewing the Cultural Centre Act to align it with the technological advancements.

 

Alla Tkachuk founded creativity-learning platform MASK a decade ago. Sign up for her forthcoming book ‘Fundamental Creativity’ on http://mobileartschoolinkenya.org/foundation-creativity.html 

 

REFERENCES

[i] ‘A crisis in the creative arts in the UK’, Professor John Last, Norwich University of the Arts, 2017

[ii] CBI Education and Skills Survey, 2016

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