Tips for Business Start Ups: Exciting New Website is a contradiction in terms.

Ok Harry, I know your business idea is going to occupy a special niche in your specialised niche market, and I get it that your finances stack up and that your social networking strategy has set fire to Twitter, but I’m disappointed when when you use the words ‘Exciting’ ‘New’ and ‘Website’ in the same sentence and in that order.

Websites are unfortunately not new any longer and to describe anything at all these days as ‘exciting’ demonstrates a real paucity of your stock of business adjectives. Nothing is exciting any longer Harry because its one of those adjectives that has been pummelled to death in trying to stimulate interest in products or services as diverse as coconut oil, flange sprockets and funeral services. None of these things are exciting and neither should they be.

‘Exciting’ is a word that should be reserved for events like falling off a cliff, demolishing a bank vault or being chased by a bull in a field – they’re all exciting as you’re putting your body and mind on the line, risking either impairment, arrest or death. That’s what an exciting life is all about – not getting an adrenaline rush by opening up a web page on google.

‘May you live in interesting times‘ might sound like a compliment when it fact it’s a stealth like curse: ‘may you develop an exciting new website’ has the same kind of promise – the promise of more tedious clicking, blinking and typing in registration details until you lose the will to live and phone for the exciting funeral director to relieve you of your pent up excitement.

Everybody dance now! – revolutionary songs continue to drive the revolution through the rhetoric of crisis

The Arts in Schools: Principles, practice and provision was published by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation in 1982; it was followed some 17 years later by All Our Futures Creativity, Culture and Education, published by NACCCE, the National Advisory Committee on Creative and Cultural Education. Both documents can trace their heritage to Half Our Future, a report of the Central Advisory Council for Education (England) published in 1963 and chaired by John Newsom, which, in its turn pays homage to the work of Herbert Read and his 1957 conference report for the Joint Council for Education through Art, Humanity, Technology and Education.

In setting out their argument to reposition arts education (in 1982) and creativity and cultural education (in 1999) in the curriculum, the documents argue from the position that as we live in unprecedented times, with unprecedented challenges, it is essential that educational policy makers and practitioners look to a future which commits to the centrality of arts or creative education in the development of school cultures and curricula.

In the Gulbenkian report, these ‘unprecedented challenges’ revolve around patterns of employment, the relationship between education and society and the nature of cultural change in Britain. These changes are heightened by various ‘threats’ of ‘falling school rolls, cuts in public expenditure and some of the demands of educational accountability’ and are characterised in a language of despair: ‘actual provision for the arts in schools, so far from getting better, is facing serious deterioration’ ; ‘nationally, the situation is bleak and becoming bleaker’.

All Our Futures, published by NACCCE in 1999 and chaired by Ken Robinson, starts in a similar tone. ‘Education faces challenges that are without precedent which it repeats, (‘Education throughout the world faces unprecedented challenges: technological, social, and personal.’) and then elaborates upon: ‘the benefits of success are enormous and the costs of inaction profound’. From its first pages, the report argues that the need for creative education is predominantly economically driven:

In 1997, the Government published its White Paper Excellence in Schools. It described education as a vital investment in ‘human capital’ for the twenty-first century. It argued that one of the problems in education is the low expectations of young people’s abilities and that it is essential to raise morale, motivation and self esteem in schools. The main focus of the White Paper was on raising standards in literacy and numeracy. But this will not be enough to meet the challenges that face education, and the White Paper recognised this…. It emphasised the urgent need to unlock the potential of every young person and argued that Britain’s economic prosperity and social cohesion depend on this. This report argues that a national strategy for creative and cultural education is essential to that process.

Robinson has continued to communicate this message of unprecedented change in education and the link to economic well being. At a key note address to an international conference in Holland, for example, he expressed his view that the debates on creativity and the relationship of arts within the curriculum had a global significance: the truth is that every educational system represented at this conference, every education system everywhere, is facing a revolution.

The quasi-apocalyptic views that Robinson has expressed over the last 25 years are not new and his is not the voice of the lone prophet in the wilderness. Robinson himself is an echo of earlier voices in the English education system broadcasting much the same message of the need to redress the place of arts education within the curriculum. For example, at the conference held by the Joint Council for Education through Art in 1957, Blackham concluded:

We believe that neither the contribution of the arts to general education, nor the place of general education in the national life has yet been properly recognised, and we want to form a body of enlightened opinion drawn from all walks of life which will bring general public opinion to share our conviction and see our vision of the role of the arts in general and the role of general education in the life of our industrial mass society.

The Gulbenkian report refered back to this conference, insisting that ‘It is all the more poignant… that this is a struggle in which we are now, even more pressingly, engaged 20 years on’. Now, a further 54 years on from that report, it is telling that variations on the same theme are being heard from arts educators not just within the UK but around the world.

As James Callaghan once (didn’t) say: Crisis, what crisis?

Extract from
When Herbert Met Ken: Understanding the 100 Languages of Creativity English in Education / National Association for the Teaching of English, Vol. 41 No. 2., 2007.
Available at
http://aspire-trust.academia.edu/NIckOwen/Papers/881601/When_Herbert_met_Ken_understanding_the_100_languages_of_creativity

Original references removed for the sake of brevity.

More at: https://drnicko.wordpress.com/2012/04/02/rejoice-a-little-known-connection-between-creativity-cultural-education-and-the-falklands-malvinas-campaign/

Might the arts be bad for your health?

There is a wealth of data, strategy documents and rhetoric out there which make the case that participating in, or experiencing, arts practice, is good for one’s health and wellbeing. This ‘good’ is frequently expressed in psychological terms, in social terms and of course with the usual economic justifications somewhere, sotto voce, off-stage. It seems that there’s nothing that a good dose of arts workshop, performance, practice or building can’t fix – or at least ameliorate – these days.

But is there a risk that in promoting this all-encompassing goodness of the arts that we risk exaggerating and glorifying what effects they can achieve? Our ever-increasing instrumentalisation of the arts might be good for the arts economy but is it good for the arts? And actually is it all that good for us?

Lets face it, if we break a leg, we go to hospital, we don’t go to see the local choreographer and ask them to repair the bones and ligaments. If we need come root canal work done, chances are we’d rather have an injection of some rather powerful lignocaine in our gums rather than opt for the opportunity to sing away the pain.

Perhaps the best we can say is that the arts don’t actually do us any harm and that after a broken leg or that excruciating root canal work the best thing we can do is read some poetry or listen to some Beethoven whilst we keep taking the Neurofen.

But perhaps not. Perhaps there’s a possibility that drama work we so fond of might actually be damaging our mental health. Perhaps learning the guitar is tantamount to smoking 5 cigarettes a day. Perhaps the choir we joined is actually increasing infection rates of airborne diseases by factors which we can only wildly guess at the moment.

These are possibly quite preposterous suggestions and the evidence, strategies and rhetoric will flatten them in the matter of seconds. But perhaps not: there might well be a nasty surprise in the middle of all that goodness which will come out to bite us when we’re least expecting it.