Learning in England
It has been increasingly difficult for young people to access arts and culture. School art provisions are declining rapidly. The total estimated cost spent in England and Wales on educational art services for 2016/2017 is projected to fall another 13 percent from 2015.

As a result, there has been a decline in English children becoming involved in art subjects, a reduction in art teaching hours and fewer art teachers employed in schools. Informal programs have also suffered due to local authority cuts.

The Cultural Learning Alliance (CLA) exists to address these issues. The alliance is a collective voice working to ensure that all children have meaningful access to cultural programs. Its goals are to advocate for a coherent national strategy for cultural learning, to unite the education, youth and cultural sectors, to showcase projects and demonstrate why cultural learning is so important.

The CLA first published the Imagine Nation report in 2011 to set the agenda for a national conversation about the value of cultural learning. The following statistics were included in the 2017 version of the report and outline the benefits of cultural learning:

  • Participation in structured arts activities can increase cognitive abilities by 17 percent.
  • Students from low-income families who take part in arts activities at school are three times more likely to graduate. These students are also 20 percent more likely to vote as young adults.
  • Studying art subjects increases the likelihood of students maintaining employment.
  • People who take part in the arts are 38 percent more likely to report good health.
  • Employability of students who study arts subjects is higher.

David Puttnam, the chairman of the CLA, has described the report as a wake-up call to boost cultural learning in England. “It is essential that access to arts is a right and not a privilege,” he says.

Similarly, Michelle Obama has stated that “Arts education…is the air many of these kids breathe. It’s how we get kids excited about getting up and going to school in the morning. It’s how we get them to take ownership of their future.”

The Imagine Nation report has resulted in a “call to arms” to boost cultural learning in England. According to the report, “we must act now to ensure that the next generation is given all the tools it needs to build a stronger, healthier society.”

Liliana Rehorn

Photo: Flickr

Art Responds to the Refugee Crisis in A World Not Ours
The Syrian refugee crisis receives enormous amounts of news coverage and is often a source of debate as a political and humanitarian issue. Still, for people removed from the situation it can be difficult to truly comprehend the severity of the situation. This is where art can serve as a way to engage a wider audience and explain the issues on a human level as opposed to politically and statistically.

In the past couple of years, there have been many notable art exhibitions dedicated to the refugee crisis. Most recently the exhibit A World Not Ours has received a significant amount of attention.

A World Not Ours is an exhibition backed by the Schwarz Foundation and curated by Katerina Gregos at the Art Space Pythagorion in the Greek Island of Samos. Greece is currently home to 57,000 refugees. A diverse group of artists illustrates the hardships and trauma of refugee life, hoping to create a greater understanding of the crisis and empathy for those 21 million refugees.

Lebanese artist Ninar Esber created a two-hour live performance piece, The Blind Lighthouse. A woman’s face is completely covered as she stands on top of a lighthouse facing the sea. The lights on the structure are very dim but the audience is encouraged to approach. However, once they approach, she turns away. It is an attempt to demonstrate the treacherous and unpredictable voyage refugees must take when they leave their country. The Schwarz Foundation states the performance “encourages us to reflect upon our relations with those on the ‘other’ side.”

Another artist featured is Tanja Boukal, who originates from Austria. She exhibited the photo collage Memories of Travels and Dreams which consists of a collection of items the artist found on her trip from Kuşadas, Turkey to Samos, Greece. She compares the trips between tourists and refugees. Though they are going to the same destinations, the trips are vastly different. Tourist buys a $40 ferry ticket in which they are offered varied amenities. A stark contrast from the $1500 refugees must pay to travel on a small, overcrowded and usually faulty boats.

Other artists include Yannis Behrakis, Róza El-Hassan, Mahdi Fleifel, Marina Gioti, Sallie Latch and many others.

Curator Gregos says “while exhibitions like these do not solve the problem, they do keep it alive in our minds and maintain public awareness so that the necessary debate continues. What is needed, ultimately, is empathy, the ability to consider the question ‘what if this were me? How would I react then?”

It is worthwhile to view the artwork presented in A World Not Ours because it offers an emotive perspective on the refugee crisis.

Karla Umanzor

Photo: Flickr