Art & Education

Within education, the government’s White Paper (Department for Education and Employment, 1997) expressed a strong desire to invest in “human capital” and a need to unlock the potential of every young person, with Britain’s economic prosperity and social cohesion depending on it. In response the National Advisory Committee on Creative and Cultural Education (NACCCE) published a report (1999) which laid out its ideas for how this should be done. It pointed out that:

“…in the last 25 years the roles of artists have diversified enormously through work in education, community and social projects of every sort. Artists have many contributions to make to cultural development, and there are many ways in which they can make them: in schools, through community programmes, through placements in industry, through work in institutional settings and special programmes.”

It also quotes Sir Simon Rattle saying, “To be a performing artist in Britain in the next century, you have to be an educator too.” This of course is music to the ears of practitioners of all persuasions who see the intrinsic relationship between art and education and its potential use in society. Among the report’s recommendations that talk about an evaluation of existing techniques and programmes promoting creative thinking skills and creative problem solving it suggests the Department for Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) and DfEE should fund a number of projects that seek to find ways of training artists and teachers to work in partnership. Holden (2015) endeavours to highlight the importance of a cultural ecology, but also alerts us to the possibility its development is stunted by a lack of “connectors” or facilitators, who operate between the producer and the consumer, the curator.

Education provides places for a teacher and learner to be in the same place at the same time, freely able to converse. Parallel relationships between artist and viewer, researcher and society endeavour to find ways for the former to communicate their ideas as effectively when they are not present. The art world has already bought into the need for curators to facilitate the relationship between artwork and viewer. The relationship between researcher and society begs for the same role to exist. People are starting to notice this and look for solutions.

Bodies like the National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement (NCCPE) with Arts Council England funding launched the Museum University Partnerships Initiative in 2016. Its pilot studies saw that when researchers collaborated with a museum [giving them access to their “unique collections and engagement expertise”] they were able to “disseminate their research, and engage a range of audiences with it”. But of course these collaborations are worth far more than providing ways in which to jump over new and unfamiliar hurdles, it was also revealed that in over 70% of the 6,975 case studies submitted the public experienced more than just dissemination “…it involved them in meaningful and significant encounters with the research”.

Where goods and services are concerned, the term ‘middleman’ has acquired very negative connotations. ‘Cutting him out’ is commonly seen as a way to save time, money and fuss. However when it comes to knowledge transfer, presentation and engagement it’s the translators, facilitators and organisers of the world that can produce the final pieces of the puzzle. It’s in this space that real world value and potential can be experienced and realised.

Claire Bishop’s (2007) observation that “The straitjacket of efficiency and conformity that accompanies authoritarian models of education seems to beg for playful, interrogative and autonomous opposition. Art is just one way to release this grip” is a well informed, if not slightly combative statement. If we look more to collaboration than opposition we get more of a helpful and productive way for art and education to enter the 21st century with more light-bulb moments than unread discourses.


Bishop, C. (2007) ‘The New Masters of Liberal Arts: Artists Rewrite the Rules of Pedagogy’ in Allen, F. (ed.) Education: Documents of Contemporary Art. London: Whitechapel Gallery

Department for Education and Employment (1997) Excellence in Schools. London: HMSO

Holden, J. (2015) The Ecology of Culture. Swindon: Arts and Humanities Research Council

National Advisory Committee on Creative and Cultural Education (1999) All Our Futures. Sudbury: DfEE

NCCPE (2017) Available at: