On 5th December 2012 a group of over 50 people assembled in the auditorium of the University Campus Oldham to debate issues and share knowledge around the current and potential opportunities for young people to access the arts….
Entitled ‘Go4Gold’ and presented under the Hideout Project banner, the evening was hosted by Peshkar Productions and featured a mix of performance, showcasing and critical conversation from a wide range of stakeholders including arts workers, educationalists, academics, artists and young people.
The evening was framed around four keynote speeches relevant to the theme, which then prompted further discussion in the form of breakout groups made up of randomised audience members in the room. These thematic moments were further punctuated by short presentations by young Peshkar participants, advocating on behalf of the company, describing how the arts had intervened in their lives making greater sense of their lives and futures.
The speakers themselves came from a wide range of backgrounds and sectors, each one offering a context to the discussion based on their own knowledge and experience.
Up first was Raja Miah who shared with us information on ‘Collective Spirit,’ a new free school for Oldham, and the role that the arts will play in enhancing the key philosophical ethos at the heart of the project.
Faz Shah, a Peshkar trustee and the first gold arts awardee in Oldham, followed by talking frankly and openly about the issues he faced in achieving his award and what he believes will be the benefits for him and future participants.
Tray Wilson from University Campus Oldham shared her strong belief in the potential of Higher Education in the continued delivery of the arts offer and in particular what students could hope to achieve through study in the town, whilst Ian Tabbron from Arts Council England, gave both a personal story of his own background but set a wider context and challenge to the sector to work harder in recognising the achievements of organisations such as Peshkar and support their development to ensure that a continued conveyor belt of talent thrives from areas of limited socio-economic opportunity.
In an attempt to address the tone of the room and to add my own observations to the debate, I closed the evening by addressing what I believe to be the key issue facing us all if we want to ensure an arts equality for all, that enables talent to thrive from all walks of life.
I used the example of the amazing Olympic Opening Ceremony and made reference to the key talent on show in the form of Danny Boyle, JK Rowling and Kenneth Branagh explaining that their incredible success at the mid point of their careers was not the only thing that they had in common. I also pointed out that they all emerged from a first class state education system that was free at all points including university when their generation (of which I also emerged) did not have to pay prohibitive tuition fees. In some cases they would not have even been burdened by student loans.
How will future generations of talent be expected to emerge if only certain socio economic groups can afford the luxury of a creative education and what will be the long term effects on our economy if innovation, ingenuity and creative spark is not encouraged to thrive?