Is it Time to Reclaim the Arts?

Jenni from Soundcastle calls for an arts revolution after reflecting on an intense round of discussions at July 2015’s No Boundaries conference.

Revolution Blog PhotoMusic is for everyone. It is a fundamental part of being human. It is the first thing that we respond to when still in the womb, and it is the last thing preserved in our memory when mind and body deteriorate. In many countries music and dancing are part of everyday life, and ‘there are cultures in the world where to say “I’m not musical” would be meaningless, akin to saying “I’m not alive.”’ [1]

Even in the West, it is only in the last few hundred years that music has become something that a talented few perform to the revering masses. Neuroscientist William L. Benzon warns that if this continues, with low numbers of people actively engaged in creating music, we risk a path towards ‘cultural stagnation.’[2] Both neuroscience and anthropology can attest to the fact that everyone has the capacity to actively participate in music, and even that this is part of what makes us human. So why are so few claiming ownership? How can we change this and prevent our culture from stagnation?

 
At the Arts Council No Boundaries conference in Bristol last July, I posed these questions. In a setting where artists of all disciplines come together, I was interested to find out if other art forms shared similar issues. The resounding answer was YES.

Why is this happening?

There were many recurring themes across the arts forms around why the arts have become so elitist and exclusive.

Education and expectations

All too often people are heard to say “I can’t sing” or I can’t draw.” These perceptions have in some cases been explicitly caused by an experience, or comment that leaves a life-long impact. In others they are self-imposed, affected by the expectations and standards that are invisibly imposed by society and education, and the commonly held belief that people are not inherently creative.  We are taught that being creative has less status than other qualities, such as being proficient in science or maths, which are awarded the most attention and value in the education system.

Politics and celebrity

There is money to be made wherever people of status can be promoted and displayed. Record companies create and sell pop stars, and galleries compete to unveil the best up-and-coming or cutting edge artists. Participatory arts do not bring crowds, money or fame and are therefore kept at low status.

Language

The word “art” has gained exclusive connotations, and some people argued that the same is now true of the word “creative”. This may mean that no matter how inclusive it sets out to be, if it is labelled “creative art” it loses appeal for many segments of society. “Artists” and “participants” also have awkward implications and don’t represent the equality that is deserved.

So what can we do to make a change? Together we formulated some calls to action:

  1. We need to start small to change perceptions. Spread the word and help people understand that we are all engaging in acts of creativity all the time. Perhaps along the way we can reshape the language and find a new word for art. . .
  2. Lobby for the arts in education! Creative subjects need to be given the same status as other subjects, and delivered in a way that allows students to find personal connections and pathways.
  3. Whose voices are missing in this conversation? If the arts are for everyone, then everyone must have a say in what they mean. Let’s seek out the quieter voices and hidden perspectives.

Soundcastle seek to be a part of this movement, bringing music back into our communities, lives and grassroots culture. Join our revolution! Let’s reclaim expression and freedom as a worldwide community!

[1] Phillip Ball, The Music Instinct (2010)

[2] William L. Benzon, Beethoven’s Anvil (2001)