This less than conspicuous fluorescent pink book, titled, ‘Creativity: Why it matters’ from chief executive of Arts Council England, Darren Henley was published last week on the 28th June and is the sort of book that, if I still worked in a bookshop, I would most definitely have on display till-side. It’s small enough to read quickly and gives a convincing polemic for why creativity in all its forms generates a significant impact on the economy, in our communities, in our lives and education that leaves a lasting impression long after reading.
Somewhat bias of me but much of what Henley’s book covers will ring true with what those already in the art world know/believe about the labours and importance of their undertaking already, but is heartening nonetheless to have the message, along with some impressive stats and examples (such as Hull’s experiences being capital of culture) to demonstrate how creativity drives innovation, boosts our economy and enables individuals and communities to shape and define their futures.
“The creative industries contributed £91.8 billion to the UK economy in 2016 –that’s 5.3 percent of the UK economy (bigger than the combined totals of the automotive, life sciences, aerospace and oil and gas industries).”
This is exactly the sort of manifesto that one would want to come out from someone at the helm of Arts Council England and though he states that it is ‘his’ words rather than an official publication of the organisation, it is still reinforcing much of what must be some of the values and ambitions of Arts Council England? I assume! Henley also talks about the value of creativity (broadly speaking) rather than being pigeon-holed as being something only relevant to the arts and how its capacity for inducing curiosity, problem solving and analytical skills are essential in many industries as well as helping tackle rising problems of loneliness and issues surrounding mental-health. One such example cited by Professor Roger Kneebone is to use arts within sciences to teach medical staff,
“The expertise of the scientists and medics informs the creativity of the artists; and the expertise of the artists helps the scientists and medics to think and act more creatively.”
Of course, again my own personal bias is coming across here (having quite recently started working in a medical library) but in an era when arts are being increasingly cut in education and undervalued in the academic jobs market this little book is an important voice in the need to remind, inspire and nurture the provision of creativity. It isn’t simply a call for more money to be thrown at it, but a sort of recognition and investment that must first come from time and understanding. Some of the most successful musicians, artists and performers etc. often come out of places with little or no opportunity because there is a need or desire for expression and the arts in these areas of our communities. It also highlights the diversity of places and means by which people are ‘creative’ from cooking, to gardening, walking, writing and even fishing! However, the argument of when and where people learn and retain their creativity is something of contention but must still be encouraged. One such example cited that was of personal interest, being libraries,
“Libraries consistently emerge from surveys as being especially trusted institutions, safe spaces and resources of integrity. They are also making an evolutionary journey towards being communal, creative hubs, where you would be likely to access a 3D printer as a novel. Maybe we should develop these trusted community resources so that they become miniature local universities –centres for life-long learning and bases for new kinds of co-operative creative work. Centres of citizenship.”
Interesting and I haven’t really given too much thought into the practicalities of such a proposition, but I know that from working in a bookshop retail environment that what bookshops offer goes farther than being merely ‘just a place to shop’ yet, it seems, they are seldom by government or otherwise supported as being anything other. Yet they, libraries and other places people go to learn, socialise, have fun, connect and discover could continue and even be much more than they already offer. A thread that continues into Henley’s final chapter which addresses creativity and education and is critical of how it is being cut-back at the peril of failing to invest in human progress.
“Art education is not a luxury, it’s a necessity.”
Though its not all doom and gloom, he makes several resonate observations of why creativity is important in the development of a person's sense of self and potential to make positive change, in-fact the overriding feeling is one that this book is small and punchy enough to have an impact that could instigate long-lasting change, as long as the right people are (reading) listening. I hope so.