Last week I chaired a panel at London Writers' Week on how the industry and academia can work together to improve arts education and, via this, create a more sustainable arts industry.
Panelists included John Yorke, creator of the BBC Writers Academy, former Controller of BBC Drama Production, former Head of Channel Four Drama, author of the bestselling book on storytelling "Into the Woods" and Managing Director of Angel Station; Philip Shelley, instigator of the Channel Four screenwriting course and script consultant; Steve Winter, Director of the Kevin Spacey Foundation and co-founder of the Old Vic New Voices 24 Hour Plays and TS Eliot US/UK Exchange and former Director of Old Vic New Voices; Ola Animahawun, founder of the Royal Court Theatre's young writers programme and Creative Director of Euphoric Ink; Caroline Jester, Dramaturg and author of "Playwriting Across the Curriculum", and myself, Course Leader of the new MA Dramatic Writing at Drama Centre London at Central Saint Martins, Director of Writers at Work Productions and Director of London Writers' Week.
Key points which came up were:
1. There is a disconnect between the industry and academia at present, who are running separate, sometimes contradictory, training programmes, rather than often working together
2. Is it odd that courses around the UK teach very differently so there is no benchmark/ guidance on what consists of/should be a part of good training?
3. If we can teach craft (for example structure in dramatic writing) and business skills (for example how meetings work and what expectations to have, what are the companies out there, how to apply for funding, how to deal with rejection as part of a freelance career etc), we can help writers and artists to succeed in establishing sustainable careers
4. Teaching craft shouldn't mean getting rid of a writer's or artist's individuality, it should mean supporting it by allowing that talent to be expressed in the best way (just like a violinist is meant to improve with violin lessons rather than deteriorate was one example cited by one panel member)
5. As thought leaders, universities could be the home for developing and supporting new ideas in the arts in the UK - for example, in the MA Dramatic Writing Lab at Drama Centre London at Central Saint Martins, companies like the Bush Theatre, Old Vic New Voices, the Kevin Spacey Foundation, Caroline Horton, Tim Crouch, Tamasha and BBC Writersroom have come in to develop new ideas, benefitting both the organisations via giving them space and time to explore and the students by giving them insights into the process and, in some cases, commissions or other contributions as well (for example for the last two years Tamasha has offered response piece commissions in return for helping to develop a project, which have been showcased at London Writers' Week, providing the students with their first professional work as well as insight into the development process).
Other thoughts included the importance arts education as a whole plays in creating a diverse arts industry - the more we teach the arts at school and University level, and in the right way, the more a diverse range of people become open to that possibility as a career and, in terms of writing training, the more our writers are diverse, the more other areas of the industry become diverse too (such as actors, directors and the audience), creating a more sustainable industry.
Publishing and digital initiatives such as Oberon Books' new collaboration with the MA Dramatic Writing at Drama Centre London at Central Saint Martins and the Bush Theatre to provide access to leading industry training that has never been published before were also highlighted as key to making the arts industry a more accessible, and as such, sustainable place.
With the Cultural Learning Alliance's recent figures showing falling numbers of students studying arts subjects at school level, the end of the creative writing A level and the recent debate over whether arts subjects should be a part of the new EBACC now is the time to protect arts education.
For more information on the EBACC please go to: http://www.baccforthefuture.com/
For more information on Oberon Books/the Bush Theatre/ the MA Dramatic Writing at Drama Centre London's new collaboration please go to: http://oberonbooks.com/creative-writing/dramatic-writing