This post was co-authored by Jon Alexander in collaboration with Jo Hunter. Jo is co-Founder of 64 Million Artists, a social enterprise on a mission to unleash the creative potential of the entire UK, and an Associate of the New Citizenship Project. She tweets as @thesonghunter.
What did you love to do when you were a kid? Make dens? Make up stories? Paint pictures? How often do you do that now? The Everyday Creativity report, launched today by 64 Million Artists and co-written by one of the authors of this piece, argues that by making a distinction between artists and audiences, creative and non-creatives, talented and untalented, we are creating generations of young people and adults who think of themselves only as consumers of culture, and not as active participants in it.
Through much of the coverage we see of the publicly funded arts in the UK, we tend to see one message: Art is what Artists do. The arts in this country can all too often feel all about excellence; big names, expensive sets, high ticket prices and it can feel like a closed shop, attended only by the elite. The Warwick Commission report into the value of arts and culture of last year states that the wealthiest, best educated and least ethnically diverse 8% of society make up nearly half of live music audiences and a third of theatregoers and gallery visitors.
In sport, things are very different. We see top level footballers, tennis players, gymnasts and we admire them, we want to watch them, but there is also plenty of messaging out there to tell us to get involved too. During the Euros, or Wimbledon or the Olympics, we'll see more people out there in parks, public sports centres and in their back gardens getting involved and having a go at sport, regardless of skill or talent.
So why not the arts? The Everyday Creativity report found that one of the biggest barriers for participation in the arts is the prevailing excellence narrative that goes alongside it. Judges on the X Factor or even a teacher at school might say you 'can't' sing, so you shouldn't; amateur theatre or playing in your local orchestra is shunned as being not very cool; and if you don't think you can dance, you're unlikely even to get on the dance floor at a party, let alone go and find a dance class.
Professional artists matter: excellent work is important, and paying for and funding this work is very much worthwhile. We shouldn't reduce that; but what we should do is rebalance how we value culture. Instead of writing off a huge percentage of the population as simply consumers, how about we think of them instead as creative in their own right, and encourage them to pick up a paintbrush, sing a song, get dancing too? It doesn't matter if you're 'good' at being creative, it's FUN, it helps us communicate better, share stuff with our friends and generally be a bit more open to change and different ways of doing things.
But it's not just for fun. Creativity is actually a core capacity of an active citizen. When we think of ourselves as creative, we recognise that we are able to play a role in shaping the world we live in: that we do not have to simply accept the context in which we live, but that we have the agency to shape that context as a fundamental human birthright. Without this belief, we recede from civic participation; we accept the role of consumers, and limit our ideas of what we can do to choosing between the options offered to us.
This is not just an assertion. A significant body of evidence is building that creative activity in itself encourages people to participate more broadly in their lives and in society.
For example, in a recent project in a toothpaste factory, 64 Million Artists found that when encouraged to take up regular creative activity, employees were more active at work, making more suggestions and putting themselves forward for tasks more regularly. It also has significant effects on wellbeing, feelings of self-worth and a sense of purpose.
We need this in every business, every home, and every school, to shape a more active, purposeful and engaged society. And we're only going to need it more as the world changes - as robotisation advances, and as we approach the limits of our material culture and its insufficient answers to the challenges of both physical and mental wellbeing.
By telling our population that only a few special people are creative and the rest of us are only fit to consume their work, we're missing out on millions of great ideas, hundreds of thousands of undiscovered talents, and the opportunity to really connect and share more of who we are.
But if we can harness a natural inclination to everyday creativity that is in every single one of us, we can seize this opportunity, and open up a world where we see ourselves as citizens capable of creating culture and shaping the context of our lives.