I read with sadness about the closing of the furniture making course at Bucks University. Furniture making is such a gorgeous craft, be it rough poles of five year old chestnut, woven and pegged or the most sleek, polished piece made of ebony or some other rare dark wood. It's also wonderfully creative, who'd have thought we would create so many different versions of a chair or a table?
Neil Austin says in his article above, that craft courses are taking up too much room in Universities intent on filling as much space as possible with paying students rather than lathes, morticers and planers.
A friend was bemoaning the fact that his daughter, studying graphic design, can never find a chair and a bit of space to work on her course, and that many creative MA courses are no longer funded.
A few years ago I was out in South Africa with Peter Stark http://www.pstark.com/, the great cultural academic and activist, we were waiting to go in and pitch a culture project to the council in the Eastern Cape. We waited for two hours. I read with interest the board on the wall containing their priority projects; sanitation, HIV, water, drugs, power, housing, all of them either life and death or of far greater priority than our cultural exchange. On finally entering the council chamber I commented on this to the Council Leader. She smiled, they'd been sitting for five hours already, and she smiled. "We have many challenges and problems to solve, but we have to keep our hearts and souls alive as well as our bodies. We are grateful you have come all this way, and thank you for waiting so long."
They knew, as they regenerated parts of their decimated country, that it was not just infrastructure projects that made a country, but its art, crafts, poetry and plays.
I have visited a few schools recently, some claiming to be excellent in the provision of art and creativity. I'm sure some schools are, but the ones I visited weren't. Sure there were pictures on the walls and well-stocked art rooms. But the pictures on the walls were not by the children, they were art projects done by visiting artists and the children had perhaps coloured in a scale of a dragon or one of the fishes. The art rooms were spotless, tidy and lab like. These places were clearly not creative at all.
As a country, our creativity is our strongest card. Witness the number of contracts and awards we win around the world, our architecture, film, television, theatre, fine art, games, music and advertising punches far above its weight, we are a tiny island, but a huge creative force.
We used to celebrate our financial sector, sadly now, its notoriety is for all the wrong things as our banks focus on bonuses for themselves rather than supporting our small businesses and creative companies. The financial worth of our creative industries now rivals the morally rudderless financial sector, and the wider contribution to our well-being from the creative sector is significantly greater.
We should therefore be up in arms that creativity itself is being pushed off the curriculum and eased out of MA funding. Not just craft courses but anything that involves creative thinking seems to be falling to the back of the education queue.
We are in danger of alienating a whole generation of creative young people, whose minds could be a huge asset for the country. Creative thinking is different, and the people who think creatively are different. We simply have to ensure creative thinking is protected and developed in our education system. If we don't, then we will lose the one thing we should be most proud of, our creativity as a country.
We have to keep our hearts and souls alive as well as our bodies.