Behind one charity's mission to close the creativity gap
The creative industries are a boon to the UK economy, yet cutbacks in schools increasingly bar access to creative education. This is a problem that the advertising industry should take seriously.
Nicky Goulder, chief executive of the charity Create, remembers meeting a teenage boy years ago who had been excluded from school. He had nearly given up on education, but he came back for a photography project facilitated by the charity.
As it turned out, "he had an incredible gift" for photography, Goulder recalls. Through that discovery, the boy ended up staying in school, improving his grades, and gaining a new-found sense of confidence. He went on to read photography at university.
Stories like this are why Create was founded. Sixteen years ago, Goulder, the former CEO of the Orchestra of St John’s, started the charity with the aim of supporting disadvantaged and vulnerable people through creativity. Create runs projects across the UK that bring people together with professional artists to boost creative and social skills, learning, teamwork and self-esteem.
"Everybody should have the chance to be creative," Goulder says.
That mission has never been more crucial to advertising. The industry’s diversity problem is so notorious that some might be growing immune to it, but let’s repeat a few key points: time and again, research has proven that diversity is good for creativity. As a creative business, it is imperative for advertising to improve its lack of diversity. Yet how can the industry open its doors to a wider array of people if so many lack access to creative education and opportunities?
This is a bigger societal issue as well. As the UK government prioritises STEM skills over creative education, creative arts subjects are being cut back at many schools. There has been a drop in both the number of creative, arts and design teachers being trained, and in the number of students taking creative GCSEs. The result is that creative education is relegated as a luxury, available only to the privileged.
Yet the most recent government figures show that the creative industries, including advertising, made a record-breaking contribution to the UK economy in 2017, topping £100bn. The World Economic Forum lists creativity as the third most important skill for professionals to thrive in 2020.
As author and adviser Sir Ken Robinson said: "Creativity is as important now in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status."
The charity designs unique programmes to meet the needs of local communities and runs about 50 projects annually, with the aim of expanding these nationwide. Its work has included Inside Stories, which brings professional artists into prisons to help inmates write and illustrate storybooks for their children. The Changing Minds project introduces art to special needs students in Harrow, and a new initiative helps adult carers learn to express themselves.
Create also looks to partner with businesses to design projects or recruit volunteers. Employees of the charity’s corporate partners report improving their job satisfaction and feeling more comfortable working with people from different backgrounds, Goulder says. But more importantly, it gives disadvantaged people a glimpse at the opportunities available to them.
"It’s about raising aspirations, enabling young people to realise what they can do. Some might worry about how to make a living as an artist, but you can bring those skills into the commercial world," Goulder adds.
Last week, Create hosted a showcase of art made by adult carers. "You would’ve been astounded by the breadth of work, just in that room," Goulder says. "Imagine taking those ideas and energy and creativity into one workplace – how rich a melting pot that would be."
Now imagine that, but at an ad agency. More than ever, advertising should learn from Create’s example.