Space for Creativity

21 Dec 2018

Host Southbank Exhibition Tuesday night event


As part of FCBStudios 40/20 Anniversary Celebrations, we invited four speakers to give short provocations on the theme of ‘Space for Creativity’ and the future of creative education.

Should they? If so, how do we support that proposition? Do physical buildings still have a role to play in nurturing creative communities and what kind of spaces best provide for the needs of art and design?

Andrew Brewerton, Principal & Chief Executive Plymouth College of Art, set up the Plymouth School of Creative Arts (PSCA) in 2012, a through school, for children aged 3-16, whose stated purpose is “the transformation of students’ lives, enabling them to be their best self, achieving academically through a creative, purposeful education.” In all aspects of education, from 3 to 23, in and out of the classroom, creativity in all forms is key to education. PSCA could be cited as an example of an ‘art school’ in Bob and Roberta Smith’s proposition.

“There is evidence about the value of arts, about learning through arts and learning about art". Samantha Cairns, Co-Director, Cultural Learning Alliance. “We know that young people who have studied arts are more employable, and stay in jobs longer. The arts teach important skills such as risk-taking, teamwork and communication.”

“There is science around the arts and wellbeing. It is well documented that singing lowers cortisol levels and makes you feel less stressed. We live in a society now where making and doing isn't part of the everyday. The NHS is considering prescribing crafts as a reaction to rising levels of anxiety in all age groups. There is a lot of research around people who engage in the arts living longer."

“There is a real problem about the perception of the arts and the reality. There is a strong narrative about the arts being soft, but the reality is that the arts contribute £92bn a year to the economy. Arts and creative jobs are resistant to automation and it is projected that 82% of arts jobs are not at risk compared to 40% of non-arts jobs. We need to challenge that narrative.”

Yet, over the past generation, through EBacc, STEM etc the arts have been gradually de-prioritised from the national curriculum, giving way to a target based culture. The combination of accountability, increased measurement and financial cuts are together having a huge impact on art, design and technology subjects, particularly at key stage 3. With extra lessons in Maths and English, arts-based subjects are being squeezed out. Since 2010 there are now 20% fewer arts teachers in schools. Whilst the UK is worried about slipping further and further down the international PISA tests, places like Singapore and Shanghai are bringing making back into their curricula.

The independent schools sector, however, really values the arts, promoting themselves through their drama facilities, music appreciation and art history as well as unrivaled facilities and resources. It is understood that the arts make people powerful.

Within mainstream education, it is increasingly normal for music, art and drama to be offered primarily as extra-curricular activities. Middle-class children are getting access to the arts, they are engaged by their families, their parents take them to museums, provide resources and can afford to pay for extra-curricular activities. But many people cannot access extra-curricular arts education and these are the people that would benefit most.

We are getting hot spots, there are some great examples of schools and institutions who are making it work in the current climate.

Clare Lilley is Director of Programme at Yorkshire Sculpture Park (YSP) and runs an education programme founded on research. “For 40,000 years, humans have been compelled to make art, and this is intrinsic to how we live our lives.” YSP continues within this tradition enabling open access to art, situations and ideas. Supporting 45,000 people each year through YSP’s learning programme – school groups, disadvantaged children, refugees – their work develops ability, confidence and life aspiration in participants.

YSP’s educational work is based on contact with real artworks, artists and making. It is very process led. "What we offer has to answer to the National Curriculum and work within the National Curriculum, but is not a substitute classroom. We are the biggest employer of artists in the region. The artists are educators, but they educate in a very particular way – through walking, experience, touching. It is kinesthetic, tactile and visceral. Young people are able to respond to the site, the feeling of space and to the artwork through making, with tangible and often amazing results. Making is at the very core of what we do with learning."

“YSP is a sanctuary in a post-industrial landscape, and we’ve tried to make a place that people want to be in. There is real deprivation in some of the communities around us, and drawing people into the space is part of our work. The buildings, by a number of architects, are of very different characters, but what they have in common is that each has extraordinarily adroit handling of light. The community feels connected to them and the landscape through this.”

Andrew Brewerton said “Space is made by successive human use and adaptation. School buildings are not really exceptional. They are not transformative, they are not empty vessels. Space does contain energy because it is energy that creates space and in its design and configuration, the space of learning either offers or withdraws the possibility of learning”. Dave Strudwick Principal of PCSA expanded, “the role of space in education is to move horizons.”

Spaces can make a difference, but how do you quantify them?

FCBStudios undertook some research in 2013 which looked at the impact of new school buildings on student performance, looking at Building Schools for the Future schools.

As soon as you tell a school that they are going to get a new building, the attainment targets go up. There is a value in hope. Once the school opens, the targets continue to go up, but less quickly. After a few years, on the whole, they level off.

The opposite is also true: canceling 750 new schools as Michael Gove did in 2010 and providing no new building can imply that a school is not valued, which is demoralising and the results drop. FCBStudios-designed schools have shown more consistent growth in attainment, though it is difficult to attribute that to the quality of design.

FCBStudios Partner Tom Jarman has designed a number of spaces for arts, education and arts education. “What’s interesting about spaces for creative arts education is that you start off learning by doing and you never stop practicing. In designing these spaces, we had to understand the role of space in education. The design of Manchester School of Art was very much about how students and staff could learn from each other in a cross-disciplinary way and we applied this idea of a studio to our design of the Plymouth School for Creative Arts and to Bedales School Art and Design Building.”

Sharing of ideas within space is a major contributor to creativity: The same ideas apply to primary school children as to students collaborating across disciplines.

But schools like PCSA are very much an exception to the rule. What opportunities are there to extend creative practice to a wider audience?

Fiona MacDonald from architectural practice Matt + Fiona work with young people to provide understanding about spatial design and the built environment through construction teaching, play and making. They recently worked with a group of excluded children in Hull to design and build their own den / outdoor classroom over a 12 week period.  It stands as a reminder that their perspective on the world is valued, and that they, too, can achieve brilliant things. In Finland, architecture is part of the core curriculum. The design of space is seen as a core skill.

Tish Feilden from Jamie’s Farm backed up the importance of creativity to underprivileged children in particular. “We can't be complacent about creativity in education. Working with disadvantaged children the lack of focus on creativity in policy is critical.”

From the open plan studios of the Mancheter School of Art to the outdoor classroom in Hull, unprogrammed space is key to making space for creativity. Stuart MacLure from Long Live Southbank questioned whether it was “still possible to design inefficient space in a city where property prices are high?” where every square metre must give a return on investment. These are the spaces that communities occupy and provide forums for creativity.

Crawford Wright, Head of Architecture and Design for the Department for Education advised: “There are some wonderful examples of creative education. What you need to do is understand the rules and work in the margins.” PSCA was built on the same procurement route as other schools and shows that a lot can be achieved within the system.

"Space can make a difference, but the system needs to allow the teachers to teach,” says Samantha Cairns. “And the space needs to be available for creativity to take place.”

To conclude, Tristram Hunt, Director of the V&A  was quoted. He said recently: Arts subjects "are vitally important for children to develop imagination and resourcefulness, resilience, problem-solving, team-working and technical skills. These are the skills which will enable young people to navigate the changing workplace of the future and stay ahead of the robots, not exam grades. These meta-skills are critical in all sectors, not just the creative industries."

As part of FCBStudios 40/20 Anniversary Celebrations, we invited four speakers to give short provocations on the theme, followed by discussion from the floor, chaired by Peter Clegg. Thanks to all who attended and contributed to the evening.

In the Southbank Undercroft space, we invited some of our creative education clients to create installations based on either the buildings we designed for them or the Southbank itself, with fantastic results. You can see videos of the creation of the artworks here.  The artworks were critiqued by key arts education figures, beginning a dialogue about the role of creative education which continued at the debate described here.


Top: Pupils from Plymouth School of Creative Arts present their installation for Space for Creativity at the Southbank Undercroft, part of our HOST4020 celebrations.

1. The panellists at Space for Creativity. l-r Samantha Cairns\, Cultural Learning Alliance\, Claire Lilley\, Yorkshire Sculpture Park\, Andrew Brewerton\, Plymouth School of Art and Tom Jarman\, FCBStudios\, with Chair\, Peter Clegg\, FCBStudios.