Writer and politician back cultural education for region’s children

Nick Brown and David Almond

The award-winning writer David Almond has defended young people against claims they are growing up in a culture-less “play station generation”.

Speaking at a Cultural Education Leadership Conference, organised by Bridge North East, the author of Skellig said: “Children are creative. They use the internet, YouTube, Facebook in incredible ways. They are obsessed with music, internet poetry and Fan Fiction.”

Fellow keynote speaker Newcastle East MP Nick Brown called for an end to an imbalance in arts funding and for the North East to get a fair return on the amount of money spent by people here playing the National Lottery.   The conference at The Centre of Life marked the end of Bridge North East’s three-year programme, funded by Arts Council England, to improve links between young people and arts and culture.

The project, which had been run through Sage Gateshead, will continue through Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums.

Jeanne Hale, of Bridge North East, said: “When libraries, museums, galleries and all cultural centres and activities are under so much financial pressure it is vital that they are supported. At the same time – and this has been a particular problem in the past in this region – children and young people must be encouraged to engage.”

She pointed to the 4,000 children and young people in the region who have now received an Arts Award – a qualification now recognised by colleges, universities and employers – as an example of the changes Bridge North East had helped bring about.

During his address David Almond – a former teacher who was born in Felling and lives in Northumberland – criticised governments for side-lining children’s culture because of an obsession with “driving up standards”.

He told an audience of teachers, arts professionals and administrators: “We live in a time when there is a huge amount of scepticism about bankers and politicians. But that’s a good thing because children look at bankers and they have no connection. They do not want to be like them.”

He recalled being attacked by the former Labour Secretary of State David Blunkett for advocating that 10% of the school curriculum should be spent dreaming.

Nick Brown said he had no artistic gift or talent but was an enthusiastic consumer. His love of classical music and opera began when he was able to attend concerts on cheap student tickets. He believed the cultural sector, particularly in areas like the North East, was getting a raw deal as a result of major funding cuts: “What’s happening at the moment is very clear. It’s a remorseless retreat from cultural education in schools.”

He said Labour had pledged to reverse that trend and also tackle the discrepancy in funding which sees an 11 to one ratio of spending in London and the regions. He supported a proposal to take £600m National Lottery money out of arts funding in the capital and re-distribute to the regions.

“When you look at who plays the lottery – rather than who spends it – it’s the other way round. We are the most enthusiastic participants in the lottery and we should get the rewards for that,” said Mr Brown.

And he added: “There are no prizes in giving in. We should stand up for our region, the communities we represent and for the broadest possible horizons for all our citizens – but particularly for the young who are growing up and discovering all these things for the first time.”