“The key element is engagement”

Interview with Paul Collard, chief executive of CCE

An exciting event was hold by HABA jointly with the British Council on 2 March 2011, where Paul Collard gave a presentation titled “Unlocking Creativity in Schools: The role of the arts in developing the creative learning of children and young people.” After his paper we talked to him about topics such as the social mission of creative agents, the connection between arts education and inner city youth culture and the new functions of art.

How would you introduce your organisation, Creativity, Culture and Education (CCE) to Hungarian university students?

We describe it as an international non-governmental organisation, it's not for profit. It's committed to finding ways to unlock creativity in all young people, particularly in Europe because we think that the creative skills are the ones which are most relevant to success in the 21st century and whilst some children naturally get access to having those skills unlocked through their parents and other opportunities that they get, so the children from deprived background in particular they don't have access and there needs to be positive intervention in their schools to make it happen so that's what we’d like to do, we do it a lot in England and we're beginning to do it in other European countries as well.



How did your personal career lead to CCE? What earlier positions did you take as a cultural manager?

My background is being in arts, being an arts manager, of running big arts institutions, like contemporary cultural centres, museums of cinema, and I’ve run big international festivals. But I've always been very interested in the way that the arts can impact on social-economic issues. Back in the 1980s, I wrote a report for the British Government on the role of the arts in urban regeneration, because in the '80s we had lots of big problems in our economy, in our cities and that gave me the opportunity to develop an approach which I applied to the North-East of England, in a city called Newcastle, in the 1990s. And we had this huge transformation in that city and it's become one of the most beautiful cultural cities in the whole Europe now. And whilst it was very successful in lots of ways, one of the things that I noticed is that the benefits of the regeneration were actually more for the richer section of the society than the poorer section, so I than began to explore what goes wrong because in spite of all these new opportunities they're not coming out and that took me to the education sector and so I became involved in creative partnerships because I was interested in how the education system can be designed to help young people access more of these opportunities because there are wonderful opportunities in life now but you need the skills to be able to access them.

How do you see the social mission of education in arts and culture in industrial and urban areas?

We've done a lot of research on young people, children engaging in cultural-artistic activities and it shows very clearly that what determines how successful you're, how much you're going to engage as a young person is your parents and in particular the educational qualifications of the parents, and if your parents had no educational qualifications or very poor educational qualifications than it's very likely that you won't engage in the arts. So we also discovered that young people who are interested in the arts have a huge appetite for more. So if you have a policy which is about increasing the supply than the people who already do it, do it more and more and more and the people who don't, it doesn't change. So that has led us on to say why is there a failure of demand because the opportunities are there but there are not accessing. And the failures of demand are actually the same in education, same children who don't access cultural opportunities actually aren’t really interested in education, also not much interested in their own health when they don't access health care as well. So we see that there is an issue of failure of demand in sections of the community for these opportunities and we think that culture has the ability to address the whole demand issue in the way that education can’t do these things on its own and culture is at the centre of that. So the social mission is really about saying we have to narrow the gap in society between the people who have and the people who don't, and culture to me seems to provide the best opportunities in doing that. So we're really about changing society.

Is there a return impact of this government initiative on the workings of the art world?

Yes, it has provided lots of options for many artists. We have recruit what we call creative agents as well as creative practitioners and we employ around 700 to 800 creative agents and 7000 creative practitioners so probably about 8000 creative practitioners and artists in the programme as a whole, so that's a lot. They don't do it full time but they do it part time but we pay well and for many artists it makes a professional artistic career possible because for two days a week they're getting a reasonable amount of pay and on the rest of the days they can be poor but they can be artists. It has had a very powerful effect at supporting a whole generation of what we would call participatitive artists to help develop their practise enrich their lives to go on, do that kind of stuff. I think it's also because of the scale of the work that this is an area of cultural activity which previously was very badly funded and therefore tended to be looked down on and never really had the opportunities to demonstrate what potential there was, so there's a lots of really fantastic work being generated now which is changing the perception of what art is and what it is to be successful as an artist.



Do you see any chances to introduce special creativity projects in higher education as well? Why do you think are art schools so popular even today when the prestige of art has already deteriorated?

We haven't looked at higher education creativity mainly because it's almost too late to change it, but what people want to be in life is creative. That's what they all want to be, therefore however poorly paid it is, however much the arts at some level in perception dropped down, in reality, I think the statistics in our country shows that something like 80 per cent of all the young people want to work in the art, so in creative things and only 20 per cent want to work in science and technology and for the reasons I was explaining. At the end I think is that clearly creativity connects with the essence of who you are as a person and that's what people are looking for.

What is your personal experience of Hungarian culture and the cultural life in this part of Europe in general? Do you think that arts education could also be used to handle social minority issues like those of the Gypsies in underdeveloped areas?

My experience of Hungarian culture is very small, this is only my second visit to Hungary I arrived on Sunday night and I've been locked in rooms, almost all that time so I've been here once for two days so I know very-very little and in lots of ways Hungary is a country which is only now opening up if you see what I mean, and I'd love to know more. Our experience with the programme has been on focusing on the most socially disadvantaged young people and their families and the research shows clearly that the most powerful effect is on the most socially disadvantaged, and therefore I absolutely believe that this approach should be used in Hungary for some of the minority issues that you face, because I think on the whole, my belief is that the issues are the issues of poverty and those can be addressed in this way.

Do you think that people with a university degree in the theory of arts could cherish career patterns as yours here in Hungary as well?

Yes, if the government was to invest in programmes like this, there would be far more opportunities for artists to have careers and I think this would be a really good way of investing in the artistic population. The research we do shows that being engaged in the programme develops artists' marketable skills, they understand business better, they understand how to present themselves, they understand the needs of different sectors and those are very important skills, and therefore something like 80 per cent of artists who worked in the programme have found other work as a result of the programme. So I think the government should invest in this because it would provide employment for artists, it would help train artists to find other employments and it would build a much bigger creative culture sector and that would enrich the life of Hungary. It would make you more powerful as a nation and it would make your all young people educated properly.



How does the creative agent actually work?

They tend to be artists who have had experience of working in schools before, but we give them a special training, to prepare them for the roles that they play. So some of the training is to bring them up to date in what's happening in the educational system because the educational system has changed a lot very quickly and for most artists it'll be different from the time when they were at school. Also this is a programme which is about changing schools therefore we do some training in change management, showing how to handle change management because otherwise lots of things will happen to you that are unpredictable, but if you understand change management process you understand what's happening. We give them specific training in partnership working and also probably and most surprisingly we found that one of their weaknesses is that although they’re creative, they don't know much about creativity and actually teaching them to understand creativity is a very important part of what we have to do because it gives them a language in creativity with which to talk to children, to teachers and without that it's very difficult to actually embed the practise in the schools. Now it's not a huge amount of training, it's not like a year. It's a few days training and we keep coming back and giving more training all the time. We will analyse every creative agent to work out what their particular training needs are and different ones will have different trainings.

The creative agents are the ones who decide on which artist should be good for the particular task. That's a very key skill and they need to have a good understanding in what's available in the cultural sector.


(Photo: Éva Blénesi)

Special thanks to: Éva Blénesi and Emőke Suplicz