The Future of Creative Education

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The Future of Creative Education

The Department of Education ranks creative subjects as low strategic importance. So what are the skills of the future?



Part of Creative Coalition Festival’s Factory series, The Future of Creative Education event featured five distinguished speakers presenting a series of lightning talks: short, snappy presentations that focused on creative learning opportunities and their value in developing our economy.

Flo Parker, Portfolio Development Lead for Art and Design at Future Learn, chaired the event, which included speakers: Paul Thompson – Vice Chancellor, Royal College of Art; Sara Whybrew – Director of Policy and Development, Creative and Cultural Skills; Jessica Graves – Artist and Chief Product Scientist, Sefleuria; Hilary Knight – Director of Digital, Tate; Rebecca Wright – Academic Dean and D&AD President, Central Saint Martins, UAL.

Kicking off the lightning talks, Paul Thompson began by speaking about STEAM; the integration of STEM and the arts, and how that is taught in schools. “It’s all about facilitating the alchemy that happens when you blend the design and creativity of an artist,” he said, “with the hypotheses, the step by step rigour, and the evidence based approach of a scientist.” He explains, this cross-disciplinary approach is fundamental to meeting the changing needs of students, who see the world less as divided between STEM and non-STEM, but instead are “interested in bringing real world transformational change on a global scale through their practice.”

Sara Whybrew followed, highlighting the importance of non-creative skills that are equally vital to the industry. “Our growth potential can only really be met by equipping a new generation of talent with the skills we need to thrive,” she explained, suggesting that more credit needs to be given to the breadth of skills and roles offered by the creative sector that are not traditionally seen as creative. Through closer relationships between education providers and industry, “a greater shared understanding about the real jobs and the real skills needs of our sector” can be discovered.

Growing up in New York City, and involved closely with the fashion and arts scene in the city, Jessica Graves spoke on the arts and automation and how the sciences are vitally important to the arts. “It just completely opened my mind because I realised you could design with maths…so when I realised [that], I said, OK, I can use these skills back in the fashion world.” Focusing on machine learning, Jessica highlighted the shift “towards automation as a tool for creation.” Artists, she believes, will be key in this process: “I think the strongest thing we can do, especially for artists, is to show them how they’re already being born into a situation where they grow up with algorithms and grow up with software that can do special things.”

Hilary Knight explored the impact of the pandemic, and the by-product skills of studying art disciplines. The pandemic, she said, required the arts “to pivot to digital in a way that would normally take several years, not days, to manage,” changing the behaviours and expectations of audiences along the way.

Being able to work cross-departmentally, and with empathy and negotiation, are skills she believes are fundamental to a successful creative industries yet are often forgotten in education. “I believe these skills are eminently transferable. They build individual resilience as well, and they enable the kind of movement between sectors that we don’t currently see… We all need that kind of cross-pollination of skills and knowledge to thrive.”

Speaking on the creative skills prioritised by education providers, Rebecca Wright highlighted four key skills: the ability and agility to learn, critical analysis, communication, and imagination. The latter of which she had this to say: “I think this is a creative skill with more profound reach than just being about employability…I absolutely believe that imagination is the creative skill with the power and possibility to positively impact the world kind of most transformatively.”

Heading into the Q&A section of the event, Paul Thompson responded to a question on the potential of STEAM in Higher Education, and the boundaries between disciplines and institutions. “We’re taught to be competitive in education from a very early age, not really to share, not to communicate and collaborate.” The way to change that? “We’ve got to re-educate ourselves, we really have so that we can learn to collaborate and not see team working and interdisciplinary as somehow lesser than”

Rounding off the event, Jessica explored the importance of ownership of labour for artists: “First of all, we already own our own stuff. No one’s making me put it on Spotify if I don’t want to; I can build my own platform. I know I can collaborate with other artists to build tools that are actually getting cheaper to build. That changes the whole conversation.”

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