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I have spent a lot of time on the M5 recently driving around Devon and Cornwall and, incidentally, found it a good way of catching up with RSA lectures via the listen again app.  The reason for my travels has been to attend a really stimulating series of debates that RSA South West are hosting in partnership with the Dartington Hall Trust.  They are being led by the networks in the South West – Exeter, West Cornwall, Plymouth and North Devon and are focusing on some of the key issues relevant regionally and nationally -

I have spent a lot of time on the M5 recently driving around Devon and Cornwall and, incidentally, found it a good way of catching up with RSA lectures via the listen again app.  The reason for my travels has been to attend a really stimulating series of debates that RSA South West are hosting in partnership with the Dartington Hall Trust.  They are being led by the networks in the South West – Exeter, West Cornwall, Plymouth and North Devon and are focusing on some of the key issues relevant regionally and nationally -

  • Can social enterprise fill the public sector gap in service provision?
  • Can the arts remain part of civil society without public subsidy?
  • What direction for education in the age of austerity?

I attended two of the debates last week, firstly dropping into Exeter where they were discussing education.  The debate had an interesting mix of panellists, who each gave their views on key issues involving education in the current climate.  The panellists were - Professor Debra Myhill, (Dean of Education at Exeter University); Andy Hannan, (councillor and professor of education); James Bond (who leads Carving Community which focuses on using creative and practical skills to work with disengaged young people) and Hannah Peckham, (NUT officer).

Concern of losing creativity and the arts in the current curriculum

The debate opened out into general discussion and some of the key issues that were highlighted included - the real need to invest in education in a time of austerity; learn lessons from the past; would be good to pair young people with older mentors; and concern about losing creativity in the curriculum that is being overtaken with literacy and maths.

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Later on in the week, I briefly lost myself on the wild edges of North Devon and stared in wonder at the amazing range of places that the RSA Fellowship find themselves in.  This debate around the arts was held at Pickwell Manor, Croyde, and a small group of Fellows and local artists discussed the future for the arts without public subsidy.  Local artist, Sandy Brown FRSA, championed the arts and culture and the tangible benefits they bring to the well-being of society, we also heard from David Francis director of arts for the Dartington Hall Trust and Mark Wallace chief executive of Beaford Arts.

One of the strands of conversation focused on the What Next?  movement which is aimed at bringing together arts and cultural organisations from across the UK, to articulate and strengthen the role of culture in our society.  I have been working in Bristol with Visual Arts South West and Theatre Bristol to bring together people to talk around the What Next? movement and this debate helped me to understand better the position of the arts in the South West.

Another area that came up was education and linked straight back into the debate in Exeter - about the concern of losing creativity and the arts in the current curriculum, all these threads are linked together in Joe Hallgarten’s (RSA’s Director of Education) blog.  It certainly sounds like an area that will be bought to the fore at the final open forum workshop to the debate series.  This workshop is taking place at Dartington on Saturday 28 September, where the principal themes and issues raised across the region will be explored in more detail - with a view to initiating collaborative projects.  I look forward to seeing what projects are taken forward and seeing how Fellows can get involved in a practical way around these issues.

Lou Matter is the Programme Manager for West and South West. You can follow her @loumatter

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