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As part of the second annual RSA Academies’ Arts Day in July, Whitley Academy Vice Principal, Stephen Steinhaus and Upton Blues Festival Chairman, Oliver Carpenter, both working musicians in their own right, were asked to co-deliver a keynote “address” on the topic of ‘power’.

Carpenter and Steinhaus have worked together for years on Upton Blues Festival and have also just finished the first ‘pilot’ programme of workshops led by professional musicians from Upton Blues working with students from across the RSA Academies. These are the abridged notes for that presentation:

Music as an art form is closely linked to power - and no genre more so than the blues:

  • The power of oppression and slavery is its origins
  • The power of a shared culture
  • The power of communication - to include and exclude, as a code for sharing information between the oppressed and excluding the oppressor.
  • The power of the performer and the creative individual to control and manage an audience.
  • The power to create, and the power to entertain
  • The power of a simple creative form, originating over 150 years ago in terrible poverty in the Deep South of the USA to bring 15,000 people to a small town in Worcestershire every year for a festival of all that this simple, three chord trick has become.

So, how does that apply to us, the students and staff of RSA Academies and this ad hoc community put together for one day to discuss, celebrate and develop the ‘power to create’?  Well, If Not Us, Who?  If Not Now, When?

Growing up in Chicago, my community was similar to a lot of the communities served by RSA Academies, and my neighbourhood was similar to the group we have today here at the RSA, different cultures and backgrounds, but a similar situation, a shared community, a common mission.  In my neighbourhood, people of different cultures communicated through creativity, sharing meals, sharing songs, using music for inclusion and became a variation of the now tired, at best, view of America as a cultural melting pot.

So, for us now, we must examine how this group of students and staff from RSA Academies can become a melting pot of creativity - sharing and learning about each other to then develop a tensile strength of creativity for ourselves, our schools and our communities.  If Not Us, Who?  If Not Now, When?  We must grasp the opportunity to create, in the individual and in the whole, personal confidence, strength and power and innovation

Now, as festival organisers we set out to create an environment for people's creativity to be experienced by others.  And the partnership between the RSA Academies and Upton Blues produced some starting steps towards that aim.  The pilot workshops that Upton Blues Festival - itself a registered charity - co funded with the RSA Academies this year are about enabling students to experience the possibility of music as a creative activity and to see musical expertise in action close up to try and light the spark. Not as a curriculum thing, not even as a possible future career or structured plan for life but as something to experience, develop and enjoy… to learn together, to create together, to improvise…

As creative performers we set out to say something through (for us) music, to entertain and to scratch an immeasurable, intangible itch.  As RSA Academies, though, why is the power to create important?  In an education system increasingly governed by exam results and ever-changing progress measures and league tables, who will take the fight for the place of creativity in the heart of the curriculum? 

If Not Us, Who?  If Not Now, When?  Yes, creativity in the classroom must be its own reward.... but we have a right to create and be creativity and we must fight for and protect that right for ourselves, our academies and for others who might not be as ideally placed as a student or member of staff at an RSA Academy. 

We have opportunities that others might not have… and we cannot take them for granted.  We must stand up, be counted, and continue to demonstrate the power of creativity is not mutually exclusive to ‘better than expected’ academic progress in an increasingly shrinking curriculum…rather, it is central to it…furthermore, it can be the key to unlock the potential, progress and life chances for students who might otherwise be marginalised in a world of EBacc for all and the like… so who will speak for this power? 

If Not Us, Who?  If Not Now, When? 

Who can demonstrate the life-changing capacity of this power? 

If Not Us, Who?  If Not Now, When? 

Who can work together to build a cross-academy community based on this power…the power to create?

If Not Us, Who?  If Not Now, When?    

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