On New Year’s Day Nick Corston FRSA announced that through his non-profit community enterprise STEAM Co, and with the network of school leaders and communities he has worked with, he would co-create a festival to celebrate and inspire creativity in our schools, work and lives. And that he would do this in 30 days. So, how did it go?
Our initial plan was that the #ARTCONNECTS19 Festival would be a one off, following on from a smaller three-day event in London’s King’s Cross last year. It would have a launch in parliament, run for 10 days in school communities that we have worked with across the UK and include a closing weekend of events in West London.
It was a great success. Highlights from the Creative Schools Day in a school at the foot of Grenfell Tower included a keynote from creativity guru and former drummer with Scritti Politti, Tom Morley. Participants could also attend a masterclass from Jimmy Rotheram, the Bradford music teacher who was recently shortlisted for the $1m Global Teacher Prize and who had also hosted a Uke session in a canal-side pub the night before.
On the Sunday there was an afternoon of activities and short talks for parents, teachers and other creative carers at White City Place, London’s New Creative Campus on the site of the old BBC Centre. Young tech head and diversity advocate Christiana Imafidon gave a talk on Blockchain and former Young Woman Engineer of the Year, Mamta Singhal, talked about her journey to become a toy engineer. We were also joined by legendary photographer Charlie Phillips, who presented his iconic work on the Windrush Generation and the first Notting Hill Carnival.
Speaking at the launch in parliament, alongside a primary school boy who had travelled with his family from the particularly challenged Seacroft Estate in Leeds, Charlie said: “This event is long overdue. Growing up working class, we didn’t have access to the arts”.
And therein lay the fundamental problem behind this project. It soon became clear that we would struggle to fund the festival for two main reasons. Firstly the timetable meant we’d missed main grant deadlines and even the most generous companies who have helped us in the past couldn’t on this occasion. Secondly, because we were keen to make the festival as accessible as possible to communities in the North Kensington and White City estates, we gave most of the tickets away free of charge.
So how would we fund it? The inspiration for that came from the Culture Secretary, Jeremy Wright MP at Department for Digital, Culture, Music and Sport (DCMS) who possibly has one of the broadest (and IMHO most exciting) briefs in government. His office had invited me to his maiden speech on the arts in Coventry and promised me an interview after. In his speech he talked about how DCMS were not only collaborating with other government departments to deliver art projects in health, education business and prisons, but also how he was co-funding projects. He also announced a National Festival of Creativity for the UK in 2022 with a budget of £120m.
Then an RSA Fellow told me of a talk he had attended at the RSA’s new Rawthmells space at 8 John Adam Street about Anton Howes’ forthcoming book Arts and Minds: How One Society Changed a Nation. Howes described how for a fellowship fee of a guinea, common folk would be listed alongside high and mighty Lords and Barons.
The same day, after an appearance on Portobello Community Radio promoting the Festival, I was invited to the YouTube Channel launch of Celtic Ska singer Gaz Mayall and his band The Trojans where I discovered that they had recorded a song called “Brother can you Spare a Pound”, inspired by a song written in New York in the height of the great depression.
So, taking the lead from the RSA’s funding model, and indeed that of the Co-op’s too and having secured permission to use the song, we launched a co-funding campaign to help fund the #ARTCONNECTS19 Festival, which was such a success that we are now extending it through the rest of 2019.
For as Seth Godin, one of the world’s leading business bloggers, thinkers, changemakers and dads, said in this clip: “It might not work, but here’s the thing, the guy who invented the ship, also invented shipwreck. And that’s what it’s all about, are you going to do something that might not work. Art doesn't work because we did something boring and conventional and industrialised. Art works because we connected”.
Find out more and see films from the ARTCONNECTS19 Festival launch week.
Nick Corston is the co-founder of STEAM Co., a non-profit community enterprise that aims to power communities to inspire their children with creativity, a project that he co-founded in his sons’ primary school in Paddington.