rehearsal.....a space for improvisation and experiment

The response to the AC report on creativity and the Guardian article by Susan Greenfield is in the Archive page to the left.

The Creative Clusters Conference in Newcastle from 5 to 8 November was one of the biggest gatherings of international experts in creativity and learning.

click on the archive page to read Rick Hall's presentation to the conference.

Young People - this is an article previously publishes in Upstart magazine.

Meanwhile, in the news - 13% of young people self harm. Typically they make small cuts in their flesh that do not draw blood and are mostly invisible to teachers and parents; but what the cuts do is release opioids. The self-inflicted harm becomes addictive. Calls to Childline about self-harm have risen by 20% in the past ten years, and by 30% in the past year. And as if that report wasn’t alarming enough, the next day I read that one in ten infants under five years old may be depressed or anxious.

Come on people of the UK; this won’t do. I find it difficult to bear the thought that this many young people are so unhappy to the point of engaging in auto-suffering.

Let’s look a bit deeper. When we refer to self-harm, we know that there are other variations on the theme. We know of young people who give up on themselves, their self-image, their hygiene, their health/life choices; and importantly we intuitively know the difference between slobby teenage behaviour and self-abuse. (I’m using ‘slobby’ in its natural non-pejorative sense, of course).

And we have plenty of other examples of the self-harm that goes through to adulthood in the guise of alcohol or substance misuse.

Ours is more than to reason why; ours is to understand and to lead, to be the change that we want to see. I’ve commented before that our expectations of young people are in many respects unreasonable.. our expectation that we require young people to inhabit two worlds simultaneously, their own and that of adults, is bound to generate tension that will be difficult, require special creative talent to resolve.

The tensions between these two worlds reveal themselves in the sense of failure that many young people feel when faced by a contemporary society obsessed with fame, celebrity and instant reward for not much effort. Oh no, he’s off on his puritan kick again… well, not quite; I just want adults to take more care of their precious cargo. Isn’t there something we can do about the must-have culture that precedes such damaging feelings of inadequacy? If we expect young people to ‘be responsible’ (as opposed to taking responsibility for something/someone) surely we adults should display similar responsibility in the design of the society we invite young people to join.

And as if to answer my own question – I draw on recent experience of other places – they do things differently there. I’ve been in Rio and Buenos Aires since last time and was struck by the engagement of young people in the local cultural enterprises of carnival and tango; and of adults who encourage and facilitate their entry into these social celebrations.

OK, it must be pretty easy to engage with the flair and joy of carnival in 30’ Celsius with Copacabana and Ipanema on the doorstep. But the young people who live in the hardest of conditions in the favelas and scrape together their existence from the detritus and aluminium cans of the rich and nearly famous also train for weeks in the samba schools, and build their carnival costumes months in advance of Mardi Gras. In La Boca and San Telmo in Buenos Aires young people are learning and training in the arts of tango week in, night out, and congregating in the milongas on a Friday night. They run through the night, the buses run through the night, the bars and ice-cream parlours are open through the night. Not one sign of a binge drinker throwing up or fighting… now why is that? Take your time…

It seems to me that one of the principal aims of creative, art and cultural activity with young people is to engage their tenacity, perseverance and resilience and to demonstrate that long-term investment of imagination, energy and emotion is required for the real benefit and value and pay back to be revealed. Which is why preparation for theatre productions, recording studio sessions, concerts, melas and carnivals, big canvases (that have to be primed first), choreography that has to be trained for, goes deeper and lasts longer than the instant gratification of our ubiquitous fifteen minutes of fame.

I remember saying to Shirley Brice Heath in a conference coffee queue that in my philosophy life is a rehearsal – not in preparation for a life hereafter, but because in life we rarely get it right first time, and practice is worth the effort. I recoil against the notion of using youth arts to convey lessons on life (how gross) but for young people who are grinding away at their anxieties in the face of short-termism, the real power of creative engagement is in the balance between sustained, rehearsed, practiced, long-term input and sensationally brilliant output.

Take your time – ripeness is all.