When I set up Creative Futures in March 2011, I had little idea what direction it would take: there was no Big Plan. It was founded with three broad notions in mind: (1) that the arts is a powerful instrument for social change – for enhancing and enriching the lives of anyone of any age and from any background; (2) that, therefore, there should be more opportunities for people, especially those with less access, to participate in high quality creative activity; and (3) that there should be more support for those inspiring artist-educators who deliver this work.
Five years on, 70 projects under our belts reaching more than 8,000 people, and a growing artist network of more than 180 individuals, I am proud of what we have achieved in a relatively short amount of time – and pleased I took that first step.
A quick look back over our project log reveals the range of projects we have delivered. Many, including our first ever projects in Early Years settings and with Looked After Children, are on-going, which is testament to the high quality of our work right from the very start. Far from sticking to one or two areas, in those early days we grabbed any and all opportunities that presented themselves, and pursued many different avenues to see what worked best. We brought visual art projects to adults with mental health problems, musical training to teachers in schools, poetry to young adults with learning difficulties, music and movement activities to parents and young children, music and poetry to a community in Barking, and combined arts to Looked After Children. We have worked with people of all ages, artists from just about every discipline, and across most London boroughs plus a number of other regions.
In 2014, following a large-scale grant from the Education Endowment Foundation to deliver a study into the impacts of music and drama on pupil achievement, our Chair Andrew Potter invited Darren Henley (now CEO, Arts Council England) to co-lead a strategy review, and help us set a clearer direction for the future. Through this process we identified our key strengths and decided to focus on three main areas: Early Years, Special Educational Needs, and Looked After Children.
Two years later, with strong support from Andrew and the rest of the Board for maintaining this focus, and a thorough re-brand, we have immeasurably strengthened the organisation, and become recognised sector leaders in all three of these areas. Key to our success has been planning and delivering programmes designed to tackle specific, identified needs, for example ‘Music for Change’ in north Westminster devised to tackle low levels of school readiness and a high proportion of children with speech and language delay.
Another quality Creative Futures is known for is the emphasis we place on monitoring and evaluation to ensure that set outcomes are achieved. Where possible we engage researchers to help us understand and demonstrate the impact of our programmes, and share these findings with the wider sector in order to enhance the ‘value’ of the arts in society. We are privileged to work with researchers from UCL, the UCL Institute of Education and Roehampton Universities.
None of our work would have happened without the support of numerous funders, the National Foundation for Youth Music standing out among these having funded no less than four separate projects; nor without the dedication of Vanessa Stansall who has been managing, overseeing and devising content for our programmes from the very start, working with our growing team of inspiring and talented artist-educators. Our late and first Chair, Andrew Potter was also instrumental in shaping the organisation through its ‘toddler’ years and into its next phase (a tribute to Andrew can be found here).
Five years might be a milestone of sorts, but also it’s just a start: we have found our place, established ourselves, and built a platform. Now the real work begins, building on this and taking our work right to the heart of all those communities and sectors who could not only benefit from it, but in my opinion, need it. The ‘need’ for our work, as a sector, is growing; as is the evidence supporting its value and potential positive impacts. And let’s never forget the value of the arts themselves and for their own sake: how wonderful it is to watch children experience music or another art-form for the first time, and to see them enjoy it, smile, and flourish and develop as a result.
Julian Knight, April 2016